One of the things I love most about teaching yoga is the inspiration I get from my students! It's truly an honor to hear their stories, share in their journeys, and grow together through this practice (on and off the mat). So I've decided to do a monthly inquiry with students and share their yoga stories with you here. To start us off is the lovely Sarah Pham, my student, neighbor, and dear friend. Sarah is a mom, who works full time and has a very dedicated yoga practice. Here are some of her thoughts on yoga and how it fits in to her life.
When did you start practicing yoga and why?
I took my first yoga class on March 20, 2014.
How has yoga impacted your life?
I remember the date of my first class because it was such a significant period in my life. I had been separated from my husband for one year, still trying to find a rhythm to balance work with being a co-parent. My friend and neighbor, Cindy, was also living with stage four cancer. As I walked to my second private session, I learned that Cindy would not make it home from the hospital. I arrived at your studio a little late and slightly disheveled. We barely knew each other, yet your compassion and words of comfort from your own experience gave me the security to continue with class. During savasana I wept with grief over Cindy. She died the next day.
Through this experience, I learned that yoga could help me navigate through life. By letting go of everything around me, finding my breath, and focusing on alignment, I am learning to co-exist with my body and mind. Rather than fighting feelings of frustration, jealousy, fear, or grief, I am learning to recognize and accept them.
The technical elements of yoga are also a great inspiration to me. The basis of each pose is about extending my body while pulling my energy towards a center to ground myself. This is the foundation of my life—knowing who I am and staying grounded while finding the courage to reach outside my comfort zone to grow as a person. Inversions are also an essential part of my practice. They represent my own attempt to face fear. By turning up-side-down, I’m disorienting myself and learning to adjust and be comfortable with my new perspective. For a control freak like me, this huge!
And finally, I am an achiever. I tend to shoulder a lot of responsibilities and strive to be better at everything, constantly thinking about my next career move or how to be the best mom. Since practicing yoga, I’ve learned that many of those tendencies are driven by my ego. I was trying to prove to everyone how capable I am. Letting go of my ego and striving to be happy is simply enough. By practicing yoga, I’m making the time and space for me. The rest will follow—being happy, the best at my job, and the best mom. Whoops, there I go again with being an achiever. I’m still working on that.
In addition to taking class, I know you have an awesome home yoga practice. What are some of the things that help you keep up with your home practice?
The key to creating a healthy home practice is understanding what motivates me and creating an environment to keep me going. Group and private classes are essential to my home practice.
Group Classes are a great way to meet people who inspire me to strengthen my yoga skills. When I first started my yoga practice, I would say to myself, “If I lose 20 pounds, I bet this pose would be a lot easier.” During a class, I saw a bigger student grace through all the poses like it was no big deal. After that, I thought, “If she can do this, I bet I could gain another 20 pounds and still be pretty damn good!” Then I pulled out a bag of chips with sour cream and onion dip and went to town! Junk food aside, group classes motivate me to practice yoga at home so I may one day inspire another person. Maybe I already have! Wouldn’t that be cool?
Private Classes allow me to focus on the finer details of yoga in a one-on-one setting. To understand how this inspires my home practice, you need to understand Vietnamese culture. We revere our teachers. As my yoga instructor, I recognize that you take the time to learn about me and my body. You prepare for each session and share the knowledge acquired over a 20 year practice. The best way to return that generosity is to show you how much I value the lessons. This motivates me to focus my home practice so I can come to our next session with one tangible improvement. Your recognition of my progress is extremely gratifying. I’m happy celebrating achievements on my own. The celebration is even better when there is someone with me.
Home Practice has also become an essential part of my life because it represents my personal focus on creating time for me. It declutters my mind because I’m in a space all by myself. It allows me to listen to my own voice and pace my practice based on my own needs, which leads to the most amazing discoveries.
I know you also love yoga retreats. What are the top 3 things you love about retreats?
- Life made simple – By removing responsibility, life becomes simple. No phone calls, no laundry, and no consideration of time. I’m not constantly looking at the clock to make sure I’m where I need to be. At a retreat, someone will corral me to class or to lunch. I don’t have to think about what I want to eat. A healthy yet delicious meal is placed in front of me three times a day. The biggest decision I have to make is whether I should hang out at the pool, get a massage, or take a nap. Does life get better than that?
- Self-Realization – In making life simple, I have the time and energy to focus on me. This space allows me to reflect on my history and continue in the discovery of who I am, what I want, and where I want to be. In doing this, I’m reminded of how fortunate I am.
- Community – The people I meet on retreats may be on a different journey than me, but in the end, we all have the same goal. We go on retreats in search of ourselves. In doing this, we become more open and supportive of one another. This is a perfect formula for creating a community of love, friendship, and support. In return, this allows us to become an even stronger member of the community we already have at home. I love the mom, daughter, friend, and ex-wife that I have become since yoga discovered me.
Does Sarah's yoga story resonate with you and your yoga journey? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!