Client Testimonials

"Over the past 20 years, I've had massages from over 100 massage therapists - and none of them come close to the work of Nicole Frolick. She's been the most knowledgeable, most professional therapist I've ever worked with. During my treatments she would explain the issues scientifically, based in physiology and mechanics.  I learned more about the human body during our sessions than all my other sessions combined.   She also provided me with preventative tools, exercises and stretches to avoid issues in the future. I would highly recommend Nicole."
 
~ Giovanni Marsico, Toronto, Canada
 
 
"I can confirm that I received enormous benefit from my stretching sessions with Nicole. My lingering back pain has all but disappeared."
 
~ Julian Reddyhough, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
 
 
"Working with Nicole for the last 6 years has taught me much about my body in our yoga sessions. She has helped me understand the important role my mind plays in how my body responds to yoga. Frustrated with an ankle injury that has never healed quite right, Nicole helps me to see the lesson in body acceptance and patience. But her work goes beyond the mat. Her guidance has  shown me the power behind compassion for myself and others, and I am always grateful for our practice together."
 
~ Robert Foster, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
 
 
"Even before the end of my first appointment with Nicole I knew I had finally found a massage therapist who would actually listen to their clients' needs and adapt their routine to achieve the desired results; unlike others I’ve used who'd just continue with a routine that’s well rehearsed. With a few recurring muscular issues due to old injuries, bad posture, and past and present professions, I knew each week that with Nicole’s experience, knowledge, varying techniques, and pressure, I would always be pain and knot free by the end of my deep tissue massage. I also asked for help with stretching out muscles that regularly became tight after training at the gym or sitting at the computer for long periods of time. To achieve this, Nicole guided me through her method for improving flexibility, which gave me a much better muscle stretch than achieved before and improvements were noticeable after the first session. I consider myself very fortunate to have had Nicole as my massage therapist during her time working in the Cayman Islands and it’s going to prove very hard to find someone who’s not only as professional, friendly, and kind but also has the same commitment to improving their clients well being."
 
~ Gary White, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
 
 
"We weren't conscious that we had these muscles in our bodies! It's an anatomical masterclass; she plugs into our bodies and knows what we need better than anyone else. We want more; it's addictive!"
 
~ Nancy Marino and Tom Copp, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
 
 
"Nicole takes the time to listen to your story about what is hurting or bothering your body, working to target that area and the body as a whole. Any new clients will be in very capable hands and have no regrets."
 
~ Mary Anne and Dave Sharpe, Calgary, Canada

 
inflexible me
Expanding Past the Inflexible Barriers of the
Body, Mind, and Soul
 
NICOLE FROLICK
 
www.inflexibleme.com

 
Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Frolick
 
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of a phonographic recording; nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise be copied for public or private use--other than for “fair use” as brief quotations embodied in articles and reviews--without prior written permission from the author.
The author of this book does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, mental, or emotional problems without the advice of a physician, either directly or indirectly. The intent of the author is only to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional and spiritual well-being. In the event you use any of the information in this book for yourself, the author and the publisher assume no responsibility for your actions.
The material in this eBook also appears in print version of this title:
ISBN-10: 1532712391
 
ISBN-13: 978-1532712395 
 
 
Edited by: Rebecca Bossen McHugh
Cover Design: Matt Witkowski

 
 
 
 
To my greatest teacher thus far: my body.

 
 
Contents
 
 

Introduction
1: Inflexible Me
2: Bending My “No Yoga” Rule
Bound by the Shackles of the Ego
3: The Painful Silence
The Journey Begins
4: A New Perspective, A New Experience
5: The Left Turn that Changed My Path Forever
6: Resistance and Persistence
Resistance and Persistence: A Story of Forgiveness
7: My Internal Teacher - Access Unlocked
8: Stumbling onto the Teaching Path
Back to School
9: The Support and Wisdom from Tree
10: The Butterfly and its Miraculous Transformation
11: What is Yoga & The Power of the Heart
The Heart’s Power
12: Becoming the Teacher
Reverting Back to Unsupportive Habits
Discovering Yin Yoga
Finding My Teaching Niche
13: Why Yoga?
14: The Four Fundamentals of Flexibility
Fear
Acceptance
Mindful Breathing
Compassion
15: How To Survive Your 1st Yoga Class
Why Your Body Is Struggling
The Spine and Ribs
The Hip Flexors
The Hips in General
The Chest
Savasana
16: Surrendering Yourself into Limitless Expansion

 

Introduction
 
"The moment you change your perception,
is the moment you rewrite the chemistry
of your body."
Dr. Bruce Lipton
 
Have you ever considered trying a yoga class but fear that you’re too inflexible for yoga? Do you believe that yoga just isn’t for you? Are you afraid that you’re not good enough to be in a yoga class filled with superstar yogis bending their bodies in ways you could never dream of? Are you afraid of being judged for your inadequacies because your body simply doesn’t bend that way?
This book is for everyone, but it’s especially dedicated to those who are inflexible and afraid of trying a yoga class because of their inflexibility. Yoga can be extremely intimidating for inflexible people who believe yoga is for the flexible kind. I should know because I was that person. I would internally curl up into a ball (an inflexible ball) at the mention of trying yoga. I firmly believed yoga wasn’t for me because I wasn’t the flexible type. Touch my toes? I couldn’t even bend over to reach past the bottom of my shins. It was embarrassing.
To my inflexible readers who know the struggle: How many times has yoga been suggested to you with great promises of curing your inflexibility? Probably more times than you care to remember. I’ll bet money that you, too, cringed at the mention of this mere suggestion. To anyone who isn’t familiar with physical inflexibility, yoga is downright terrifying. When inflexible people are asked to try yoga, the sound is equivalent to nails on a chalkboard. Yes. It’s that excruciating of a sound. Listening to people talk about yoga was never the problem. In fact, I was intrigued by the yoga culture. But as soon as yoga and I became part of the same sentence, a symphony of alarm bells went off in my mind and body: Run, run before they actually convince you to take a damn yoga class!
In my experience, inflexibility isn't addressed in a way that serves us inflexible people well. And yes, I include the general yoga community in that statement. There seems to be a general consensus that you're either born with it or you're not, that flexibility is genetic. Is it true? I know that I believed it to be true for the majority of my life. I wholeheartedly believed that I was genetically inflexible. There was nothing that I could do to change my fate, so this belief became my truth. And happens to be the truth for many other inflexible people. What’s interesting about this belief is the level of convenience to its believer. It removes all responsibility from the person addressing their own inflexibility.
If you’re someone who’s genetically blessed with flexibility, you’re capable of excelling at various physical activities such as gymnastics and dance. The sort of activities that seem impossible for an inflexible person to execute. An inflexible person doesn't have such options available to them. However, what a flexible person may not be aware of is that inflexible people can't even perform some of the simplest day-to-day activities without struggling. Take sitting, for example. You heard me right. Sitting. If you asked one of us to sit on the floor in a cross-legged position, most of us would become quite uncomfortable after a short period of time--and that’s pending being able to get into that position in the first place. Our hips and knees are usually too tight, creating a large amount of stress on our spine to remain upright. Let’s face it. Our bodies are not partial to bending.
To some, it may seem like common sense to come to the conclusion that if you want to gain flexibility, surely yoga is the perfect antidote. Wrong. Well, kind of. Yes, yoga would be very beneficial to our bodies if we were able to give yoga a fair chance. However, yoga as it’s currently taught isn’t really giving us a fair chance, making it one of the most intimidating activities for an inflexible person to perform. As the situation currently stands, yoga fails to keep inflexible people engaged long enough for the practice to make a noticeable impact on our bodies and minds. Why? The reason is simple. Without any preparation or guidance on mind and body expectations, or instruction on skillfully managing our mind and body throughout a yoga practice, we stumble in failure.
When you’re inflexible, there’s likely some level of body shame attached to it: shame towards the body for not being able to do what others easily can. When your body can’t do what you wish it to, disappointment sets in and, believe it or not, can become a form of body hate. Mustering up the courage to take a yoga class means you’re making yourself extremely vulnerable not just for one person but for an entire class of strangers to witness. You tend to judge yourself harshly in a yoga class as it quickly becomes obvious that you’re likely more inflexible than you originally acknowledged. You may even take pity on your teacher for having to deal with your inflexible atrocities. It's true. A lot of us feel bad for our yoga teachers having to watch us stumble our way through their class. You can't move as fluidly. Your tight hips and spine don't allow your limbs to move without serious effort. In fact, it’s a jarring, stumbling mess when you try.
 
