I felt something foundational shift in me when I started smoking a quick bowl before yoga.
Yoga has been in my peripheral for nearly the entirety of my life. My mom was an avid yogi through most of my life, and she encouraged my sisters and I to take up the practice as well.
I wasn’t crazy about it for a variety of reasons; I wasn’t exceptionally active, I was highly inflexible, and it was hard. My first year in college, I took a yoga class for the gym credit, and found myself able to touch my toes for the first time in memory. For one semester, my friend and I laid in the dark, trying not to giggle at the hot Puerto Rican man next to us who was more flexible than either of us could ever hope to be, while our teacher, a squat white woman with frizzy brown hair and the largest bunions I had ever seen in my life taught us to press our heels down and breathe through our noses. I don’t recall liking the class all the much, but it was significantly easier than the kayaking class we had opted into the semester beforehand.
Yoga was not a habit I kept with; the only class I tried in Plattsburgh was filled with elderly professors who farted unabashedly. I went occasionally with my mother to her studio after graduation, where she put me to shame during the 90-minute vinyasa flows. I wobbled, shook, teetered and fell while she gracefully moved from pose to pose.
It was always uplifting to go, but a battle to get there. And frankly, I didn’t really enjoy while I was there; it was just the simple joy of movement that stayed with me. The endorphins, you know.
In the summer of 2019, I slept on my side wrong, aggravating a pre-existing hip condition. I spent weeks in complete agony before finally making a physical therapist’s appointment. My PT was surprised by my severely limited mobility for someone my age, and put me on the strict regimen of balancing exercises. It was, I realized halfway through our second session, not dissimilar from many balance moves I had attempted years earlier in a class with my mom.
After quickly running through my allotted appointments without a doctor’s note (isn’t the American health care system great?) I resolved to try harder in my day-to-day life to strength my hips. And so, I returned to yoga, but I found myself facing the same wall of resistance I always had.
Yoga was hard. And frankly, I don’t like hard things. It didn’t feel good to be challenged or pushed- it was exhausting and disappointing to continually encounter the limitations of my body.
But my hip problems would only get worse the longer I left them alone. At one point, I had been training actively enough in the circus arts to forestall any weakness. I had my limitations with that sport, but I was able to compensate other ways. But now I trained once or twice a week at most, which simply wasn’t enough to get my hips active and moving. Add onto that a stereotypical 9-5 desk job, and an aggravation was simply inevitable.
And so I returned again to yoga, searching for that which I missed, something that clicked differently.
I don’t remember when I smoked my first bowl before stepping onto my mat. I only remember the feeling of peace the spread throughout my body. My mind was quiet, breath focused, and for one blessed 20 minute video of Yoga with Adriene, I flowed effortlessly. I was hooked on that feeling.
And so began a weekend routine of rising before my then-boyfriend (who would happily sleep until 11 am or noon, given any chance to do so), smoking a bowl, and following along as Adriene led a 10 – 30 minute flow.
It was not always easy, or effortless, and I certainly didn’t love yoga overnight. But through the altered state of mind I was in, I was able to more easily access my breath and my center, quiet my mind, and focus on what I was doing. And quickly I got better, able to understand which muscles needed to be activated when and where my hard and soft limits were (hard limit- no pigeon pose. Soft limit- happy baby).
After a few weeks of solo sessions, my boyfriend began to join. I am blessed in that he takes an active interest in my interests, and so he purchased a mat and we found ourselves spread out in the kitchen, the only room in our apartment big enough to accommodate us both. (it also had the most light and plants, making it fairly ideal for this)
We spent early mornings and late evenings going through the motions. In early 2020, we resolved to make yoga an everyday thing- and for us, that meant first thing in the morning.
Now, I have never been a morning person. I was decidedly the most unpleasant person in my house to wake growing up (except for Dad- thanks dad!). I refused to speak at early morning work events until enough coffee had lubricated my throat to eradicate my “morning voice”. And the idea of waking up and immediately engaging in physical actively? Vomitous.
But we did not come to this conclusion until weeks into attempting to practice yoga daily, only to find ourselves collapsed into bed at 9:30 pm without so much as a glance towards the mat. It was obvious that if we wanted to include yoga in our daily routine, it had to be in the morning. We had plenty of time in the morning; typically not rising until close to 8 am. The obvious answer was simply to get up early.
But there’s a reason most people don’t pick the obvious answer when it’s also the hardest.
Still, it’s easiest to form a new habit when you live with your accountability partner, and so we persisted. We rose at 6 am diligently, rolled out the mat, and did a 10- or 20-minute video every morning.
I’m coming up on nearly 18 months of continuous yoga practice. I’m not bendy like Gumby (remember him?), stronger than I ever imagined, or able to put my foot behind my head. I still struggle on the mat, lose my breath, and fall over.
But I show up every day, and I call back my attention to breath every day. Some days it is easier than others. Some days it feels completely out of reach. But that’s why they call it a practice.
I am marginally more flexible, decently stronger, and hugely more aware of my body and my muscles. High yoga allows me to let go of anything and everything going on in my day, and enter into a state of moving meditation.
Which is coincidentally how I feel about high hiking as well.