Written 28 June 2012
“Take one last breath, seal in your intention for your class today” said the instructor. I think my intention would be something about trying not to fall and eat sand. “Now squat down with your feet wide, place your hands in front of you on the ground, lift your bum up and place your knees on your upper arms. Be sure to look forward while starting to lift your feet one at a time” said Kristen as I stared at her quizzically. Are you kidding? This is definitely not normal was all I was thinking as I fell face first into the sand on my first attempt at crow pose.
Since I was fifteen years old I have worked every summer. I’ve been a sleep away camp counselor, a lifeguard and spent many wonderful years as an aquatics director & private swim instructor. Until last summer that is, when my best friend convinced me to take the summer off from work and go back to school in September a more rejuvenated teacher. I loved my summer job and had great difficulty giving it up; but, I decided it was time for a change. With a heavy heart, I passed the torch to my assistant director and asked her to take care of my campers.
For the first time since moving to Long Beach (& for the first time ever) I was actually going to enjoy all of the benefits of living here-the ocean air, the sand between my toes, the people watching on the boardwalk & time; that elusive entity that we all hope to grasp but never seem to be able to find. Those first few days were strange-not having to make my lunch, head to work and be exhausted upon my return home while hoping to stay awake long enough to shower & eat never mind having an actual conversation with my husband. Then I found my feet and went for that first summer walk on the boardwalk and felt that rush of relaxation with each step as the rays of sunshine hit my face. I was past National when I saw what would change my summer-a yoga class on the shoreline practicing to the music of the waves.
I had seen the signs each summer, but as I left for work at seven in the morning, the eight o’clock class on the sand wouldn’t work. Now it was different, now it was actually possible. As I stopped a member on her return to the boardwalk, she told me the time, cost and location of the class and I could feel my inner childhood gymnast smile all the way to my toes.
Last summer, every Tuesday and Thursday I walked the sand to get to that class on Lafayette Beach. I knew nothing about yoga and had never experienced a beach class first hand. I brought a towel & water and took my place in the back row and hoped for the best. I learned quickly that the sand didn’t hurt when I fell and that a bind was incredibly hard for me to do. Most of the time I just hoped not to face plant into the sand!
Week after week I walked that same stretch of beach from Pacific to Lafayette for this special class. I posted it on Facebook and got heaps of ‘likes’, but more importantly, I had an inner ‘like’ of my own. The instructors had such patience, strength and grace that I truly felt I was growing through this yoga practice. I looked forward to it daily and often constructed my schedule around it. If I had to miss a class, I was crushed and found that my muscles and mind both missed out on a rejuvenating session. By the end of the summer my thoughts before class started to change. Soon falling was no longer as present in my mind. By the end of August my intentions centered more on holding asanas longer or maybe even getting that elusive bind.
The summer ended, as did beach yoga and school began in September as it always does. I’d never really spent money or time on exercise much before this summer. I’m the person who relishes the warmth and lack of wind just to be able to get in that walk on the sand or boardwalk as often as possible nor have I ever really been a gym fan. Although it was a new expense I knew it was worth it so I continued with the Saturday yoga class at Long Beach Wellness Center. This was the perfect spot for me. A small studio in the center of town that was about as far from a ‘see and be scene’ place as you could get. My outfit didn’t have to have a Juicy print on the bum and my hair didn’t have to look as if I’d just stepped out of a salon. I never felt uncomfortable nor did I ever feel a sense of judgment from anyone. Easygoing people filled the space just hoping to gain something that only they needed to know about from their practice.
Summer turned to autumn and I continued to go to yoga. I noticed differences in all aspects of my practice and life. I was calmer and more open to change, stronger and more flexible, more comfortable in my own skin and definitely more at peace. Surprisingly, my back issues that have been ever-present for years dissipated with each hour of yoga and my asthma attacks were less. I found myself waiting for yoga Saturdays and jumping at the chance to take a two-hour workshop in the spring. I never thought I would want to spend money or time on exercise, but now I am the first one to buy one of a ten-session punch card and I look forward to an early morning Saturday wake-up. By May I was going to class twice a week and even managing to make it to a weeknight evening class. I knew that the benefits of that session were well worth being tired the next day. My body felt stronger, my sense of self more grounded and I had started to see growth in my practice.
I used to see that instant gratification when I could help a swimmer float for the first time. In swimming it was visible. In the classroom you often see growth in high school students over a longer period of time and sometimes a teacher will never truly know their impact on a student. This time, I’ve been the student and I’ve been the one (along with Kristen and my husband) to see that progress. At first I couldn’t hold a downward dog pose without my arms turning to jelly and now I look forward to it as a respite from some other more challenging postures.
Today was the first day of beach yoga for this summer. It’s been a full year now of doing yoga with Kristen and not only has it changed my body composition but I believe that it’s made me into a much stronger person in every way. I woke up excited this morning to walk down that same stretch of beach listening to the seagulls talk to one another as the waves crashed at the shore. My toes were happy to be in the sand and I couldn’t wait for yoga. I paid for my beach yoga punch card with a smile on my face and for the first time took my spot in the front row. This time I wasn’t scared. This time I had found my footing, I could listen to my breath and I knew what to expect. This time I was even ready for crow pose