How I Met Yoga-The Power of First Impressions
When I first met yoga,
I was a student hoping to combat the freshman 15 and establish a balance between higher education and social life. However, my first interaction, although not the last, left an impact that stunned and motivated me. The yoga studio on campus had a wall of windows that showed a mirrored wall, hardwood floors, and a prop closet. There was essentially nowhere to hide, unless the prop closet.
I began to realize that I wanted to hide, not having this feeling until class was about to start.
Class began, the instructor did not teach for my experience level or body type, and a deeper alienating feeling emerged. I already did not (and still don't) subscribe to the stereotypical yoga archetype - a plus-sized black girl on a yoga mat, sure, holding my own as best I could, but that didn’t matter since I didn’t know the proper and safe techniques. With no, mind-breath-body connection in sight. My breath and mind began to race, shaking up my unsupportive thoughts.
Once unsupportive thoughts come you must CHECK them.
I’ll use “unsupportive” and “supportive” instead of “positive” and “negative” here to eliminate the idea of good or bad and shift the gaze to actions, behaviors, and thoughts that support where you are, what you want, and what aligns with you versus those that don’t.
By checking yourself, I mean checking-in with your Self. How are you feeling? How is your breath moving? Notice and make observations, no judgments.
Meet yourself with compassion as you replace unsupportive thoughts with supportive thoughts before things get too disorganized and unruly in your head. When the lines blur between what you think and what you know is true, that is where misconception, doubt, and anxiety arise.
I didn’t even know how to check-in on myself back then, so I’ll forever be thankful for the imparted tools and spiritual knowledge from yoga. Yoga has shown me how the breath and mind connect. In my practice, I use my breath to create space between feelings and thoughts. As unsupportive thoughts arise, inhale and exhale deeply to make space between the stimuli and your reaction! Observe what your mind does, you don't have to respond.
As the class continued, so did the unsupportive thoughts, making it difficult to flow on my mat or mind. All I wanted was for no one to look into our class, class to be over, and to keep my insecurities at bay. However, that didn’t happen. Class finally ended, I was turned off from practicing in public, but still on #TeamYoga.
It wouldn’t be until years later, after my challenging senior year, when I would reconnect with yoga. That's a story for another post!
As the cliché goes first impressions matter. There are many formative first public yoga class experiences that often led people to have an adverse reaction to yoga. For instance, I've had many conversations about first public class experiences and learned that it can be a very alienating experience, especially when you are a person of color. People have shared with me that they’ve felt like an outsider, they worried about not understanding techniques, concerned about judgments and prejudices based on looks, and the list goes on.
When a student or anyone doesn’t feel considered or visible, it can influence a person’s unsupportive thoughts and that is what it turns people away from yoga, people, or whatever they were once interested in.
Therefore, as yoga instructors, facilitators, friends, and anyone who holds space for people, we must strive to be more inclusive and considerate of your own intersectionality, and the audiences and the environments you hold space for. Check-in with yourself before creating space, consider and acknowledge all the sections of yourself while doing the same for the people you interact with. This mindful act makes an impact and emphasizes a person’s sense of visibility and connection.
How do you feel when someone considers you?
I’ve realized It was this formative first yoga experience that inspired me to become a yoga instructor. As my yoga journey grew I wanted to become an instructor that I needed when I first began my practice. A person who looks like me, but more so someone regards me. I was under the impression that there was a scarce number of black yogis, only to learn that there is an ABUNDANCE of black yogis, yogis of color, yogis of all body types and more. It is just an issue of visibility and proper acknowledgment. I hope as yoga becomes more inclusive that the those who feel invisible begin to feel visible.
When I first met yoga, I had a bad first impression and felt a sense of lacking within myself and the world around me. When yoga re-entered my life, I was empowered and planted in something much bigger than myself. I acknowledge and know the abundance within the Universe, my Self and those around me. In our abundance, I invite you to speak to yourself (Self) and others with compassion. When you are holding space, I invite you to act and think in a way that is inclusive to others, to better foster sense of Self and community.
What happened when you first met yoga, compared to now?
Do you acknowledge all the sections of yourself?
Do you know that you are abundant?