This is going to be very long, so I’m going to dive right in from the beginning.

2011 was a rough year. I went away to college in 2010, and it was my first time away from home without my parents along for the ride. When my mom hugged me goodbye, she asked me if I was okay, and I said no. (What an asshole, seriously.) By 2011, things had gotten a little better, and I was figuring out this whole living away from home thing, but I was not doing so well at the long distance thing. Around winter of 2010, my then-boyfriend and I broke up for about 48 hours before quickly pretending it had never happened. We dated throughout my first year, and I was so excited to have the whole summer to spend time with him. I wanted to do something big and special for us toward the end of the summer so that we’d have the best memories stored up for when I went away again.

It was a pretty pricey trip for a baby college student. We stayed at a cabin in the woods, alone, with no real plans in place. Now, I look back on that vacation, and I can’t even imagine how we survived through the whole thing. Who goes to a cabin in the woods in the best state ever and doesn’t plan a lot of day trips? Baby college students, that’s who. We had fun, though, and I was really sure that, when I left for college in a few weeks, it was going to be with us stronger than ever. Instead, a week before I was due back at school, he broke up with me. He said that he’d thought about breaking up with me the entire drive up to the cabin, but that he hadn’t because it was an expensive trip for us, and he just wanted to get through it. I’d like to pretend that I don’t have issues when it comes to relationships, but you can see what an excellent foundation I’m starting with, and well. It was the beginning of a lot of things.

I was heartbroken. During my freshman year, I’d basically created a shrine to him. There was a picture of us at my senior prom romantically draped in rose petals. There were dried flowers that I’d pressed after he’d given them to me on a weekend visit. I wore a necklace he’d given me every day, and I slept in one of his t-shirts as often as possible. I stole his sweatshirt, slept with a bear he’d given me, and counted down the days until I could go home and see him. I mean, I was a teenager, this is just how that life is, but it was a lot, and it definitely wasn’t healthy toward the end.

There’s another half to this story, too, that’s necessary to form the full picture for why I finally found Buddhism. I don’t want to get into the nitty gritty details of all of it, but the tl;dr of it is that, when I was 13, a boy in my class died while he was away at summer camp. I was pretty rocked by the death, given that I was friends with him, and I went to my then-priest seeking answers. I was raised Episcopalian, and while I’d had my doubts here and there, that all felt normal. There were two ways this conversation could have gone, too. The appropriate way, that would kept me with the church, would have been to acknowledge what a tragedy this child’s death was, to reaffirm that the pain and uncertainty I was feeling was valid. Instead, my priest said, “That was God’s plan for him. He was meant to only be here for a short time.”

And honestly? You can’t say that kind of stuff to an angry, grieving 13-year-old. There’s only one way that’s going to go, and that’s with me taking a firm step back from the church and saying no thanks permanently. And I did. I stopped attending services, I refused to read at the pulpit like I’d always done when I was forced to go, and I was confident that I did not believe in this God who could so callously kill a child with absolutely no reason.

These two things, together, were the perfect storm. I had been spiritually absent for a little over five years by the time my then-boyfriend broke up with me, and then I was just upset and furious and desperate. I wish I could remember the exact steps that got me to Buddhism specifically, but they escape me now. All I know is that, in December 2011, I stumbled across Tibetan Buddhism, and my world started to change.

For me, yoga was an afterthought in the beginning. My practice started with meditation and prayer. The pantheon of gods in Buddhism really made sense to me, and I loved the idea of reincarnation. I was still two years out from my first read of John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara, which would set me down a more holistic, Earth-based practice that would eventually resolve itself into witchcraft, but Buddhism did, and still does, echo inside of me like some long lost call to come home.

I’m very much the kind of person that discovers something and goes all in, too. I love research, and it was all I could read about in those early days. I devoured articles, books, videos, lectures, anything and everything that would help me unfold more and more knowledge. I started doing sun salutations because it was so closely linked with everything that I was reading, this physical practice that was a way to guide the practitioner toward being able to comfortably sit in one position for long periods of time. Once my body was warm from the sun salutations, I would meditate for upwards of an hour, slowly finding devotion and dedication again.

And while I no longer sit down on a pillow, eyes half-lidded, hands open on my knees, and meditate for an hour, or even for fifteen minutes, my yoga practice is always a spiritual thing. Yes, I am physically moving my body, and I get excited about complex poses, but kicking up into a forearm stand is not about the strength in my core or challenging myself to do something harder. It’s about the connection that is quieting the mind, that’s honing it with a precision that will be able to face problems with more focus and compassion, that is taking the root of me and slowly molding it into a better person.

