What does your yoga practice have to do with self-love? Stephanie Birch talks about the process of showing up on the mat for herself, how it gave her purpose, turned pain into passion, and love into life.Read more
All September, lucy is celebrating National Yoga Month with our contributors!
Sometimes the biggest life transformations come from the most unexpected gifts in jumping into the unknown. If you would’ve told me 7 years ago that my life would be fulfilling as a mother, yoga teacher, photographer, and writer I would not have believed you. In fact, I probably would have laughed as though you were playing a joke on me. It’s funny to look back on my life and think of the then and now. Everything that has moved me closer to my Soul and my purpose has been unplanned, painful, uncomfortable, and a real struggle. I never wanted to be a mother and here I am, a mom to the coolest 4 year old who’s been my greatest guide to love. I’m a yoga teacher and never would’ve imagined myself entering a yoga studio, in fact, I scoffed and judged the practice! I swore it was too soft and too hippie for me.
Photography and writing is something that has been a part of my life but I never thought my eye and my words would amount to such exposure, inspiration, and keep food on the table. To talk about this yoga journey is really about sharing this life journey for me. Let’s rewind 7 years, when I first moved back to my hometown of Sacramento, California. At the time, I was busying myself with being semi-newly single, fast sex and relationships, hanging out with friends, clanking glasses on the weekends, settling for an office job I hated, and focusing on superficial desires that I hoped would beam me out of the small town life as soon as possible.
It took months of smooth-talking coos from a friend to get me to try yoga. I have never been a gym membership kind of gal. I loved being outside and I was looking for workout, a fitness class, or an adult league that would make me feel strong and give me stamina to complement my running routine. I loved reformer pilates, tennis, playing outdoor sports to drive competition as a way to stay fit and feel good about myself. I loved to sweat and feel sore after a hard-earned workout. I was not interested in this hippie, weird-breathing, yoga “trend” that was taking place in town. I was heavy with judgment, I admit, and was reluctant to agree to take class with my aforementioned friend at a local studio with a promise of a happy hour beer after that first class.
I finally bought the cheapest yoga mat I could find and begrudgingly purchased ten classes for $10 at a local power vinyasa studio. One Tuesday evening, I walked into the studio and let my floppy mat unfurl, looking around nervously and watching friendly faces chatting with neighboring mats. Beads of sweat were starting to form before the practice even began, and as my nerves increased, so did my judgment. “What the hell am I doing here?” I thought, as a sweet-faced, tattooed and dreadlocked blonde waltzed over to my mat and introduced herself as the teacher. She requested my name. “Who me?!”, I thought. Yes, me, the newbie, ‘Fresh Meat – Alert!’ was surely plastered across my forehead. Class began in child’s pose and my mind continued to run wild: “here we go, retiring for some shut-eye with a bunch of sweaty strangers. Repeat: what the hell am I doing here?”
Beads of sweat were starting to form before the practice even began, and as my nerves increased, so did my judgment. “What the hell am I doing here?”
It’s from that shaky starting point and through the remainder of class, something magical began to happen. Before I could finish questioning the magic of what was taking place, the sweat poured off from the tip of my nose and down to my kneecaps, to my fingertips and to all of those lovely, smelly creases that don’t need mentioning. I begged, internally and often; “for the love of god, please take us back to child’s pose!” I couldn’t keep up with the class, from the warriors and lunging and back-bending to opening the hips and balancing postures that left me feeling like a baby learning to hobble my first steps. I heard phrases like, “find your breath” and “feel powerful like a warrior” which sounded like a scientific formula in a language that I could not understand. Two times, as I recall, the teacher calling out my name guiding me to move my hands and put my left heel down. Needless to say, I wanted to raise my white flag and hail, “I surrender!” and finally we collapsed into Savasana, the point in class where you lay down and take rest. I was filled with a list of urges. I wanted to vomit, laugh, and cry. And I realized, I wanted to come back for more. I couldn’t explain what had happened, but I felt strangely high and surprisingly powerful. I also felt called-out and spent as I toweled off gulping my last bite of humble pie.
That first painfully-wonderful yoga practice was years ago now. It wasn’t until my son was born that I truly began to understand the power of the practice. A place where my life, literally, depended on it. My life took an unexpected turn when I found out I was pregnant and would became a mom. It was a time of many beautiful moments in this beginning role juxtaposed with deep-seeded pain and life struggles in our household. I was faced with depression. Days filled with difficult moments, as a mom, as a partner, that were spiraling in quiet-dark ways coaxing myself to walk out on life. I felt very much out of control and drowning in my mental state and was eventually forced to make a choice: stay in darkness welcoming the brink of death or do something about it. It was not at all to my credit to get moving, but that of my significant other and the loving threat of being taken to the hospital or his suggestion to return to my yoga practice at a local studio. It was his promise to me, in April 2012, that he would be home every afternoon in order for me to get off the couch and spend time on my mat.
It wasn’t until my son was born that I truly began to understand the power of the practice. A place where my life, literally, depended on it.
Through the practice, my life began to change. It wasn’t overnight, by any means. And it is still an everyday process of healing and forgiveness. Yoga was simply a tool to really dig into my life. It opened the doors to simply be me. It allowed me to unlock blocks in my physical body, push myself in ways that challenged my self-talk, and empowered me to feel and say, “this is me and this is who I am today. I am enough in this moment.” Not what society says I “should be” or “should do” but understanding that my best self is so enough there’s no question about it, from juggling motherhood to teaching and practicing yoga to satisfying my desire to be creative in my art. This yoga journey has been a whirlwind and it’s really taught me to love myself – all of myself. It is the reason I teach. It is the reason I continue to do the very things in life that scare me the most, because there’s growth to be made.
We are never meant to stay the same, we are here to evolve, to grow, and love. As a teacher, I welcome each and every student through that studio door. To flop out their mat, as a first-timer or as a seasoned yogi. I often guide the class to set an intention at the beginning of practice – one that is real and loving for you. It does not matter why you come and it is not for me or anyone to decide why you practice. I know what it’s like to come to class just to feel good, curse through a practice, get strong, or sweat off that hangover. I know what it’s like because I have practiced for those very same reasons. Come to the class to work through pain, anger, sadness, grief or come to build strength, to hold yourself, muscle those 6-pack abs or come to cry, dance, laugh, feel out of place, uncomfortable, or whatever reason lights you up. I will always be an advocate for you to show up on your mat as you are – because your yoga practice is personal. There’s no right or wrong and there’s no reason in the world that would ever make you unworthy of this practice. Come as you are, as you want to be. It is the most loving act of all.