How Yoga Changed My Life
Yoga can change lives. This is the story of how it changed mine.
I began practicing yoga in 2010. I had just completed graduate school and landed my first full-time job, relocating from Boston to Northern Virginia. Graduate school was intense, and my typical five day a week fitness regimen diminished to once a week, if at all.
Determined to get myself back on a healthy track, I joined a gym and began taking Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga classes several times a week. I knew there was more to yoga than just a “good workout,” but any deeper experience was lost on me. The environment was certainly a major factor.
The yoga studio in the gym was adjacent to another, much larger studio where high-energy cardio classes were accompanied by incredibly loud, bass-thumping music. As much as I tried to tune it out, that distraction and others in the gym prevented yoga from becoming anything more than a vigorous fitness session.
I took it for what it was at the time. I built strength and flexibility, got back into the fitness game, and learned the yoga basics in terms of asana, alignment, and flow.
Fast forward four years, a marriage, and a move back to Boston, and my yoga experience changed.
I initially joined a local gym, but after two months, I yearned for something different, a change of fitness pace and environment. I turned my sights to a yoga studio across the street to "mix things up."
At first, I felt a little disoriented. The students were warm and welcoming, immediately offering to move their mats to make space for mine. The instructors were kind, compassionate, funny, patient and knowledgeable – these little shining lights guiding us through the practice.
I started practicing yoga four to five days a week, connecting with the practice on a deeper, more spiritual level.
I set an intention at the beginning of each practice.
I cherished the moments of meditation. Instead of impatiently waiting for savasana to be over, I embraced it wholeheartedly, wanting more time in the final resting pose. I floated out the door at the conclusion of practice.
Yoga became my little rescue boat as I began drowning in stress, fear, and anxiety.
When CJ and I moved back to Boston, I was able to keep my corporate job, working from home and traveling back to Virginia once a month. I had been a marketer focused in Federal government services for nearly five years. It was something I had more or less fallen into after graduate school, nothing I had planned for or was honestly very passionate about. Regardless, the “pros” were attractive enough. I worked for a reputable consulting firm, considered my coworkers friends, cherished my relationship with my manager, and was positively recognized for my work performance.
I am a Type A overachiever and tackle everything I do at 110%.
I gave it everything I had, but that was only sustainable for so long.
As the years progressed, my satisfaction with the job and the industry increasingly dwindled. I lacked purpose and felt unfulfilled. The Federal environment was growing tumultuous, the future uncertain. I went from being energized and motivated to disinterested and apathetic. All of my duties and tasks felt like chores, and despite efforts, no project could turn that feeling around.
I thought telecommuting and being a bit more disconnected from it all would make things better, but instead, it exacerbated the problem. I felt frustrated and angry on a daily basis, and that persistent feeling compounded by disillusionment and unhappiness started to affect my personality and how I interacted with those around me.
Why did I stay? I stayed because I was grateful to have a job. I considered myself lucky and fortunate to be employed in this economy. I felt greedy and ungrateful for wanting more.
I tried for months to transfer internally to a different role, to stay with the firm but change focus. By the end of the summer of 2014, I was so demoralized and disinterested with Corporate America that the thought of going to another company seemed even worse than staying. So, I sucked it up.
I deepened my yoga practice right around the time I fell into a dark hole. Even though I was surrounded by the love and support of my husband and family, I knew it was ultimately me who had to pull myself out. The anxiety and feeling of being trapped, not knowing what to do, was overwhelming.
I cried all the time. I didn’t sleep. I tried to distract myself from feelings of fear and anxiety with comfort food, which made me feel even worse once the momentary pleasure faded away. I felt debilitated and paralyzed.
I knew deep down what I wanted to do.a
wanted to quit – but I was not a quitter.
Even though CJ and I were in a fortunate position to live on his salary, I didn’t want to let go of being an earner, a contributor to the household. I worried I would disappoint my parents. I worried what people would say, what they would think. I worried about having a gap in my resume. I worried about what I would say if someone asked me, "So, what do you do? Where do you work?" I worried about everything.
As I floundered, I practiced.
Yoga was where I found calm, where my mind stopped racing, where my anxiety and stress melted away with each breath. Practicing yoga became the highlight of my day.
Through yoga, I began building and practicing mindfulness. For those 60 or 75 minutes, my mind focused on the present moment, on each breath and movement, rather than spun up in my web of worries about the future.
I held poses deeper and longer and withstood more weight on my shoulders (literally). I felt myself blooming again with confidence in the strength, stability, balance, and space I created.
I left each class feeling like a drastically different person from when I entered. I felt lighter. The whole world around me felt lighter. I felt lengthened, my heart open.
I treated myself with kindness at the studio, and I began to carry over that kindness at home. I stopped turning to junk food for comfort, instead fueling my body with clean, healthy foods. I began to integrate elements of my practice off the mat. If the anxiety began to course through my veins, I would focus on my breath to slow things down.
I inhaled and exhaled deeper and with purpose to regain control. That’s when I realized I was in control. Not my anxiety, not what people thought, not what a gap in my resume would look like to future employers. The answer was right there in front of me. I just had to grab onto it and pull myself out of the hole of self-doubt. So, I quit.
The moment I made the decision, the anxiety, stress, and torment faded away like those wispy clouds at the tail end of a storm. The negativity dissolved.
I felt at peace. I felt relieved.
My husband and mom later told me that within hours of making the decision to resign, I was a completely different person. I was Stephanie again.
Leaving Corporate America created an opportunity to blaze my own trail, to follow my heart and turn what I love into what I do.
My gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan food blog, Steph in Thyme, is my living portfolio and creative outlet. In 2014, I started working with brands on transforming their products and produce into delicious recipes. In 2015, I joined About.com Food as their freelance Gluten-Free Cooking Expert.
And of course, there's lots of yoga, too.
In November 2014, I attended an information session for a 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. As soon as I saw the announcement, a twinge of excitement stirred from deep within. I exchanged emails and spoke at length with the yoga teacher/lead instructor of the program. I consulted with my own yoga teachers.
At the end of the information session, I knew teaching is what I wanted to do. I sent a text to my husband, and he said two words. “Do it.”
Six months later, I became an official yoga teacher.
By summer 2016, I was teaching 18+ classes a week and working with private clients.
Yoga had a profound impact on my life and well being. They were my lifeboats and my lighthouses in a large storm. They helped me build and reclaim the confidence, courage and strength needed to make necessary and positive changes in my life.
I am passionate about helping others realize and experience these aspects of yoga to help bring positive and powerful change to their own lives.
I hope that one day we can practice together. Until then, the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.