And that, at its heart, is how my meditation practice began to shift into a yoga practice.

I am an Aries through and through. All of my inner planets are fire signs, and I am always the reason we have enough candles for rituals. I mean, honestly, I once set a plant on fire by accident. There is no doubt in my mind that I fit with the loud, chaotic, fast-paced, wildly overachieving nature of an Aries. I was never going to be able to maintain a meditation practice for long. At all times, I’m doing at least two things, but more likely three. It’s a miracle that I’ve managed to finish writing a single book because I love being busy, although maybe that’s why I’ve finished so many! It keeps me constantly doing something.

It surprises literally no one that my meditation became yoga, and wow, what a version of yoga it was back then. I learned exclusively through Youtube and Pinterest. I followed a few different flows on Youtube, or I would find poses on Pinterest and try to figure out how to get into them. Mostly, I just piled together poses with no real rhyme or reason and jammed them all together. My “practice” was probably twenty minutes at most at any given time, and I would do the same flow over and over and over after spending hours putting it together. I went to a single class led by one of my fellow students in college and hosted in the main building, and I hated it. I led a few “classes” of my own with my friends, but they were mostly full of us giggling and falling over.

But this was my college experience with yoga. I hurled myself through headstands until I stopped crashing into the ground and figured out some kind of messy balance. I worked on arm balances, was highly inflexible, but didn’t care, and obsessed over it to the point where all of my birthday presents were yoga-themed. I fell in love with the Yoga Girl account to the point of driving two and a half hours in bad weather to get my book signed by her. I let it be the sole focus of my life outside of writing and college, and while it might have fizzled out eventually, something started to change.

After college, whenever I went to visit my friend in Maine, I would put together hour-long playlists and lead us through something that was starting to look like an actual practice. Afterward, we would go play out in her yard, trying to do different partner and acro poses together. But it was those practices, with our mats laid out next to each other, that really struck a chord in me. I enjoyed leading her. I enjoyed putting poses together in a way that made sense. I enjoyed showing someone else how much this thing was beginning to mean to me.

In 2015, I finally said the words out loud, “I want to be a yoga teacher.” As much as I’m an Aries, I’m also a massive introvert, and I hate public speaking. Reading at my church was only done because my mom said I had to, and I started so young that it was never really an issue. But I couldn’t order my own food when we went out, I was terrified of making new friends, and I truly could not fathom having to get up in front of a class of strangers and lead them in a yoga practice. But I wanted to, which was the first real sign that this was different, and so, I started looking. I searched for weeks and weeks for the right studio, and, when I didn’t find one, I left it alone for a couple months. I wanted to learn from the exact right place, and I knew that I would know which one that was when I finally found it.

In February, I finally stumbled across Barefoot Yoga Shala, and something about it made me pause. The owner was blonde, but she had pink streaks in her hair, and the video she’d recorded talking about the training program sounded not just genuine, but excited and fresh. I decided that I should go to a class there before I spent that much money, and since there was a new chakra series class going live in a few weeks, I booked that. It was five classes covering seven chakras, which I only knew a little about, and it was a lot of money in the event that I didn’t like any of it, but something was calling to me.

When I arrived for the first class, I was terrified. Not only was I going into a new space where I didn’t know anyone, this was my first ever studio class. That class I’d taken by another student years ago felt paltry in comparison to what I was about to experience. She wasn’t certified, hadn’t done any real training, but the owner of this studio was. She was a 500-eRYT, which felt really fancy and like a goal to reach for. And my gosh, but that couldn’t have been a more perfect first time.

Jenny has the most welcoming, kind, and bright personality. She’s got a huge smile, she’s overflowing with love, and she’s always so excited to be teaching. She hugged me right away, told me how happy she was that I was there, and brought me inside. Then, the walls were a deep purple, there was a huge mural of Ganesha on the wall, and though there was only one other student in the workshop series with me, I could already see that this studio would bring dozens in. I was sold after that first class, and I went home to submit my deposit right away. Later, Jenny would tell me that I was the first person to apply to the program, and it honestly felt like divine timing.

YTT started in September of 2015, and I graduated in August of the following year. My teaching, however, began a month early. We were talking about the business of yoga one weekend, and Jenny gave us advice on how to approach a studio. I already knew that I needed to teach at Barefoot, so I emailed Jenny while I was in my car, before I’d even driven home. Again, I was the first of three people to apply, and though she would later tell me that she’d planned on hiring me from the beginning, she still wanted to give me the full experience, so she asked me if I would audition the next day. I spent all of Sunday night and Monday preparing my flow. I was allowed to invite people to attend the class, and I asked a couple of my fellow students and one of my friends.

