(***This post ended up being longer than I anticipated, so I broke it up into two parts~Dani)
I spent most of my life fleeing myself. In junior high, I went invisible, and by high school my disappearance was complete; I navigated the turbulent waters unseen except for the close knit group of friends with whom I surrounded myself. I began to numb out. In high school it was pot, and then in college, booze (whoever says marijuana is the gateway drug is an idiot; alcohol is FAR more dangerous, especially if being a drunk is something you carry in your genes). I took my first yoga class in 2002, as a freshman in college, to fulfill a one unit requirement. We practiced entirely in the dark, on a padded floor in a room in the basement of an old building at SF State. I'm pretty sure the majority of the classes were spent in savasana. I couldn't really say what it was but there was something I liked about the classes, and sophomore year when I moved to the Haight I started practicing weekly at Yoga Tree before it started to pimp itself out, back in the day when drop in classes were still $10 and you could buy yoga clothes for less then a flight to Orange County.
I didn't become a yoga die-hard until 2007--up to then I still spent most of my time throwing myself into the void, with little glimmers of re-connection here and there as I sweat my life out onto the mat. I knew that I liked how I felt after yoga class. I knew that I loved feeling strong in my body, especially after years of cutting myself off from it's messages. I knew that it was the only place I felt completely free and safe to fully express myself. Again, the shift didn't happen over night; I can't tell you how many Sunday morning classes I went to class hungover and disgusted with myself. I didn't realize until much later, but through all the ups and downs and learning experiences of my early 20's, yoga was the one thread that connected everything.
Over time (6 years to be exact), yoga began to permeate more and more of my life. It stopped being this thing I did to get exercise or detox and became the cornerstone around which I lived my life. I often ask myself how this happened. The spiritual teachings were part of it, but truly, I think the transformation occurred when I began to re-inhabit my body; when I started connecting the dots between the way I responded to challenges on the mat as a mirror for how I responded to challenges in my daily life. Instead of running away from myself, for the first time I came home: to my body, and it's wisdom, infinitely wiser than the evil critic in my head.
Ever since I was a kid I experienced anxiety; at age 10 I was an insomniac who would wake my mother up nearly every night, complaining of "the funny feeling;" an uncomfortable angst in the pit of my stomach that I could barely describe let alone for which I could pin down a cause. Constantly vigilant of others' perceived opinions of me, I never pursued anything that would put me in the spotlight or require me to be seen. As I grew up, I began using substances to mellow down the constant internal chatter. It was the only way I had figured out how to ease my troubled brain.
Practicing yoga was the first time I could let all these things simply...be. The first time I felt a buzz without the help of anything outside myself. The first time I could sit with my reality without retreating in a panic or leaving my body completely. I'm telling you, this was magic for me: the realization that I could actually LIKE myself. And then, more magic: that "like" turned to "love."
I was still flirting with extremes at this point; I would often go from late night drunken party on Friday to all day yoga workshop on Saturday, no biggie. I saw more and more clearly the duality of life: as the light began to shine more brightly, the shadow became more pronounced. I started to see my practice as the ultimate act of self love, and with this realization came the clarity that in this case it couldn't be both/and; I had to commit completely and let the old ways die. I moved to Thailand for eight months and in this new environment, away from all the STUFF, I felt something inside me start to blossom. I came home and studied with Katchie and Sianna, and doors continued to open.