Yoga for Life
INTRODUCTION: KNOW YOU’RE ENOUGH
I watch women’s chests. I watch the arches of their feet. I watch the positions of their pelvises and the placement of their heads. I watch women holding it all together, afraid that if they slow down, everything will fall apart. I watch women being ashamed that they are aging and feeling unworthy of love. I watch women collapse.
I also watch women’s perfection, courage, compassion, and grace. We women can balance our heads over our lifted chests, supported by strong legs that are connected to the earth. We can raise the arches of our feet and we can soften our faces. We can carry ourselves in the world with confidence and ease.
I’ve taught yoga to thousands of women (and men) for close to two decades. Women are powerful and beautiful, and we are also in pain—physical, emotional, and psychological—stemming from past or present trauma. We’re fearful about what the future may or may not bring, personally or professionally. Women in my classes cope with addiction, body and relationship issues, mother issues, competitiveness, and an inability to tell the truth. All of these things create stagnation and tension in the body. Yoga gives us tools to overcome the obstacles that exist between us and freedom, joy, and gratitude. I see why women come to yoga; they want to reclaim something in themselves. It’s inspiring to watch women gain a different perspective and fall in love with their bodies.
I was a professional model for three decades and very confused about my value beyond my looks. I’ve experienced triumphs in life, but plenty of traumas, too. I’ve always been searching for something beyond what I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. I’ve had glimpses of this mystery through prayer, intense exercise, and drugs. Yet it is yoga that takes me back to myself and has made me realize that the magic that I’ve
spent my lifetime searching for is right here inside of me. All I have to do is stop running from it.
My yoga journey started in 1987 when a friend convinced me to go with her to a yoga class in New York City. When I walked out, I felt different than I’d ever felt in my life. As I stepped into the street and its lights, colors, and smells—all seemed different, so crisp and so clear. Something significant had shifted, and something opened up inside of me. I felt alive in a whole new way.
I love this definition of yoga from one of my first teachers, Sharon Gannon: “Yoga is the state where nothing is missing.” When was the last time we felt nothing was missing? Maybe in utero.
The term satya means “truthfulness” in Sanskrit. So many of us are lying to ourselves; we’re putting an identity out there that we want other people to see, and we’re hiding, from ourselves and from others, who we truly are. In truthfulness as in yoga, nothing is missing. We are present, whole.
Even after all my years of practice and study, I can’t claim to know what enlightenment is, or if yoga will take me there. But I do know that yoga lowers stress, improves posture, circulation, and digestion, while keeping joints fluid and muscles toned. It may also be the best antiaging regimen we have, and it can bring us to our ideal weight. Yoga eases everyday pains and frustrations and increases kindness and compassion. It hones the body and stabilizes the mind. Yoga can illuminate our spirits and free us from the shackles of our stories, which often limit our vision of who we are and what we are capable of achieving.
When you navigate the inner landscapes of your body through breath work, mindfulness, and postures, you notice if what you have just said, done, or thought makes you feel lousy or good. One day several years ago, my four-year-old nephew, Johnny, was talking to my oldest brother, Mark. Johnny said, “Uncle Mark, I really love everyone!” Mark replied: “Really, Johnny? I don’t love everyone. In fact, I even have enemies.” Johnny shook his head and said, “That’s too bad, Uncle Mark. You must feel so bad inside.” This awareness is the first step toward right thought, right word, right action, and maybe even peace. It could be that simple.
One night, my husband, Rodney, and I were surfing YouTube videos when we stumbled on a video of a Fiona Apple concert. It was an “aha!” moment for me. I thought: This woman is telling the truth with her body. She’s not what you would typically call a good dancer, she was jerky and unconcerned about looking pretty, but
something about her was raw and real. She was moving with her wounds, with her limitations—she was moving truthfully. She wasn’t hiding, and she wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable and expose herself through her voice and movements.
Her courage and honesty made her dance mesmerizing and powerful. It penetrated something deep inside me. When you bow to someone and say, “Namaste,” it means, “The deepest part of me acknowledges the deepest part of you.” Fiona Apple’s performance was a Namaste from her body to mine. I want to have the courage to be as honest in my life, my teaching, and in this book as she was in that dance.
Yoga can bring you to this kind of truth by helping you to observe, then to let go of, the habits you cling to and the stories you use to protect yourself. As you practice, you become intimate with your body, which many of us spend a lifetime either alienated from or waging war with. Yoga practice can pierce emotional places that most of us guard or avoid. Our bodies are intelligent, more a source of direct truth than our minds, but we rarely listen to the wisdom that’s buried in our beautiful chambers.
I became a yoga teacher because I have experienced the real change yoga can create. With yoga, I’m at home in my skin. Yoga has helped me to become more honest. It has helped me discover my body, and through it, my voice.
In the modern yoga world, yogis were often put into little boxes and expected to be celibate, or cult members, or tree-hugging, granola-eating hippies. I’m here to tell you that today a yogi can be anyone, even an Irish Italian girl from the heartland of Indiana.
Yoga has given me a larger family, my yoga community, a congregation of people willing to work to find the connectivity that’s sometimes hidden. It brings to the surface what we need to feel and know. The late B. K. S. Iyengar, perhaps the most influential yoga teacher of our age, said that you can only be as intimate with others as you are with yourself. Alone and in community, we use yoga to get to our essence. Yoga peels away layer after layer of debris to uncover what has been there all along. It’s like the Bob Dylan lyric: “How long, babe, will you search for what’s not lost?”
This is the story of one woman’s life, my life, in and out of yoga. It isn’t always pretty, but it’s as honest as I can be, and as memory allows. I’ve tried to extract from my journey some of the painful and exuberant lessons I’ve learned, and I’ve embodied each of them in a unique yoga sequence. For dealing with suffering, the
sequences are intended to be soothing and nurturing; for dealing with growth and other life passages, the sequences are intended to be celebratory and to lead you to your own insights. The sequences I’ve designed address issues of alienation, addiction, and insecurity as well as finding one’s voice and participating in the endless potential of acceptance and love.
The goal of a yoga sequence is to create a physical effect, an emotional effect, and a spiritual effect. The key is to investigate and listen to your body, to increase intimacy with it in order to understand cause and effect. What sequence of poses, breath work, and meditation creates greater peace? (Not just peace in our joints, but peace in our guts, our hearts, our nervous systems, and our lives.) We’re all “sequencing” every day. If you need to drop the kids off at school and go to the bank, the post office, and the grocery store, you figure out an optimal order in which to complete those tasks. When it comes to the body, the same lessons apply. Yoga is skill in action; part of that skill is learning the right sequence, on and off the mat.
A beautiful yoga playground awaits you in these pages, and, I hope, the sequences I’ve created will reveal the blue sky that’s waiting inside you.
Today, I’m fifty-five years old and happily married. I don’t do drugs, and I’m a vegetarian. Instead of chasing synthetic highs, I’ve learned how to extract a high from the beauty of an ordinary day. I’ve learned that the best high exists in the joy or the sadness or the mundaneness of the present moment, unfiltered. Yoga allows me to surf the ripples and sit with the mud, all while catching glimpses of the clarity at the bottom of the lake: my true Self.
I hope this book will help you do the same. Namaste.