And then, well. Jenny is wholly and magically a Scorpio-Sagittarius cusp just as I am a disaster Aries. Though she knew I was an anxiety-riddled mess, ten minutes before class, she told me that she was cutting my forty minutes into twenty, she’d invited several students from that night’s class to stay, and she was going to take it front and center. Mother of something, I was quaking in my boots, but I dutifully shortened my playlist, crossed off half of my flow, and did my best. I was terrified and ready to keel over, but, at the end of class, Jenny hugged me and said, “You’re hired. Can you start tomorrow?”

See, she’s madness personified, but it was exactly the kick in the ass that I needed. Like a true psycho Aries, too, I decided that I was going to teach a mandala for my first class, which I wouldn’t even teach now. It’s so complicated, and it requires so much planning, and that’s just not my vibe. I love to fly by the seat of my pants while I teach, and having to think about what I’m doing is a lot. However, it was not always like that. For about the first year of teaching, I planned out my flows in their entirety, and if I ever tried to deviate, I got hella confused. I never repeated my playlists, I only taught once a week, and I tried to teach all sorts of weird and wild things.

In retrospect, the fact that it was a beginner’s class that changed everything isn’t the least bit surprising, considering what kind of teacher I am now, but it definitely was unexpected back then. For a year, I taught a single vinyasa class once a week following a flow written out in my journal, and that was that. In January of 2016, Jenny asked if I’d like to take over a beginner’s class that needed a replacement teacher as soon as possible, and I agreed without giving it much thought. The day before class, I sat down to pencil out my flow, and nothing happened.

It was beginner’s, I kept thinking. The most I was going to need to do was get them through some gentle warming up, maybe a few lunges, and a cool down. I was doing much more than that in my vinyasa classes, and I was mostly used to those parts of class. And so, I decided not to plan the class. I wanted to be able to teach more freely anyway, so this seemed like the most opportunistic first step.

Beginner’s is truly the yoga of my heart. I get so much joy out of helping people discover that yoga can be accessible, no matter what age or body shape you’re in. Beginner’s is so much fun, and it’s so beneficial to creating a strong, consistent practice. It was a short jump, too, from trusting myself in beginner’s to wanting to teach an advanced class. It was only a few months after I stopped planning my flows that I started teaching three classes a week, and it was probably less than a month until I was up to four. I was teaching one vinyasa class, two beginner’s, and an advanced class, and it was amazing.

I taught at Barefoot from 2016 until 2020. I taught several Harry Potter workshops, one which a local magazine picked up and advertised so that we had to cap the class at 30 people. I taught workshops that had tea parties at the end, 108 sun salutations on the summer solstice, and space-centered classes. I told stories during savasana that made people cry, I had repeat students every single week, and most of the pictures you’ve seen here are from there. The walls went from purple to light pink, but it was my favorite place in the world to be, and when the pandemic struck in March, I was so afraid of what would happen with it.

For five months, Barefoot went virtual, and I got my first taste of what it was like to teach online. Suffice to say, I absolutely hated it, and I still would rather do literally anything else, but I was determined to hold onto Barefoot for as long as possible, so I started teaching restorative classes, I filmed prerecorded ones, and I jumped at any chance to sub. I started teaching virtually on my own, I invited my friends over to my backyard for class, and I practiced more and more by myself. In July, after an arduous few months, Barefoot finally closed its physical doors, and though we tried to maintain a virtual presence, it only lasted a few weeks. For the first time in four years, I was about to be homeless with my practice, and I wasn’t sure what to do.

And then, like a beacon of light, something new came along. In August, Central Rock Gym, where I’d planned to start teaching in April, but didn’t when they closed for a few months due to the pandemic, was opening back up, and they wanted to start up their yoga classes again, but outside. I taught from August until late October outside until it got too cold, and we finally moved indoors. It was the first time I was teaching with a mask on, and it was awful, but at least I still had students to teach. Everything was roses until January, when capacity in Massachusetts went down, and yoga classes went out the window to make room for the climbers. Even though I’d been briefly homeless at the end of July and beginning of August, I’d subbed a few times with a Salem studio, and I’d mostly kept up my weekly teaching until I started with CRG. But when January came, I was finally forced to take a step back.