Take, for instance, this scenario:
In Downward Dog, you are asked to lift your right leg high behind you and then step forward with that leg to the front of the mat for a basic lunge. Seems easy enough, right? For a flexible person, yes. For us? A total nightmare.
 
What actually happens is this:
It’s a struggle to lift your right leg high enough off the floor to go above the hips. Overly tight hip flexors stop your attempt abruptly, and your unyielding spine won't allow your back to get enough extension for this move. Then you’re asked to bring that right foot to the front of the mat in one fell swoop? It’s like being asked to perform a move out of Black Swan because this is next to impossible. Your foot usually lands at the midpoint of the mat, stopping your movement dead in its tracks. In order to complete the movement, you must pick your foot up with your hand (your hips are too tight to allow this on its own) and move it in increments to the front of the mat. Yes, increments. It rarely happens on the first try. Once the foot finally reaches its destination, you’re exhausted because it takes real effort to do this. It's like moving your body through molasses. You’re working against a lot of inflexible resistance. Now that you’ve finally reached the position that you were instructed to get into, you should be ecstatic! But you’re not. You’re crushed to realize that everyone is already moving on to the next instructed pose.
 
It’s ultimately a failure to go through those efforts without being able to hold the pose for the intended length of time. As a beginner, it’s imperative to understand how each pose feels in order for your brain to make that connection with your body. Once your brain makes this connection, an imprint of the pose is made and you then draw upon it the next time you try. Secondly, you never get to receive the full benefits of the pose. This is unfortunate because if you’re trying to improve your flexibility, it becomes a process moving at turtle speed. If you can’t engage your body long enough in a pose, how are you to gain any noticeable improvement before giving up? Thirdly, constantly playing catch up with the class to stay in time with the teacher completely removes any possibility of reducing your stress levels, which is a major benefit people seek from yoga. In fact, you end up creating more stress. The end result is frustration, disappointment, discouragement, and a dislike for yoga. The dislike for yoga is actually a dislike of how yoga makes you feel. Incompetent and embarrassed. No one wants to feel this way. How disheartening can one activity be?
So what are the alternatives? Take a beginner's class? Sure, you could try that but it still doesn't address your inflexibility. It’s nice to start with easier poses and a slower pace, but it doesn't help you understand why your body is struggling with the movements and poses in ways flexible beginners don’t and, more importantly, how to effectively overcome the struggle. It also doesn't address the fact that most inflexible people don’t want to try yoga in a classroom setting, preferring to have individual instruction so that the pressures of keeping up with others, as well as experiencing potential embarrassments, are removed from the equation. But what if there were a program designed specifically for inflexible people? A program that would precede a beginner's class? A program that would address not just the basic foundations of yoga but how to accept your body as it is, while providing you with effective tools to improve your flexibility at rates faster than a regular yoga class ever could? A program where everyone is on the same playing field regarding flexibility and there’s mutual compassion and support for the common struggles many inflexible people face?
I know I’m not alone and that many people struggle with their inflexibility. Many of my clients’ eyes would light up with hope when they discovered that I, too, used to be very inflexible. I’m often told that my story is encouraging, and that perhaps they, too, may finally give yoga a try. Hearing this time and time again, I realized how prevalent the shame of inflexibility is and how often people perceive it as a lifelong prison sentence. Inflexibility needs to be addressed on a deeper and more empathetic level than is currently offered. Whether you’re someone who pushes your body to extremes in sports or someone who simply doesn't have the genetic blessing of flexibility, you know the struggle. As an inflexible person, yoga has likely been suggested for you to try and your reaction likely involved your eyes rolling into the back of your head. I feel you. I know. And I have your back on this one. Literally.
My profession in wellness began in 2000 as a Registered Massage Therapist. I’ve performed well over 10,000 hours of massage therapy in my career, which means my hands have been my vehicle to understanding how our bodies respond to muscle manipulation, stretching, and various other techniques used to improve the health of muscles and connective tissue. I understand how the different muscles of the body work as levers, where typical sources of pain and immobility originate, and how to reduce the pain while speeding up the healing process of these tissues. I have spent decades investing in my knowledge of the human body (especially the back and hips), its health, the mind and body connection, and how to integrate all of it together. Why am I telling you this? It’s a crucial puzzle piece in the discoveries I’ve made throughout my journey with yoga. It’s important to note that as a massage therapist I’ve learned to feel differences in the muscle tissues. When something wasn't right, I felt it. The 15-plus years of professional practice I’ve had working with the body has fine-tuned my ability to tune into it and listen to its needs. I can visually see the internal human anatomy, skeleton, muscles, and nerves because that’s what I am trained to do.
As I go through my journey with you, I’ll often come across memories where my body is essentially talking to me. By drawing upon my knowledge and past experiences while tuning into my body, I was able to listen to what my body needed in that moment. I call it experiential learning. The discoveries ranged from minor to life-changing, and the discoveries revealed themselves slowly like puzzle pieces one at a time. As I continued my journey, the picture revealed itself. A simple act of finding the courage to try yoga actually morphed into a purpose that was never on my radar. They say that if you follow your passion, your purpose will be revealed. I can't say yoga was my passion, but the mind, body, and spiritual connection is and has been since I was a teenager. Yoga became a gateway to that passion, and when I finally found the courage to take my first class, those gates of purpose opened.
When I look back now, I see that I could’ve never planned for this. This was the work of something far greater than I. What we choose to call that greater power is irrelevant. If you don’t believe in one, that’s fine, too. You don’t need to in order to benefit from this book. The important thing to remember is that I still have your back. My dear inflexible friend, I am about to reveal to you how I discovered that my inflexibility was not the awful curse I thought it was, preventing me from attempting or practicing yoga. My inflexibility was the greatest blessing my yoga practice could’ve ever asked for. On and off the mat. And it can be yours, too.
I’m sure you’re wondering how inflexibility could possibly be a blessing in yoga. I understand completely. It took me a long time to build up the courage to try a yoga class. The thought of exposing my weakness to a roomful of people who could move with grace and ease was intimidating, to say the least. However, once I was able to tame my Ego and extract all that I could from practicing yoga, I began to see everything in a completely different light. When I shifted my perspective, I shifted my reality with yoga and in turn shifted my relationship with my body. I had to face my fears, judgments, insecurities, and pain head-on to make this shift, but the end result was unimaginable.
This journey will highlight many of the fears, judgments, and insecurities I faced. They became major players on this journey. What started out as a physical journey turned into one of my greatest spiritual journeys. I learned that the two couldn’t be separated as my inflexibility was not limited to only my physical body, but extended to my mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies as well. By facing my physical insecurities, I began to peel back the layers of deeply rooted pain ultimately pointing to something I never considered a problem: I didn’t know how to love myself. Can you believe that by exploring my physical inflexibility, my body taught me what it means to love myself? Seems kind of crazy but it happened.
All of this work, coupled with my massage experience and yoga practice, began to build the foundations for what I can now teach you. I’ll take you through some of the best areas to focus your stretching on so that you can increase your flexibility at faster rates than a typical yoga class would, helping you feel more comfortable while engaged in your yoga practice. As you become more flexible, moving from one pose to another becomes easier, allowing you to keep up with the pace of most classes. There’s nothing more frustrating than lagging behind everyone else in a yoga class. If you don't have the time to allow your body to settle into the pose (asana) because everyone else is already moving on to the next one, then, as I mentioned before, you are indeed missing out on many of the benefits of yoga. You no longer need to feel disheartened and discouraged. As I take you through the physical aspects, you will begin to see that it’s impossible for you to achieve body flexibility before you address your mind’s flexibility.
This is the story of my special journey with yoga and how I learned to overcome the fears and insecurities surrounding my inflexibility. Only focused on my physical inflexibilities, it soon became apparent how inflexible I was on the deeper levels, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I’ve received many blessings throughout my yoga practice beyond increased physical flexibility, and I often wonder how unfortunate it would’ve been had I never given yoga a chance. It made me think of the many people who are curious about yoga but are too intimidated by their lack of flexibility to try. With all of the joy and love my practice has brought me, I felt compelled to share my story. To perhaps inspire those who’ve never had the courage to try a yoga class to face their inflexible fears and begin their own special journey. A journey that could open you up to being flexible beyond the physical level. A journey that ultimately teaches you that your body holds an innate wisdom that unlocks you from your inflexible prison while fostering an internal environment supporting awareness for new self-expansion and growth.

