A Twisted Gardener's Path to This Thing Called Yoga
This is part one in a series of ongoing conversations with Sean. Thank you to Sean for inviting us in to learn more.
It’s fair to say that I took to yoga like a fish to water, although that is not to imply that I really wanted to swim. I found yoga, or rather, yoga found me in 2004. I was in my early twenties, working my body physically every day as a gardener. I felt some anxiety about the future; it’s safe to say I was struggling. I couldn’t see how to navigate my twisted spine, my scoliosis. Every day felt like a losing battle with gravity. It is said that a person is as old as their spine, and even as a strapping young lad, I felt very old.
This is the story of how I came to the practice of yoga. But let’s not even call it yoga; let’s call it finding the techniques for making the most of a human experience. I suppose the best place to start is the beginning, so we will go there.
I made a decision to attend a class and see what this yoga thing was all about. That class was worlds away from how I practice now, 13 years later, although the benefits of breathing and stretching are largely the same. I went to a Bikram class. It was incredibly hot. I wasn’t sure if I would make it. I did. The sweat eventually washed off.
In the beginning, yoga was simultaneously something that I felt an instinct to do and also something that I really did not want to do. There is resistance inherent in all of our journeys, usually the strongest with those things that help us the most. I felt a whole lot better after that first class; it filled me with what could best be described as the intoxication of feeling more fully alive, more capable, relaxed, and joyful. I was hooked. I bought a DVD called “Power Yoga” by Bryan Kest and in it, I found a teacher. He said all the things my novice self needed to hear:
“If you’re feeling something you are doing the pose perfectly.”
“It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels.”
Kest stressed the details, the alignment, and the way the breath moves with the body. It was the first “reset” I had found. I kept going to classes and practicing at home as I began to feel younger in my body and calmer in my mind.
It took some time for me to fully appreciate, enjoy, and integrate the practice into my life, but yoga never failed to feel like a sacred reset for my mind and body. As I moved through life, I developed a knack for finding the right teacher in every new place I called home. This thing called “yoga” can vary as much as us humans do, but after a while I found the discipline of Yinyasa Yoga. A flowing practice of breath and movement, Yinyasa had me focus on details and inspired profound learning.
Ever present in this journey was my curved spine and the confusion I felt towards moving with and for it. My anatomy instructor described my plight similar to someone swimming at night and unsure of where shore is. I knew yoga was helping, but it wasn’t until I moved to Philly where I found the guides that helped direct me to shore. I found teachers who had studied with masters, who had, in turn, studied with other masters. Some call it a lineage; I prefer to call it a foundation of wisdom and integrity. In training with these experts, yoga became an every day thing. I’d spend each evening soothing my body, a body worn from long hours laboring on the farm. My practice was officially a part of me. Yoga has helped me fit into my own body and in turn allowed me to fit my body into the world. I believe it’s a practice for everyone, especially those wanting to make the most of their life. I have come to see my scoliosis as an important, positive part of my path to understanding yoga and the human body. More importantly, it has taught me how our challenges become our greatest teachers in this inexplicable game of life.
If someone were to ask me what I consider the three most important parts of yoga to be, I would answer as such:
First, it is to breathe. To help the body work better by facilitating the movement of air. It cleans organs, softens muscles and even strengthens the core. Simply put, breath is what keeps us alive and, as wise ones know, how we do it matters.
Second, it is to make our yoga practice our own. While we are the sum total of our teachers and guides, we are also having a uniquely individual experience as a human in a body. Don’t fit into a pose. Fit yourself. Fit into the world. Own your fit.
Third, to direct our attention. Whatever we give attention to thrives. Focus on the good. Transform the thought. Listen to the heart. Direct attention towards intention. Change outlook. See and create joy.
Sean is a yoga instructor and farmer based in Geneva, New York. He is founder of the movement and ecological service practice, Farming Yogi. He is available to help humans find their true fit in-person and online – he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.