The last six months have been–well, not great. 2021 marks ten years of a personal yoga practice for me and five years of teaching. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think that I would be celebrating a decade of this beloved practice by not doing it all that often. Because with January came two big changes in my life–a new job that wasn’t remote and an issue with my lumbar that was causing me pain when I did literally anything. I was no longer able to practice whenever I wanted during the day as I had in the last year, and, even when I could practice after work, my spine was screaming at me.

When I was finally able to see a chiropractor and get to the bottom of what was going on, he had some pretty bad news for me. Though my muscles were capable of the advanced poses that I was doing, my spine was not, and I’d overextended in forward folds and twists to the point that my lumbar was close to producing a bulging disk. So though I was comfortable in those poses, and even really enjoyed them, they’d hurt me to the point where my practice came to a grinding halt.

For much of March, I didn’t really practice. I was afraid to. Every time I tried to do yoga, I was met with debilitating pain, and now I’d found out that it was the cause of that pain. I took huge steps back from my practice, terrified of making it worse, and tried to change things in my daily life to alleviate the pain, as well. I got a new mattress, switching from springs to foam, started using a knee pillow to keep my hips in line, and started using arnica cream to help with inflammation. I practiced very infrequently, and it was usually gentle, almost restorative. It was not at all what I was accustomed to, and my mental health took a nosedive.

For a decade now, yoga has been not just something that I love, but a coping mechanism for me. It’s shown me how to speak in front of strangers, how to meet new people, how to be confident in myself, how to pursue my dreams. In times of stress or elation, it’s been there to either bring me back up or quiet everything. I’ve turned to it time and time again, and when it was taken away from me, it wasn’t pretty. For weeks, I found myself slowly spiraling out, angry and scared to the point of wanting to hurt my body more just so that it would focus on a different pain. I kept going to my chiropractor, started acupuncture, and begged my massage therapist for help. I declared war on my body, picking my practice back up through the pain and saying fuck you in every way possible. I started rock climbing again and immediately injured myself.

I was not in a good place, and yoga was no longer the thing that could help me.

It’s July now, and things are a lot better. I’ve slowly crept my way back toward a practice that works with the body that I have now, that modifies in twists and forward folds in ways that my chiropractor has approved. I’ve started rock climbing, but only on top rope since bouldering promises to injure me. And though it’s sounding like I’ll never have full range of motion in my lumbar again, I’m practicing several times a week again, and that’s what matters. Am I upset that I’ll never be able to get into those psycho twists again? Yes, of course. But I can still twist a little, and that’s what I’m trying to focus on.

And, because CRG seems to just be a beacon for me in times of stress, I’ve started teaching again. With the capacity limits lifted and the state of emergency gone in Massachusetts, the gym is back to pre-COVID regulations, and I had eight people in class the other night. I told an abbreviated version of this story, sugar-coated and sweet, during savasana, and it really made me sit back and wonder at the wild journey that I’ve been on in the last decade.

I started practicing yoga in 2011 after my heart was broken, and I’ve kept coming back to it, over and over, to continue the healing of that heart, to strengthen it in ways I never knew it needed, and I am so damn grateful for this practice. I am grateful for the people that have showed up at BYS, in my backyard, across a computer, at CRG, on the beach, under the moon, in parking lots, and everywhere in between. I am grateful for the unexpected private lessons, for the classes packed so full, mats were touching, and for the many, many lessons each of those students have taught me in return. I am grateful for Jenny, Corleigh, and Raff, who gave me a home and trusted me with their communities. I am grateful for the teachers that have helped guide me and shape me into the teacher that I am today, that have lifted me up and reminded me to come back down, that have taught me about crystals, reiki, essential oils, and tarot, that have shown me what it is to teach both beginner’s and other fiery people like me, as well as athletes and those who need a little extra love. I am grateful for all of it. Yoga has been the guiding light in my life for the last ten years, and I am so ready for another ten to come.

Posted by:Mary Drover

she/her | yoga teacher | Tibetan Buddhism | part-time witch | full-time author | astronaut in a previous life

3 replies on “My Yoga Journey

  1. So thankful for those beginner classes you taught at BYS. You taught me so much about yoga, the poses & practice.
    You also taught me about myself, and how to find balance and inner strength.
    I definitely cried during your Savasana stories!
    I miss not practicing with you and your fun filled classes.
    I will be forever grateful for you and yoga.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Cheryle! ❤ It was always such a joy to have you in class, and I miss being able to practice with you! I'm forever grateful that Barefoot brought us together.

      Like

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