1
Inflexible Me
Inflexible. That word tormented me throughout most of my life. The definition alone scared me: “incapable or resistant to being bent.” My personality doesn’t like the word incapable. It suggests weakness and failure, two words with which I didn’t like to associate myself. So imagine my discouragement at the young age of eight when I realized I was inflexible.
It was during a late morning recess on the playground. My girlfriends and I were out on the grass. As some of the girls showed off with cartwheels and round-offs, sometimes landing into splits, I cringed with envy on the inside. Many of them were in dance classes and, although I had spent a couple of earlier years in dance, I had gravitated more towards sports. The reason was simple. No one wants to do something they’re not good at. I was inflexible and therefore not so great at dance, even though I secretly loved dance and wished so badly I could be better at it. In fact, my mother has a picture of me when I was 5 standing in a dance class. I’m looking at the camera with a face of disgust. I think that picture speaks volumes of how I felt about my body and dance. I did have a natural athleticism, however, and so sports became a no-brainer.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to do what these girls could do, but I wished so badly I could. So I attempted the cartwheel, failing miserably. I tried over and over, but I couldn’t get my legs straight enough or high enough off the ground. I couldn't move fluidly, and that enhanced my fear of falling on my face. I didn’t trust my body to do what they could do. I felt defeated. I gave up trying but the girls continued, showing one another up each time. They were having so much fun, but all I could do was stand on the sidelines and watch.
This was a pivotal moment in which I can remember my body letting me down. I remember hating my body for not being able to do what the other girls could do. It bothered me. It bothered me a lot. I didn’t like admitting to something that I couldn’t do. I had a competitive personality that didn’t align with failure. On an even deeper level, it also bothered me that, as a girl, I wasn't capable of doing what most other girls were doing. In a way, it made me feel less of a girl. After all, wasn't flexibility something more aligned with being a female than a male? I know it shouldn't be, but we live in a world that emphasizes such beliefs and so began my journey of relating with activities believed to be more male-oriented.
In order to save myself from future disappointment, I turned towards what I knew I could do: sports. Wanting to be an athlete, I convinced myself that flexibility was sacrificed in the name of being athletic. So in order for me to become really great at sports, I couldn’t be flexible. Sounds crazy, right? I’m not sure how I aligned with this sort of thinking, but I was eight and this is what I honestly believed. Instead of learning how to become more flexible, I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t meant to be flexible. Flexibility was something you were born with, and clearly I wasn’t. This belief took the onus off me for not being flexible, and therefore I wasn’t really failing at anything. The fear of not being able to do something that seemed so easy to others was beyond intimidating. It was unacceptable and it had to be swept under the proverbial rug. If I focused on sports and improving those skills, then I’d never have to be reminded of my inflexibility.
Fear is interesting, isn’t it? What one person may fear may not have any effect on another. It’s simply a false belief that we choose to hold onto for whatever purpose we believe it serves. Fear doesn’t actually exist without us. We create it. In this case, I was fearful of showing weakness and looking like an idiot in front of others. I’m sure that no one thought I was weak because I couldn’t do a cartwheel or that I looked like an idiot while trying, but I believed it and so it became very real for me.
I carried this belief with me unknowingly throughout my entire life. Since I removed myself from all situations requiring flexibility, the only time I became aware of it was as a spectator. Watching dance shows from the comfort of the audience or from my couch in front of a television, I’d be in awe along with everyone else. I was amazed at how high dancers could get their legs in the air, and with such grace. There was no way my body could perform any action close to that capacity.
Instead of dwelling on what I knew I couldn't do, I turned to any sport I could play in school. I was always on the volleyball and basketball teams and, if time allowed it, I also played on the baseball team and competed in track and field. During the summer months, I joined recreational leagues. Playing sports, I learned to push myself to physical limits. Coaches demanded our best and so, if there was pain, I learned to push through it. Oftentimes, my body would scream at me to stop, but I wanted to win and I didn't want to let my coach or team down. This began the process of tuning out my body's needs, essentially creating a disconnect. When I was a kid, I never thought about the consequences of continuous strain on my body from sports. All that mattered was getting as much playing time as possible. Stretching was an afterthought, something I’d casually do and for very minimal amounts of time. The stretches were also very basic, not requiring much flexibility to accomplish. Most of the time, I found myself stretching to look like I was warming up, not because I felt like I needed to stretch.
Near the end of high school, I started working out in a gym. Physical activity was a necessary part of my life now, and I wanted to maintain my fitness. Never needing a trainer to motivate me, I thoroughly enjoyed working up a sweat and pushing my body to work harder. Occasionally, I’d get knee and hip pain, but it never deterred me from my goal of remaining fit and increasing my strength.
After high school, I attended university to study kinesiology. I had a natural passion for studying the body and how it moved, but I had no idea what I’d do with my degree once I finished the four year program. In addition, I wasn’t a fan of the learning environment in such a large scholastic setting. I felt like a number, not a student. I craved a more intimate learning environment. One where I could practice what I was learning. Being aware of my tendency to learn more effectively through physical practice rather than reading, I realized university may not be for me.
After two years, I was feeling the need for a change and I considered dropping out. The risk of losing two more years of my life in a program I wasn’t sure would serve me far outweighed my need to have a degree. A degree I wasn't even sure I would use. So, I began to contemplate my options.
Through my mid to late teens, I had taken a very strong interest in alternative health and wellness. I was curious about various healing methods such as energy work, Chinese medicine, and other alternative forms of medicine. I had even bought a book on self-massage to heal various symptoms. When I was in my second year of university, I had a friend who was leaving university to go to massage therapy college instead. This piqued my interest. The more I thought about it, the more I believed that it would be an excellent stepping stone for me to enter into the alternative health industry. It also allowed me to continue my education regarding the human body, which I was deeply interested in, and to do so in a more intimate learning environment. It didn’t take me long to decide. I had weighed out the pros and cons, but I knew in my heart that leaving university to pursue my passion for alternative health was the right path for me. So I finished my second year and enrolled for massage therapy college that fall.
Massage therapy college was intense. I found the material much more demanding than anything I had previously done at university, but I also found much more joy in it. The environment was intimate. All of the students knew one another shortly into the program, and, most importantly, we were able to practice what we were learning. I knew myself well enough to know the experience is how I absorbed my understanding.
It was a two year program that allowed me to begin my hands-on relationship with the body. We were taught how to palpate the muscles, to understand their location, the direction of their fibers, and how they responded under our touch. We were trained to feel how the body responds to stress, strain, and manipulation so that we knew exactly how to heal the body with our hands.
Once I graduated and was able to work professionally, I continued my learning through the repetitive experiences of working on my clients. I loved what I did and so I worked a lot of hours. To preserve our bodies, we were told in school we shouldn’t work more than 20 hours a week. But 20 hours was not enough for me. I literally loved my work. I usually worked 30 to 35 hours a week. It never felt like work for me to massage my clients; however, it was very physical work. Learning how to tune pain out from sports, I wasn't aware of the toll it was taking on my body.
