Lessons from 25 Years in a Riptide

Content Warning: this generously sentimental post contains themes of self-help, woo, optimism, morning routines and radical self-empowerment.

Twenty-five years ago, some unexplainable force had me walking into a strange environment full of sweaty half-naked bodies breathing like Darth Vader. I’ve said over and over again through the years that it was the single best decision of my life—still true, maybe more. Yoga taught me how to human.

Every lesson I gained from my body in yoga, could be applied to my life off the mat. At 26, Yoga gave me a sense of autonomy I had never experienced. For the first time, through asana, I was shaping myself rather than bending into what I thought others wanted or needed me to be. The early days were bliss, but yoga has never been easy for me. 

During my first year of practice while receiving an adjustment, I was injured in a jarring and surprising way. While the injury itself was enough to pause my practice for several weeks, what disabled me more was the subsequent release of every emotion that had been locked inside. Somehow the blow to my body’s soft tissues uncapped a vulnerability which I had been diligently guarding for most of my life. The injury and the resulting friction it put between me and my practice, taught me how to fight for myself before I could really even understand what that meant or would entail. 

In the years following the injury, my yoga practice asked me again and again to confront an energy I did not understand. Each time I showed up on my mat, a forceful undertow of emotion would be there to greet me. In my day to day, it lay mostly quiet and obedient to my insistence that it not exist. It was only when I moved my body through asana that it raged to a threatening level. There were many (many) days where I only got in a sun salutation or two before I got pulled into the current without the energy to overcome, so I’d just sit on my mat, sometimes for an hour, defeated. I did not know that by showing up despite this, I was doing exactly what one should do in a riptide: don’t try to free yourself, let the current spin you about and spit you out when it’s ready. This struggle went on for years. 

In my first 5 years of yoga, I calculate that I probably spent eight to ten thousand hours on my mat. The time was divided into personal practice, teacher training, advanced workshops, assisting in classes and eventually teaching some of my own. Yoga became a lifestyle. Even on the days I did not do yoga, I spent the first hours of the day in personal reflection—often writing about my struggles with getting on my mat and what lessons the body was teaching me. I have 25 years of journals chronicling the journey. 

While the undertow of my yoga mat existed for years, there were periods where it allowed me to move my body without overwhelming me emotionally. During this time, I learned how to retreat from the studio and practice on my own. I could do it any way that I wanted and stop at any point I chose. In the solitude of my practice, I began to befriend myself and trust that I could do hard things. I opened myself to deeper study and worked hard at meaningless and low paying jobs to cover the cost of the expensive trainings that have led me to where I am now.

Back then, I knew that my body had been storing the grief of my past, and that yoga was responsible for its cumbersome release. I wanted to understand the source and the mechanism of this. I guess I knew the source was this event or that, and my body was the keeper of each trauma’s memory, but I wanted something tangible to pin all this feeling on, so I started studying anatomy, which soon led to cutting into bodies. I’ve spent hundreds of hours in anatomy labs examining muscles, organs, bones and brains, in search of the stain that unprocessed emotion leaves behind. I have no authority in this field, but I can tell you that every tear unshed, leaves its mark somewhere inside. Each yoga pose worked its way into my body and helped dislodge the old stories that were choking my vulnerability. As the stories rose to the surface, my brain, trained by yoga to remain in the moment, could spit out the fibre—the undigestible elements— leaving me with nothing but the lesson. Detaching me from the habit of powerlessness. 

I gained the courage to repeatedly get beaten and tossed about by my own riptide, trusting that when I could calm myself enough to be spit out, a gem of wisdom would emerge with me. That gem was trust. If you can’t trust yourself to show up for the hard stuff, no one else in this world will be able to convince you that things will be fine. You have to learn this for yourself and the sooner you get started, the better. Trust me (lol). My body got lighter; practice was pleasurable more often.

The discipline I gained on my mat held hands with trust. One without the other is incomplete.

I’ve practiced on the same mat for most of my yoga years. Yogis, meditators and spiritual seekers alike have long understood that space holds energy and time spent in those spaces draws upon memory. When I stand on my yoga mat, it doesn’t matter where I roll it out, the presence of all the struggles and the gifts of 25 years of persistence moves through each breath with me, and each practice holds more power. 

For 25 years I have been unconsciously embodying and conditioning my body to become the mind of a new emotion.

Emotion is a record of the past and I know that by metabolizing those records, I have changed my past. What happened inside of me as a result of a history I had no agency over, through yoga, has alchemized into what is inside of me now empowering my future. A new result of a new past.

I’ve lost count of how many hours, dollars, ideas, conversations I have invested into this journey, a journey that began as a simple quest to be inspired. Each dissection (literal and metaphorical), every workshop (too many to recall), three teacher trainings, thousands of hours on my mat, hundreds of thousands of words written, injuries observed and healed, memories rewritten, experiences metabolized. Frustrations and failures, relationships gained and lost, ideas implemented, risks taken and not. Everything in my life now is a testament to who I was 25 years ago and the work it has taken every day since to show up or not.

Every time I touch a body in my massage practice, all of that experience comes through me. While my education has been anything but conventional, I love that I have the language to hold my own in conversations with both a surgeon and a professor of quantum physics. I relate to my clients from some point along that broad spectrum of matter and energy. I am inspired that so many people are eager to discover more about themselves. All of what yoga has taught me, my body’s known all along and there are memories still collecting, awaiting future rewrites.