Sometimes I am asked how yoga changed my life. If I have to keep it short, I just simply say, “I am so much more mindful”. Since I might have your attention a little longer, allow me to elaborate.
Yoga is very much about gradual change. Your life is not going to change drastically; it is a slow and mindful process (Vinyasa). Many students understand Vinyasa as a sweaty flow class, but if you look at the correct translation, Vi= in a special way, and Nyasa= to place. So, it is to place in a special way; it is truly about being mindful.
I was 22 when I took my first class in Santa Monica with Paul Grilley, who is now known for Yin Yoga. For years I had been suffering from OCD which kind of morphed into an eating disorder, that left me depressed and powerless. As I started doing yoga, I experienced how it felt to be calm, how it felt to be in my body instead of fighting, hating, and controlling it. I realized that the underlying cause of OCD and eating disorders was anxiety. In Savasana, for the first time, I felt peaceful and became absorbed in the stillness of my body. I felt embraced in the arms of my Self. It was that feeling that made me return again and again and again.
It is awful to be in the claws of Bulimia. Your life is full of shame, secrets, and hatred towards your body. I felt hopeless and alone; you feel too ashamed to share it with anyone. In some dark moments I considered taking my life. I was the image of perfection and self-control, but in truth I was so so lost and felt out of control. Yoga lovingly showed me the way back inside, and slowly but surely I healed. Yoga comes from the sanskrit word: Yuj, which means to connect, to unite. I gradually felt more connected to my body and became aware of a place of stillness inside. I had a Sanctuary. Yoga saved me or I saved myself through the healing practice of yoga. I felt empowered.
In the early years of my practice, I found teachers who were very compassionate. I could not ‘stomach’ teachers who were hard and strict; I was plenty hard on myself! I studied mostly with Erich Schiffman, Lisa Walford, and John Friend. Gradually, I became interested in self-study, Svadhyaya. Sva= Self, and Adhyaya= Inquiry. I wanted to get to know myself, understand myself, and discover the origin of my self-destructive patterns. After having studied yoga for 25 years, this part of the journey is fascinating, humbling, and sometimes surprising. When you do a lot of self-reflection, it is important to practice self-compassion and also to have a good sense of humor.
Birgitte Kristen is a YogaWorks teacher, YogaWorks teacher trainer, and MyYogaWorks online yoga instructor. Birgitte’s yoga classes offer a mindful, methodical, and meditative approach to yoga where she encourages students to slow down and to listen to their bodies, to respect and honor themselves. Check out Birgitte’s website, take one of her online yoga classes on MyYogaWorks, one of her public classes at YogaWorks Santa Monica, or connect with her on Facebook.