Do you know the saying that an electrician lives in the dark? Well, a massage therapist never gets a massage. Trust me when I tell you it’s rare to find a massage therapist who actually makes a concerted effort to get regular massages, like we suggest to our clients. My neck, shoulders, and back carried so much tension that, when I did make the time to squeeze a massage in, I was met with utter disbelief from my therapist. The reaction was always the same. They couldn't believe how I could work under the condition of my muscles. Of course, I’d internally wave the concern away since I barely noticed it. It's true. Once you become accustomed to the pain and tightness, it also becomes your level of normal. So as you can see, even in my job, I was pushing my body to its limits and very rarely taking the time to care for it properly. As long as I ate well and exercised often, I believed I was healthy. I never felt like I needed to stretch my body. I was a bit of a hypocrite, advising my clients to do the very thing I wouldn't take the time to do for myself. I can admit that because I couldn't grasp how stretching would make much difference for an inflexible person such as myself. I believed I wasn't born with flexibility. Besides, I was the athletic kind. Flexibility wasn't for me, remember? So I remained in my ignorant bliss. That is, until yoga began taking over the Western Hemisphere.
The rise of yoga in the Western world didn’t impact me until my early twenties. Until then, I was perfectly happy to sit in my own ignorant bliss, completely hiding from the fact that I was inflexible. There was no need in my life to be flexible. My job didn’t require it. My workouts didn’t require it and neither did my social life. Let's face it; I’m a Taurus and stubbornness is a part of who I am. Like the bull, I liked digging my heels into the ground, literally not wanting to move. My zodiac screams inflexibility. But that all changed with the advent of yoga in my life.
As yoga’s popularity grew, it showed up in my job. While working at a busy massage therapy clinic, I learned of Thai Yoga Massage. A couple of girls I worked with were taking courses to learn this massage style, and they were often asking me to be a body for them to practice on and learn. I’d often joke that they’d have their work cut out for them, taking me on. It was my way of giving them an opportunity to back out while keeping their expectations as low as possible. Nevertheless, I gave in and reluctantly allowed them to practice on me. What a mistake. It was so embarrassing. I couldn’t believe how inflexible I actually was. While lying on my back and with one leg on the floor, I couldn’t extend the other leg fully into the air without bending my knee. A lot. Worse, while sitting on the floor, I couldn't even bend over to touch my ankles, let alone my toes! My shins were as far as I could reach. I was a hot inflexible mess. All of these years of hiding from my inflexibility had me living in a state of false comfort. I hated being made aware of my inflexibility and the insecurities it brought up. It was honestly more than I could bear to continue, so I politely declined any further requests to be practiced on. My Ego simply couldn’t handle it.
Then the awareness shifted into my workouts. Steering clear of any type of yoga classes, I tried Pilates. I thought it was going to be a cakewalk because Pilates wasn’t about stretching. But Pilates killed me. Pilates is a great workout and killer for the abs, but some of the simplest moves were unbearably hard. Take, for instance, sitting upright on the floor with your legs extended out in front of you. Seems easy enough, right? Wrong. This simple action was one of the most difficult and exhausting tasks for me. I couldn't get my hips under me enough to sit upright while keeping my spine straight. Constantly struggling to pull my upper body straight up, my legs began to shake uncontrollably. Wondering if I was doing something wrong, I would look over at the instructor and watch in disbelief. Not only was she sitting perfectly upright, but she was smiling while she did it! Smiling? I was so far from a smile. My Ego wasn’t happy. I couldn’t believe that my body was failing me in a simple position such as sitting upright on the floor. I loved the Pilates workout, but I hated how inadequate it made me feel. The desire for abs of steel was far outweighed by my fear of inadequacy. I decided to stick to what I knew: weight training. At least then I was capable and in control.
Unfortunately, even in my weight training I couldn’t hide from my inflexibility for long. In efforts to take my fitness to a higher level, I hired a personal trainer. He came highly recommended and didn’t follow the grain in his methods. He was thorough in his testing before designing a workout plan suitable for me. After multiple strength and range of motion tests, he asked me if I had ever considered yoga. My heart sank, and I told him that it just wasn’t my thing. It was easier to tell him that than admit to how scared I was of trying a yoga class. He understood but insisted that I try a class. He said that it’d help me gain more strength in my muscles and create more health and stability in my joints by increasing my flexibility. He had a valid point. But it didn’t matter. I nodded and smiled, knowing full well I had no intention of exposing what was one of my biggest vulnerabilities and weaknesses to a room full of strangers in a yoga class.
But then it happened. Yoga had entered my social life. People constantly talked about yoga this and yoga that. The way people spoke about yoga, you’d think it was going to save the world. My girlfriends often invited me to yoga classes with them, insisting on how incredible it was. They’d mention the word bliss to me a lot. They told me that, if I came to a class, I’d love the way it’d make me feel when it was over. “No thanks,” I’d tell them. There wasn’t anything great about sitting in a room full of people who can do everything that I can’t.
Even shopping was impossible without being reminded of yoga’s greatness and how I wasn’t a part of it. The Lululemon stores were all the rage at the time, mainly because girls loved that the clothing was incredibly comfortable--and it made their butts look awesome! I have to admit...I loved the clothing, but walking into the stores was also intimidating. Walls stocked with yoga gear, which I had no understanding of how to use and therefore would never buy, always reminded me of my inadequacy. I kind of felt like a fraud walking into that store, as if I should’ve at least tried one yoga class before buying their clothing. However, what girl could resist pants that were not only super comfortable to wear but made your butt look good? Not me. So I secretly bought the yoga wear without actually doing the yoga.
Living in a city, my job was a short fifteen minute walk from my condo. Walking home was often one of the more enjoyable moments of my day because I was outdoors, getting fresh air (well, as fresh as city air can be). I could unwind peacefully on my own after a physically intense day of work. That is, until yoga studios started popping up in my neighborhood. There were A-frame signs everywhere, hyping up the hottest new yoga studio “NOW open!” just waiting for me to come and try one of their classes. One week of unlimited yoga classes for only $20. I won’t lie. The idea of working out for a week for only $20 appealed to me, but the idea of looking like an eyesore in what seemed like a room full of people who took their yoga so seriously it was almost a cult, was much less appealing. In fact, it was intimidating.
Side note: I’m not saying that yoga is a cult by any means, but the impression formed is due to the level of seriousness with which some yogis and studios approach yoga. Speaking for myself here, I found it to be a huge turn off, and it still is to this day if I encounter it in a class or studio. Considering that yoga helps to improve flexibility of not only the body but mind as well (I will address this later), it seems that the militant and serious approach is in contradiction to the actual practice. It’s my opinion, but I know I’m not alone in this opinion either. But I digress. Back to my story.
Desperately wanting to try what everyone was shouting about at the top of their lungs, I was paralyzed by my fear of exposing my inflexibility. Could I possibly endure an hour and a half of my body disappointing me pose after pose? Perhaps the meditative aspect of yoga would make it all bearable. Meditation was something I picked up practicing in my late teens. I loved the effects it had on my mind, bringing a sense of peacefulness while sitting in stillness. It was a chance for me to bring some mental and emotional balance into my life. There seemed to be a parallel between meditation and yoga. Hearing how Zen-like yoga was, I found myself considering a yoga class. I definitely needed more grounding in my busy city life. Was it possible that I might enjoy yoga if I could find the courage to give it a chance?

