My first exposure to yoga was as a group exercise instructor. Of course I had heard of yoga, but I knew absolutely nothing about it. I will be honest, it’s still a surprise to me how I became a group exercise instructor, let alone a yoga practitioner and teacher. Most exercise instructors are athletes, former dance students, gymnasts. I’m not any of those things. I would much rather read a good book or watch a good movie! I was just a simple person that began to use exercise as a coping mechanism for my emotional well-being, and later found myself interested in using food as medicine to help heal my ailments, as opposed to taking a ton of medication. Nothing more, nothing less. I feel like teaching group exercise classes was basically Divine intervention. Here’s how it went down.
When I was 20, I picked up a bad habit of smoking cigarettes. To each her own, but I was (and still am) an asthmatic so I had no business puffing on squares. But I did. I started using smoking and social alcohol consumption as a coping mechanism for what I thought was a bad relationship. In hindsight, it was not because of the relationship at all. The smoking and alcohol were what I was using at the time to hide from some other painful shit that I wasn’t ready to face, but of course that’s another blog post. He was not a bad guy, I just wasn’t mature enough to handle a serious relationship at the tender age of 20. I started to work my way out of this relationship (that had led to marriage and then a divorce) by the age of 23.
I started a new relationship right away, with no time to process what had just happened. That was a big mistake. I had no connection to my feelings, my thoughts, nothing. Just rolling around disconnected from my life experiences. Of course this new relationship didn’t work. I was an emotional hot mess. However, even though I was a mess emotionally, I was very mature in other areas. For example, I knew that I wanted to quit smoking, not only because of my own health history, but my family’s health history as well.
I’ve written about how we lost my grandfather to lung cancer. But more recently, at that time, my Dad had just had a heart attack and was diagnosed with Type two diabetes. I was completely aware of the risk factors related to smoking, and I wanted out. I tried to quit at least four times before I was successful. My friend and coworker gave me some good advice, “All you need to do is replace a bad habit with a good one. That will help you quit.” Something just clicked for me and made so much sense.
So, my good habit to replace my bad one became exercise. I borrowed a step aerobics VHS tape and a step riser from my mother. Y’all, don’t laugh at me, it was the ‘90s and step was in at the time (I still have my step and proud to say I still use it occasionally). That became my routine and coping mechanism after work. Exercise and movement became therapy for me. I also made some other changes that helped restructure my life. I took a different route home, I stuck to my rule of no smoking in the car, and stopped hanging out with friends at happy hour. This restructuring was all about helping myself get over the hump of the addiction to cigarettes. This time, I was successful quitting my nicotine habit. It’s been exactly twenty years this month.
It was also during this time that I started to strengthen my spiritual muscle. Through this emotional pain I was experiencing, something had started to awaken within. My previous experience with my higher power was complicated, to say the least. But I started asking God questions late at night. My request was simple, “If you are there show me the way to you. Show me the path to you. To the truth. Whatever it is, I will follow.” What happened next was amazing. I started to hear this voice from within more often, providing me with instructions. Step-by-step instructions on how to untangle the mess I had made of my life at such a young age.
Not only did He provide me with instructions, but He also sent people (a group of ladies that I call angels on earth) out of nowhere to help along the way. These ladies helped by providing me with important sermons on forgiveness, that continue to serve me to this day. It never occured to me why I had made such a mess of my life. I never knew I was so angry, and I didn’t see how that anger was short-circuiting my brief existence on this planet. I would not find out the “why” until years later. You can probably guess that yoga helped me to connect those dots. That is definitely another blog post.
So there I was, two failed relationships behind me, feeling empty, emotionally homeless, and broken. My prayer was simple, (it was one of those ugly cry prayers) “What do you want from me? I have a lot of love to give, what do YOU want?” Because I had recently started working with some meditation principles my mind was fully present in the moment. I heard “I want you to teach a fitness class.” Then the spiritual argument began. WHAT? Are you serious? No way! That is NOT who I am. I am not the “fit type!” (Like I said earlier, I am not an athlete and by no means an expert on human movement.) It never occurred to me that I had just accomplished my goal to quit smoking, all through lifestyle change and behavior modification. I would later discover these are basic principles involved in creating programming to help others accomplish their personal exercise goals.
As I was questioning this assignment, I remembered my prayer of asking to be shown the path and making the commitment to walk the path. So, I stopped the arguing and went to sleep. I went to work the next day and casually mentioned to a coworker (one of those angels on earth) that I was thinking of teaching an exercise class. You would never guess what she said. “I know an instructor who wants to give up her step aerobics class at the YMCA on North Avenue. Here is her number, I will tell her about you.” My mind was completely blown away.
Little did I know, my career in health care (and my eventual path to yoga) was about to be born.