What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word yoga?
Meditation? Flexibility? Wannabe spiritual warrior? Well, I am pretty sure “hey b*tches, let’s get wasted!” doesn’t fall into that list.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a party girl in college. I went out Monday through Friday (I saved Sundays and sometimes Saturdays for rest), and stocked up on cheap liquor.
It characterized many of my school weeks. Sure, I made time for my studies. Wasn’t that why I’d pursued higher education in the first place?
But, there was something I couldn’t shake about a good EDM beat and I loved everything about the nightlife: deafening music, dancing, six-inch heels and high-waisted skirts.
I loved flirting with guys and turning them down because “screw guys at bars, they only want one thing!” (Let’s be real, ladies. If we weren’t walking around with cleavage or dancing face down, ass up, we’d probably avoid them more effectively.)
At the time, abiding by this routine never got old and I stuck to it for two and a half years.
All the while, I would practice yoga. I'm sure no one thought this wild thing was capable of posing in “wild thing” (or Camatkarasana in Sanskrit) behind closed doors. And that is probably because I couldn’t back then, nor did I care to.
I loved all that yoga stood for and it made me feel “hip” but I never challenged myself — at least not in the beginning. You want me to balance on my head? Twist my legs up in a knot? Yeah, f*ck that.
I would skip through or laugh at the poses I didn’t think I’d ever be able to conquer. I did a sequence once or twice a week to cover up any damage I’d caused to myself and others during my drink-capades.
To me, yoga was a form of prayer and a way to forgive myself for my sins. I could do with or without it; yoga was not an integral part of my life.
By my third year, stress decided to perch itself upon my shoulders in the form of mediocre grades, financial matters and (I hate to admit it, but) guys.
The toughest was dealing with a breakup and each disgraceful replacement who followed.
I can only blame myself for that, but when I found that anxiety had seized my mind and I couldn’t focus on anything but anguish, I turned to that one thing I’d always wanted to fully embrace: yoga.
I vowed to follow the yogi lifestyle to a tee and modeled my practice after some of the big names in the western world of yoga. I researched the history, studied the asanas, read articles and watched documentary after documentary.
I did everything I’d normally do and then some. No longer did I shy away from difficult poses.
I even taught myself to sit still for over half an hour in meditation (that is quite an accomplishment for someone who cannot help but fidget every two seconds).
I felt better, slept better and looked better with each passing day. From then on, I devoted six days a week to the yoga practice.
In the beginning, I told myself that I had to stop the drinking and partying because that was not the way yogis were supposed to live, but occasionally, I would break.
I felt guilty for indulging, even though by this point, I had gotten over the whole "I’m pissed, let’s party" phase. I would constantly tell myself, “Okay, this is the last time and the last weekend. I’ll stop partying for good.”
I stuffed that wild woman into the closet and tried to be as mellow and flower-child as possible.
I’ve always been a strong-willed individual, but I found myself doing exactly what I’d always despised about the masses: trying to embody some persona I knew I did not care about.
I had a newfound love for yoga, but that imposter wasn’t me.
A year down the road, I've come to terms with who I am on a deeper level, and I can thank the yoga practice for that. I’ve learned that immersing yourself completely in the practice in no way means that you have to completely alter those personal attributes that make you, well, you.
I still like to rage ‘til I can no longer walk or stand; however, I enjoy hour-long vinyasa flows and mantra chants, too.
I try to pay more attention to what I eat or drink, but a white Russian or a glass of Pinot Grigio will always land high up on that list. All things in moderation, my friends.
Yoga should be used as a tool for bettering yourself, looking at life through a clearer lens and changing your perspective.
Many of us newbies are going about it the wrong way (as are a handful of advanced practitioners, but we’ll leave that for another discussion).
Each person embarks on his or her own personal journey. David Swenson, an ashtanga yogi, says it best:
"There are people that practice yoga and drink alcohol that are deep and spiritual. There are people that are very strict and do not eat meat or drink alcohol that are also narrow-minded and mean. "The fact that one drinks or not is not as much of a reflection of one's depth as a yogi as is the quality of our interactions with others in matters of compassion, kindness and love."
When we stop worrying about what others are doing and pay closer attention to how we can improve ourselves, we may get closer to unmasking the happiness that lay deep within each of us.
When I finally let go of that constant fear of being judged by those who potentially thought I was going about this the wrong way, I was able to free myself.
Isn’t that the goal here anyway?
Naturally, you’ll deviate from the constant partying and drinking because you’ll realize that your body feels much better without it. Through the yoga practice, you’ll get a natural high, one evoked from within, without use of any outside substance.
It's all within YOU.
Now, please excuse me while I enjoy this glass of Merlot. Namaste, y'all.