2
Bending My “No Yoga” Rule
After years and years of saying “no” to yoga, I finally found the courage to try a class. My best friend agreed to come along. It would be her first time as well, and I needed all the strength in numbers I could get. It being the dead of winter, we decided to give the hot yoga class a try. Both loving the heat, we were probably more excited by the idea of escaping the bitter cold winter for ninety minutes of warmth than by the actual yoga.
I wish this was the part where I share with you my revolutionary experience of miraculously finding my long-lost love for yoga. But it’s not. The truth is I hated it. Some might say that hate is a strong word and perhaps dislike is more appropriate. Rest assured. I hated it. After waiting in the hallway upon arriving at the studio, I instantly felt out of place. I felt like I had entered some secret club that I wasn’t meant to be a part of. Girls huddled together, sporting their fashionable yoga mats over their shoulders, communicated that I had entered into a world I didn't belong to. I felt eyes running me up and down. I kept thinking to myself, they know I’m not a yogi, I can feel their judgment. It was the playground all over again. I didn't feel good enough to be there or to participate.
Once the studio doors opened up and the people from the last class filed out, I couldn't help but notice how serious everyone seemed. No one smiled and no one looked at anyone. In fact, everyone held their heads down while making their way towards the change room. I started to wonder why people talked about how wonderful yoga felt and how connecting it was when no one here seemed happy or willing to connect with others around them? Where was this bliss my friends had spoken about?
Once the class cleared, my girlfriend and I each grabbed a yoga mat and found a spot way at the back of the room where no one would notice us. I may have gotten the courage to try a yoga class, but I wasn’t about to look like a moron for the whole class to see. I was comfortable being right at the back, hopefully unnoticed and undistracted by my inflexible self staring back at me from the mirror.
As we settled onto our mats, I looked around. Again, everyone seemed so serious. Noticing some people warming up with various yoga poses and stretches, I thought maybe if I stretch it will look like I am familiar with yoga. Because that was clearly on everyone else’s mind--whether or not I knew yoga. I can sit back now and laugh at my ridiculous thoughts and perceptions, but at the time the fear was very real.
Stretching briefly, I became bored and turned to my friend. Both nervous, we usually eased our nerves by making fun of things and laughing. We were mainly poking fun at ourselves and sometimes let a quiet giggle slip out until someone turned around and shhh’d us. I couldn’t believe it. I was mortified. I thought to myself, this isn’t an ideal way to start off your first yoga class, Nicole. So much for going unnoticed. This feeling of not belonging stayed with me the entire class.
Once the teacher arrived, everyone assumed her start position and so the class began. At first, things weren’t too bad. The poses were challenging but manageable and the heat was comforting after being out in the cold only a short while earlier. As the class went on and my body began building its own heat, I found the heat of the room overbearing. It was no longer comfortable. It was distracting. The intensity level of the poses increased and I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class. As soon as I managed to contort my body into a given pose, everyone else was leaving it to begin the next one. Transitioning from pose to pose was a challenge. I couldn’t get my foot to where it needed to be in one graceful movement. It often took me manually moving my leg or foot with my hands to place it where it was supposed to go. All of this was frustrating because I was constantly playing catch up. Perhaps part of it had to do with the fact that I had no idea what the heck the teacher was referring to when she used the Sanskrit names of the poses. When learning to physically do something the body has never done before, it doesn’t help when the language used to describe the position resembles nothing even close to your own. Half the time I was paused in confusion, wondering what it was the teacher had pronounced.
Moving into the balancing poses, I became extremely frustrated. Holding Tree Pose (standing on one leg) was a continuous battle of preventing my foot from sliding down my sweaty leg. Wearing shorts was clearly not the right choice for a hot yoga class. Sweating profusely, I had completely soaked through my clothes by this point. There was nothing Zen-like about sweat blinding my vision and being completely soaked in my own sweat while fighting my inability to hold a pose.
I felt sorry for the teacher who had to look at me. I couldn’t have been a pretty sight. When I looked around the room, most people looked graceful and at ease in their practice. There was nothing easy about this, and I was anything but graceful. I was a disgrace. The frustration was mounting. Where was this great feeling that yoga was meant to bring? I surely wasn’t feeling it.
Looking over at my best friend, I could sense our feelings were mutual. When we moved to the floor work, I became light-headed. I felt like I might vomit. My body clearly had had enough of this circus. I had to leave. I looked at my friend and whispered to her that I was done and leaving. I needed to get out of there. And fast. She nodded and was right behind me.
I felt horrible for leaving the class early. I felt like a failure, and it only solidified my belief that yoga was not for me. Being aware that it might be unacceptable to leave class before the end and that the teacher might take offense, I thought about staying--but I couldn’t. We grabbed our winter jackets and bundled up. As I walked out of that studio into the cold winter night, I was certain that would be the first and last time I tried yoga. I felt defeated and harshly reminded of the fact that my body and yoga were not meant to be.
Bound by the Shackles of the Ego
Fear is nothing but an illusion. I had bought into my belief that I was unable to do yoga because I was inflexible. Since one of the many benefits of yoga is increased flexibility, this belief might seem strange. Wouldn’t it make sense to practice yoga so that I could become more flexible? Of course it would make sense--to the person who is not crippled by their fear of inflexibility (which, remember, in my mind meant I was incapable and weak). Sadly, I know I’m not alone in this thought process. There are many people who are fearful of giving yoga a chance because they’re not flexible enough. It’s one of the main reasons why people who would like to try yoga haven’t yet.
The crippling effect of fear is astounding, especially when considering that what one person may be fearful of, another may not even be bothered by. Enter the Ego. The Ego has a way of playing on your insecurities to hold you back from breaking free of them. The Ego uses past experiences and judgments to foster a belief that is neither supportive nor loving. If you just cringed at me using the word “loving,” try not to judge it. There’s a reason why I chose it. It will become more and more apparent as I continue on my journey.
Every time I experienced a moment of inflexibility, I felt let down by my body. This in turn fed my insecurities that I wasn't capable, which then fed my Ego to tell me yoga wasn't designed for people like me. It wasn't me. It was the yoga. Yoga was for the bendy people. Do you see how quickly this circle just formed? I was now justified in my thoughts, and I no longer had to worry about my incapability so long as I steered clear of yoga. Cut it out of my life and all is solved. No wonder I love the beach; clearly, having my head buried in the sand is something I’m good at.
To be honest, if I never took another yoga class again, my life would’ve been just fine. I would’ve survived. But I also would’ve missed out on something very special. I had no idea that I would ever encounter another yoga class again, and I’m certain my Ego was just as surprised at the outcome as I was.

