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My journey towards om shanti—or peace for all
By Brittni Henderson
Last August my coworker invited me to take a lunchtime yoga class to celebrate her birthday with some of our other colleagues. After weeks of telling me how amazing yoga was, I finally decided to give it a try. The abbreviated, midday class was only $5 and a bunch of others were joining us, so I didn’t want to come down with a case of FOMO (fear of missing out for you non-millenials). My argument was always that I would be too bored. I love high intensity workouts. I like to feel like I’ve never sweat more in my entire life. Yoga is way too slow for me—there’s no way I’m going to like it. Not a chance.
After awkwardly fumbling around through the 45-minute slow-paced session, I realized a few things, with the first and most obvious being that I had absolutely no balance at all. Secondly, although I had been incorporating strength training into my daily workout routines, I felt like I had no upper body strength to speak of. Okay, maybe a little bit—but not in the yoga scheme of things. Next, OMG—yoga is actually no joke. It was a hot and humid summer day, so there was no need to heat the room at all. My wish of working up a sweat definitely came true, though. It amazed me that working through a sequence of poses would be such an intense workout.
I didn’t hate the class so I decided to try it again a few days later with a few of the same coworkers. This time, I felt a little bit more confident because I had a better idea of what to expect. Upon my third time returning to the same studio, which I should add is conveniently located within a block from my full-time job in Providence, the staff at the front desk cheerily greeted me by name. “Hey Brittni! How’s it going today?” one of them asked. As lame as this sounds, this was the selling point for me. I still had a way to go before I reached a point where I could call myself a “yogi,” but the talented and friendly instructors at Providence Power Yoga made me feel so at home that I knew that this was going to be a staple for me at least once or twice a week—little did I know, it would become such a crucial part of my life.
At first I would attend the lunchtime classes on the afternoons before I had work at my part-time job in the evening to ensure that I was able to get a workout of some kind in that day. After a while, I found myself going to class almost every day during the week. On Thanksgiving, I took my first “non-lunchtime” class with a teacher that I’d never practiced with before. It was longer than I was used to and a little more taxing, but I was up for the challenge. I remember leaving that class thinking, “Wow, I have never felt like I worked so hard in my entire life, but also feel the calmest I’ve ever felt before.” This was the class that got me ultimately hooked on yoga.
After a few months of three to four days a week, one of my favorite instructors noticed that I was coming so frequently and seemed like I had become fairly serious about my practice. She offered me a chance to enroll in the monthly-unlimited plan that was available. I quickly agreed because I realized that I would not only get my money’s worth with the amount of classes that I was taking at the time, but I would compel myself to go even more frequently.
Eventually I started taking two classes a day multiple times a week. I started with a sun rise yoga or yoga sculpt class and would take the lunchtime class just because. If it worked with my part-time job schedule, I would take whatever class I could on weekends, too. I didn’t completely break up with my beloved gym, but I was spending almost every day at PPY—and I loved it.
Besides the obvious physical health benefits, I definitely started noticing a change in my personality for the better. I’ve always been a very high strung, heart-on-my-sleeve kind of girl, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I let my emotions get the best of me sometimes. There have been way too many times that I let circumstances out of my control get in the way of my vision and these downfalls would completely corrupt my mental well-being for days sometimes. While I’m still emotional at times, yoga has taught me to find a peaceful center within myself to handle most situations.
In late January, for example, I experienced a breakup that I wasn’t expecting. Pre-yoga Brittni would have let this completely ruin my life for weeks and would have probably spiraled into a very sad, low place. Post-yoga Brittni decided it was best to leave that part of my life behind me and move on like the strong yoga that I am. Although I was still pretty sad, I was able to channel this pent up energy into different, most positive ways—yoga being one of them. It was funny because on one of the days leading up the day I was dumped, I read something interesting on a placard during one of my lunchtime classes. It was one of the many Yamas and Niyamas, which are a group of ethical rules within Hinduism and yoga. The one I read on that particular day was as follows: “Satya—truth, truthfulness: A clear compassionate heart-mind perceives reality as it is; in my search for truth, I can change my mind when new and sensible information presents itself; live from a place where there is nothing to defend and nothing to manage.” For some reason this really struck a chord for me and from then on, I always paid attention to that board to see what new word I would be inspired by next.
My physical strength has improved immensely, too. I still go to the gym and when I do, I’ve noticed that I am far better at many of the things I was struggling with before starting yoga. One thing that I can say I am slowly progressing with is running. I was never really an athlete, so I was never forced to do any physical activity unless I wanted. Running for “fun” was always something that I found comical because who would ever find that to be fun? I did realize the health benefits behind it though, so I’ve been trying to get into a slow but steady running groove. With slow being the operative word; I am finally getting to a pace that I can say I am proud. I don’t run every day, but it’s fun to mix it in, especially now that the weather is finally a little more pleasant.
There are also many milestones that I’ve reached on my yoga mat, almost too many to name. Let’s just say I’ve come a long way from that first lunchtime class in August. Some days are better than others, and one leg has more balance than the other (no really, for some reason my left leg can randomly balance so much better than my right), but overall I feel like I get something beneficial out of every class. Some days I can tell that my brain worked a little harder than my body, or vice versa, but that’s okay. I’ve learned so much in the few months that I’ve been practicing yoga that I am excited to see what the future holds for me and my mat.
Ahimsa is another Yama/Niyama that holds a strong place in my heart. It means non-harming and nonviolence—ultimately we have one moral duty to reclaim large areas of peace and to reflect it towards others. The more peach there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.