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At the beginning of a recent yoga class, our teacher asked us to recall our first experience with yoga. He guided us to remember the first room where we had practiced, the first teacher who led our class, and what kept us coming back.

It was a little over 20 years ago and I was newly divorced when I attended my first yoga class. In hindsight I don’t remember if I even knew what yoga was, and for sure I had no idea how it would impact my life. I think yoga had always been something out-of-the-norm – maybe even a little rebellious – and therefore something that appealed to my gypsy soul.

Remembering me in my 30’s, I know I must have been a nervous wreck. Just the simple feat of finding a spot in the community college parking lot, and then finding the room on campus would have sent me into a flurry of anxiety. I remember finding the room and pausing outside the door for few moments – paper in hand and looking back and forth between the room number posted on the door and the one printed on my paper. Yes, I was in the right place, so I went in.

What happened next is something I will never forget. As I opened the door and stepped inside, I thought for sure I’d made a mistake. All the lights were off and there were two women lying perfectly still, face up on yoga mats in the dark. They didn’t flinch when I stepped inside – gulp. What had I gotten myself in to?!?!

There were gymnastics mats in the far back corner, so I grabbed one of those and settled myself at the back of the room, heart pounding, palms sweating, voices in my head going “What the…???”

As other students filled the room and rolled out thin mats, I realized I had the mat situation all wrong. A classmate kindly mentioned to me that there were thinner mats on the other end of the room, and maybe I’d prefer practicing yoga on one of those instead. Grateful and a little embarrassed, I swapped the mat for a thinner version just before our teacher floated in.

The teacher’s name was Dianne, and as soon as she entered the room and opened her mouth I felt at ease. She had a softness about her, a kind and nurturing demeanor that I was instantly comforted by. I don’t really remember anything about the class in terms of what poses she led, but I do remember being surprised at how much we breathed, how great it felt to move in ways I’d never moved before. I remember feeling embarrassed by what I couldn’t do and then comforted to be just fine with that. I also remember feeling so excited about the opportunity to go back the following week and do it all over again.

I had never been athletically gifted and my past experiences with any type of physical activity left me feeling weak and defeated. Yoga was different. Right from the start I could recognize the strength I already possessed, and I knew that greater strength and flexibility loomed in my near future. I loved that yoga was non-competitive, that the message Dianne conveyed was one of self-love and compassion, non-judgment for ourselves and others, encouragement to do our best and not worry about the rest. In a world that had encouraged me to blend in, it felt like such a blessing to honor my own individuality on the mat. And yoga still feels that way for me.

Yoga is an individual journey that builds strength and confidence, improves flexibility, and tailors itself almost magically in ways that new yogis cannot even comprehend. The practice of yoga is not an accomplishment, but rather a means for understanding of ourselves on a deeper level. It’s so many things, all rolled up in a tidy bundle – and every bit of that keeps me coming back to my mat.

As a yoga teacher, I always love to have brand new yogis in my classes. What an honor and great responsibility to be the first voice of yoga that someone experiences. I always hope that their first experience will be even half as meaningful as mine, and that they’ll keep coming back to their mat.

I am forever grateful for that first yoga class, and I’m so happy I went back.
Do you remember your very first yoga class? What brought you back?