3
The Painful Silence
For three years after taking that yoga class, I never gave yoga a second thought. I was adamantly sure that yoga and I were never meant to be. Many things turned me off of yoga from that experience. My incapabilities were a huge factor in how I felt, but I was also turned off by something else. My impression of yoga from how it had been presented to me through friends, media, and literature was one without Ego. I believed yoga to be a movement that built strength and flexibility, and a tool to find happiness and inner peace, all while in the company of strangers who accepted one another as each was. However, I had a different experience in that one class. There seemed to be a cliquey feeling at the studio. Instead of feeling embraced, I felt like an outsider, especially when some of the students cast looks upon me as I waited for the class to open. Could this have been a figment of my imagination combined with the work of my own Ego? Yes, most likely. But I also know I’m good at picking up on the energies of other people. It comes from working with people on a daily basis as a massage therapist. The energy wasn't warm and welcoming. I didn't like being silenced by another student before the teacher had begun the class. I completely respect that the studio is a quiet place and that it’s important not to disrupt the space of others, but my friend and I were respectfully whispering. As a therapist working in an environment where being quiet is paramount, I understand its importance to the experience. Needless to say, I found this person's reaction to us a little over the top and unwarranted. Was yoga supposed to be this serious? I hadn't hoped so, but it seemed from this one experience that it was.
I know that I shouldn't have judged yoga from one experience. This could’ve just been a one-off type of situation, but I was making myself very vulnerable to take this class. Inflexibility is a huge issue for many people. When you believe that you have no business being in a yoga class and a couple of incidents like these happen, it becomes all the ammunition you need to tell yourself, "I told you so." It isn't anyone's job to baby me through a yoga class, but there are a lot of people who would love to try yoga and don’t because they’re inflexible. We represent a huge market in the yoga industry. It seems like it would be common sense to create an environment that takes our fears and insecurities into consideration. 
Three years after my unfortunate encounter with yoga, I was taking stock of my life. I had already left my city living behind to live on a small island in the Caribbean. I had been working myself to the bone, and the fast-paced city lifestyle was only compounding the effects it was having on my mind and body. I needed to slow things down. Take a moment to smell the roses, you could say. Moving to an island didn't slow my workload down, but it did give me an easier lifestyle to live. Being surrounded by turquoise waters and white sandy beaches was just what I needed to recharge some of my battery.
As great as island living was, work was still taking a toll on me. For five years, I had gotten into the habit of working without a vacation. I wasn't traveling anymore, which was a huge passion of mine. My body was physically exhausted and I constantly felt depleted. With not much left to give, my passion for my work was dissolving. I didn't like that. Something had to change. Something more extreme than moving to an island. I considered taking a sabbatical from work. One of my bucket list dreams was backpacking for an extended period of time. With no major ties to anyone or anything, I believed it was a great time in my life to take such an opportunity. At 31, I felt that the older I became, the less likely I would be to follow my dream. It was a now or never moment for me.
Costa Rica had been on my radar for a while, and it seemed like a safe country to travel through for a woman traveling alone. Finding someone to take months off at a time to travel with was difficult and I didn't want it to be the reason for not going. I figured I would meet people along the way, plus it allowed me to travel freely without needing to consider anyone else's travel needs.
My goal was to travel with a “go with the flow” attitude. I have a habit of trying to control my environment and plans. That’s very inflexible thinking, by the way. Perhaps I subconsciously knew that I needed more flexibility in my life beyond the physical aspect. In any case, I decided it was time to take the opportunity to follow one of my dreams. I quit my job and allowed the chips to fall where they may. My body and my mind needed this extended vacation. In fact, I needed it so badly that the only thing I did plan was a ten day silent meditation retreat shortly into my trip. As I mentioned before, I loved meditation but my busy work schedule had left me completely disconnected from my spiritual practice. This would be a great way to set the tone for my trip and my one year sabbatical from work. Needing to bring some balance back into my life, it was time to put the health of my body, mind, and spirit ahead of my career and financial goals.
The Journey Begins
It was the summer of 2008. My flight was landing in San Jose and its arrival was in the late evening. As the plane began to descend, my nerves started to get the better of me. I started to question everything I was doing, especially traveling alone. I didn't speak Spanish and feared that perhaps I had put myself in an unsafe situation. Once my mind is allowed down that rabbit hole, it’s hard to turn back, so I pulled myself together and calmed myself down. I told myself I would be fine. I had arranged for a shuttle driver to pick me up, but I now also questioned how safe that was. I was backpacking, not staying at a five star resort. Without a set agenda or itinerary other than the ten day silent meditation retreat, I had booked myself into a hostel in San Jose for two nights before the retreat started. Hostel accommodations were something new for me, but I was eager for the adventure.
By the time my plane landed, I was feeling better. Unable to understand any of the signs in the airport, I followed the crowd. I picked up my backpack from baggage claim and slowly made my way outdoors. There was a flurry of taxi and shuttle drivers. Multiple drivers requested to take me in their taxi, but I soon spotted my driver with a sign displaying the hostel name. There was another girl waiting there, too. We chatted while others arrived. Speaking with her had calmed my fears of being alone, and excitement crept in for what this trip may have in store for me.
