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Reader Contribution – My Yoga Story

Submitted September 14th, 2009 by Brother Jason.

My Yoga Story

I am a partially disabled veteran. I broke my back in a training accident in the Army years ago. Following that, I had pain every day of my life for 10 years. I could not even bend over to brush my teeth. I would have to lean on my elbows on the sink to wash my face. I was not able to bend and pick up things from the floor or weed the garden. At one point, my conditioned worsened to the point where I could no longer sleep well either.

I had tried everything short of surgery (massage, chiropractic, physical therapy, ultra-sound, hot tub, getting super fit, and pain killers) and had yet I still no permanent relief from my pain. Finally, I heard about someone who was able to recover from a back injury using yoga. I enrolled in a “vinny yoga” class for people who had physical limitations. Going in, I was highly skeptical of yoga as it seemed slow, pointless and lame. But I was desperate to try anything at that point.

When I entered the class, I found that I was the only male. The other participants were mostly peri-menopausal women, which added to my reluctance. Initially I found this even more uncomfortable. But the teacher began by teaching us how to use the basic yoga breathing techniques and how to use the yoga Banhdas “locks” to center our energy during the Asanas (poses) and protect ourselves during movement. Once we began breathing, immediately my concerns about the silliness of the class or my situation as the only dude melted away.

The Vinny class I took was gentle and had many modified poses for people who could not get into the classical pretzel forms. This was great for me. After going 2-3 times per week for 2 months, I noticed that I began to have dramatically more freedom of movement and less pain. But I noticed something else too. My life energy was increasing. I began to do things I was unable to do for years. I began gardening like crazy, hard core hiking, rock climbing etc. The other thing that happened was that my world outlook began to shift from the temporal sphere to the spiritual. I also became a much calmer and more relaxed person.

Eventually, I was able to progress from that class and move on to other forms of yoga- ashtanga, flow yoga, forest yoga, anusara, hot yoga, kundalini yoga, etc. At their core, they are very similar. I think the most important part is to find a yogi or yogini (yoga teacher) for whom yoga is their life’s work (so for example not a jazzercise instructor who took a one week training class). There is something special that I cannot explain that can be transmitted by a true yoga master to a student.  I think the phrase is “shaktipat” in the Sanskrit.

My yoga practice has waxed and waned over the years, as time and money have allowed. I find that going one time per month to a class and doing just a few minutes per day on my own is enough to keep me pain free.

The physical benefits are very important.  However, the real value for me is not the physical, but the emotional and the spiritual benefits.  I have experienced deeps states of bliss doing yoga, feelings of oneness with all of creation. When my practice is deepest, I also have very vivid and lucid dreams. On some occasions I have even experienced visions or been given the gift of insights or answers to questions at the moment of sivasana or “corpse pose”—when you lay as a corpse at the end after clearing all your chakras and energy pathways. It also symbolizes the death of the ego. I find that the ego shifts to the back seat during yoga and is most unified with the true self in the Sivasna pose at the end of practices.

I have been taught many lessons through the simple yogic practice of attention the breath and movement—lessons of letting go, of how to flow with things, oneness of all.

Eventually I began to see my whole life as a yoga practice. Physically it has changed my awareness of my body, how I am holding my tension, how I am moving and breathing throughout the day. Emotionally, it has given me the tools to calm and center myself in any situation. I once had a boss yell at me just before a presentation to 50 people. I went to another room and did some breathing for 2 minutes and then went and did a kickass presentation. [He actually apologized afterwards and then asked me how I was able to remain unaffected and calm.]

Spiritually, it has stoked the fires of spiritual learning in me and a thirst for knowledge as well as the commitment to practice loving kindness and continual worship throughout my day to day life.

So here I have this curse of an injured back. It forces me to do yoga at least once per month to stay mobile. But it’s also a major blessing. It has led me to a yoga practice which in turn has led me to my current life path and even freemasonry. Each time I go to a class, it reminds me of who I truly am outside the field of time.  After practicing, I always say to myself “why am I not doing this every day?”

It just so happens that I am about to enter a new phase in my yoga life.  A yoga studio opened in the same building I worked in. I joined the studio and will now be able to go to as many classes as I like. It’s very convenient and I will have no excuse. I am really looking forward to this next chapter in my yoga journey!