Freedom within four corners: The paradox that changed my life.
I grew up in front of the mirror. Walls sparkled in reflective glass, coated with a concoction of metals, I stood in dance class at the age of 5. And for my entire life, I was forced to meet the girl in those mirrors, regardless of how the girl felt or what she looked like that day. I watched my reflection grow up, watched how her leotard hug onto her hips a little tighter, how her thighs became larger. How she changed from a little girl to a young lady. If that wasn’t enough, when I was away from the barre, I attended a competitive college preparatory school which piled on homework, tests, and anxiety.
Fast forward—I’m 14, and my ankle hurts something wicked. Peroneal Tendonitis ran along the outside of my left ankle and foot. “It’ll be fine,” they said, though I was advised to stay off it for a few weeks.
I was something of a perfectionist. I felt the continuous strain to be the best at everything and to please everyone around me. In junction to this, I couldn’t sit still and was unable to escape my own mind, each thought crashing into one another in a discordant hum.
Not even a DVD. Nope, my mother handed me a VHS from the 80s—something like Yoga with Denise Austin. Out of desperation for movement, I popped it into the video player when no one was watching, when I could be alone for a half hour.
It was a 25 minute beginner’s hatha class with a five minute savasana at the close. Weightless. Never before had I felt so much freedom within my muscles, around my limbs, and between my vertebrae. Not only that—upon opening my eyes from savasana, I realized I had actually quieted my mind for a few minutes. It felt as though my mind was a glass window, and someone had reached inside and wiped away all of the fog that was clouding my thoughts. Despite my own constant chatter of to-do lists, obligation, and self-criticisms, it was the first time I felt as though I could hear myself.
Thumb a few pages forward. My cousin offers to take me to my first “real” yoga class after three years of me practicing on my own via apps for smart phones and DVDs I found at Ross. I’m 17. After filling out paperwork, I step into a small room illuminated only by a few lamps in the corners. People are quietly stretching or meditating with eyes closed, and I am observing the way in which the shadows from the individuals begin to form new shapes on the walls as their bodies create new shapes.
There are no mirrors. Instead, we’re asked to focus on sensation and how the body feels. Though I had known for some time by this point, it was then that I decided that I needed to share the practice with the world. To this day, those words resonate with me, and you’ll often hear me repeated the mantra to my students.
The practice of yoga doesn’t seek perfection because there is no such thing. Expansion. It radiates from the inside out. You are not to conform to the asanas. You are not trying to get somewhere. You are asked to come to the mat—simply be. Inhale, exhale, repeat.
Oddly, through my practice, I have learned an important lesson that I continue to explore daily: You are not confined to the four corners of the mat. Yoga doesn’t end when you fold your towel, roll up your mat, and walk out the door; rather, yoga is a lifestyle. It is the choice to be nonreactive, to take in each moment as it comes. In that way, the asanas are an extended metaphor.
Love yourself first. Every scar, each moment, every flaw. Physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. From there, radiate that love. Acknowledge the beauty in every individual. Love.
Look past the exterior. Step away from the mirror. Bless up. Namaste.
Our students and practitioners love Nicole’s classes. Her beautiful spirit and soft voice can confuse many some times. She can put a very intense class based on alignments and focus movements. As a dancer, she is very conscious of how to treat the body with respect and mindfulness to avoid injuries. Is our pleasure to have such a fearless and humble teacher like her as part of our staff.
Please join Nicole for a YogaLates class every Wednesday morning at 10:00 AM.
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