By the time we arrived at our hostel, it was after midnight. The taxi ride hadn't revealed much of the landscape since it was dark, so I didn't have any bearings as to where I actually was. The girl who I had spoken to initially was checked into the same shared room as I was. We were given keys for a locker and other information pertaining to food and accommodations. I realized I hadn't eaten dinner, but I was exhausted. All I wanted to do was crawl into bed and sleep.
The room we were staying in had multiple bunk beds in it. The only empty one I could find was a top bunk. The room was dark because everyone was sleeping. Fumbling around while trying to be quiet was a real challenge. After locking my valuables in a locker, I ungracefully and unsuccessfully swung my inflexible body up towards my top bunk. Taking multiple tries, I must have woken the person below. Once successful, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
Two days later, I was on a bus heading to the retreat. Looking out the window, I could see how green and lush everything was. Costa Rica was a beautiful country. It was also very hot and humid. There was no air conditioning on this bus and I was melting. My legs were sticking to the seats and my clothes were clinging to my skin. I felt pretty grimy. The joys of budget traveling. I did spot a few people on my bus who I knew were going to the same retreat as I was. Well, I assumed they were. They were carrying meditation cushions with them. I had a moment of regret that I didn't have the same foresight. But the retreat was my first stop, and carrying a huge pillow with me everywhere I went wasn’t practical. Never having meditated for longer than an hour, I was curious to see how this retreat experience would play out. I was even more curious to see how I would handle ten days of silence.
Arriving at the centre where the meditation retreat was being held, I was greeted and welcomed to sit down with other arrived guests. The facilities were set in the jungle near a lake. Sitting down, I learned that some of these people were first-timers like me. Others were on their second or third time. The veterans offered some insight into what to expect, but nothing they could say would prepare me for what actually happened.
There were rules. Rules you were asked to respect so as not to interfere with anyone else's experience. The first rule was pretty obvious. No talking. The next rule was that men and women had to be separated at all times except in the meditation hall. At meals, they even had a large curtain that separated the eating area so that we couldn’t see the opposite sex and be distracted. No reading. No writing. No exercise. I didn't like that one. Ten days without physical activity? I knew this would eat away at my need to workout as the days passed. The next one, however, made me smile. No yoga. Finally! A place that didn’t ask me to try yoga. The last rule was no eye contact. It seemed weird walking around without being able to look at people, but we were asked to not engage with others on any level. These were the rules. Yet the worst was still to come.
A bell woke us up every morning at 4AM. I don't believe I had ever woken up that early on a regular basis before. Suffice it to say, getting out of bed at 4AM wasn’t pleasing. I love my sleep. Making it even harder to pull myself out of bed was knowing that getting to the women's bathroom required walking outside. It was still dark out and my eyes kept telling my brain to go back to bed, but I forced myself to walk to the bathroom. Some people showered before the morning meditation, but that was crazy. The water had one temperature: ice cold. Getting up this early was difficult enough. I didn't need to add an ice shower to the list. Besides, if that torture was waiting for me when waking up, I would never leave bed. Little did I know, torture was imminent and that shower was the least of my worries.
Morning meditation began in the hall at 4:30AM sharp, so we had to be on time. The first session was two hours long and there were more rules. No moving. We were asked to sit still in the same position, if possible, for the entire duration of the meditation. Remember what I said about inflexible people sitting cross-legged on the floor? I had to do that for two hours and not move!
During the first morning meditation, I quickly glanced around the room in envy at the veterans who had brought proper meditation cushions to sit on. I wasn't supposed to look at others, but I couldn't resist. I know; I was already failing. But one guy had even built his own meditation seat! Talk about enthusiasm. All I had was the pillow from the bed I slept on and some larger square piece of soft foam. The centre reserved this foam for those of us who were unprepared for what they had in store for us. The idea was to place the pillow on top of the larger foam. The foam was for your ankles and the pillow was for your butt. My pillow was pathetic. It slightly helped to cushion my bottom and ease my spine position when trying to sit upright. That is, until my body weight caused my butt to sink so far into the pillow that its existence was barely noticeable. Sitting upright on the floor was not an easy task for me. The foam gave my ankles a small form of reprieve from the tiled floor beneath it, but it wasn’t enough. The reality of my inflexibility communicated to me that once again my body wasn’t ideal for this sort of activity: sitting as upright as possible, in a cross-legged position on the floor, without moving for two hours.
I wasn't expecting the physical aspect of meditating to be such a problem for me. Most people think the only difficulty is stilling the mind, but this was downright painful. My back was exhausted from working to keep my spine upright. All of my back muscles were aching and the pain was jumping from one muscle group to another. All my body wanted was to slouch over and relax. Even when I tried to focus on using my abdominal muscles to hold my spine up, it didn't make much of a difference. My inflexibility was making it very difficult for my body to do any of it. My hips were sore, causing my legs to shake occasionally. My knees were sore from being bent in a cross-legged position for so long. Despite the foam square beneath my ankles, they were in agony from bearing all the weight from my legs pressing them into the floor. Much like my pillow, the foam seemed to give way, making it feel like my ankle bones were resting directly against the tiles.
It didn't take long for all of my insecurities about my inflexibility to come flooding up to the surface. Even though we weren’t supposed to look at others, I’d take glances out of the corner of my eyes to see if others were experiencing the same problem I was. I desperately needed to move my position into a less painful one. The pain was real. No one talks about the pain your body experiences when you meditate for long periods of time. Maybe only inflexible people experience it, but I would bet money that everyone in that room was using their mind to will their pain away with Jedi-like mind control.
They told us not to pay attention to the pain. That the mind goes where our attention flows. Clearly these people were not inflexible people. My back was aching. I desperately wanted to lie down, giving my back a break from trying to sit upright versus slouching. Everything hurt. Then my legs began to fall asleep. I hate when that happens. Because I know what happens next. Have you ever tried to move your legs to allow the blood flow to come back? The feet are the worst. It’s agonizing. They didn't want us to move, but as soon as you moved just enough to bring blood back to that leg and foot, it was a lightning rush of prickling sensations that ended up being more painful than not moving the legs at all. Then it becomes impossible to not move because you’re cringing in pain, desperately hoping it’ll pass quickly without anyone noticing you moved so that you can go back to sitting in stillness. How was this supposed to calm my mind? How could I focus on anything else other than the excruciating pain?
The meditation sessions continued in intervals of one or two hours at a time for a total of eleven hours each day. That's right. Eleven hours of being in pain while trying not to focus on the pain. I believe Silent Torture may have been a better name for this retreat. Ten days of silent torture. They did teach us techniques to aid in our meditation. We were taught different ways to focus, helping to calm our mind and find stillness. The techniques they gave us on the first three days were designed to help us accept our reality as it was and not how we wanted it to be. This resonated deeply with me. As I mentioned earlier, I had a habit of trying to control my outcome to be what I thought was best. Meditating on this nugget of wisdom was beginning a process that I had no awareness of during that retreat but which would reveal itself soon.
Day three was awful. I often contemplated walking out on the entire retreat. I had fantasies, such as extreme shopping sprees and indulging in decadent dinners with friends, that interrupted my stillness. These were clearly great works of my Ego to get me to leave. These mental distractions of simple pleasures I enjoyed kept pulling me out of my present moment, which was becoming too painful to sit through. I was tempted towards the pleasure to escape the pain.
With gentle concentration, I began to notice, however, that if I could truly observe all areas of my body with equanimity, that pain dissipated. It no longer existed. I found this highly intriguing. It began to highlight how powerful the mind is at dictating our pain. If I chose not to focus on it, like the retreat leaders had been asking us to do, it was as if it magically disappeared over time. How was that possible? Not having all the answers to my questions, I was beginning to understand that physical pain was not a black and white matter. It seemed to me that if the pain didn't exist on a mental level, meaning I chose not to focus on it, then it couldn't exist on a physical level. Perception creates reality.
Some meditations were better than others. By better, I mean I was better able to control my focus and not be at the complete mercy of what is commonly referred to as the "monkey mind." Monkey mind refers to a restless mind constantly finding new ideas to focus on to distract you from a quiet mind. If you’ve ever tried stilling your mind, you’ve encountered monkey mind. Your mind will randomly jump from one thought to another. Observing our mind in this state reveals how incredibly distracted we are. It’s one of the reasons why many people find it so difficult to meditate. While observing my mind, I noticed how disconnected many of my thoughts were from one another. The ideas my mind jumped from had no connection or relevance to the next. It was like observing a mild form of ADD. In addition to better focusing, I wasn't always at the mercy of the physical sensations of pain that would come and go from sitting for long periods. I was learning how to transcend the physical pain through mental control. Then, by day four, something miraculous happened.
The first three days had been preparing us for a new technique we were meant to use during the rest of our time there. This technique was taught on day four. I won't go into detail about this technique because they ask us not to. Not because there’s anything controversial about it, but if you haven't done this meditation before and are thinking about trying it, I won't be doing you a service by disclosing the technique ahead of time. The process they expose you to is important. I don't want to take anything away from your potential experience, especially knowing I experienced some incredible insight and meditation moments from it.
If you’re familiar with meditation, you may know what I’m about to talk about. If you haven't, you may think I’m a complete nutjob. That's okay. Either way, it doesn't matter because it doesn’t change my experience. It was bar none one of the most incredible experiences of my life to date.
During the morning session at 4:30AM, my meditation experience had progressed. My mind relaxed into a calmer state, and my body didn't feel as uncomfortable sitting for the two hours as it had the days prior. When the bell rang signaling that meditation had ended, I opened my eyes. A few tears fell. I'm not sure why there were tears. Knowing what happens later that day, I can only assume that I was beginning to connect to a deeper part of myself during my meditation in a way I had yet to connect so far. It was a prelude of what was coming down the pipeline for me.
Later that day, the two hour meditation before dinner began as usual. I found a comfortable position on my paper thin pillow and I began the meditation technique they taught us that morning. As I settled into my seat, I found that it didn’t take me long to enter a quiet space in my mind. And then it happened. I can’t tell you how it began, if it was spontaneous or gradual. The details of time became very blurred. It seemed as if I had entered into this quiet stillness and any moments before it never existed. I entered a meditative state I had never experienced before. My mind was completely still. Everything fell away. Time. Physical sensations. Monkey mind. They all disappeared. I didn’t feel pain in my body once. In a sense, it felt like I was detached from my body. I remember feeling very light, almost as if I were hovering over my physical self without really being aware of it. The best part? I remember feeling pure joy. Not joy in an ecstatic sense that can come and go but in a calm and steady sense. There was no longer a sense of need. I felt completely content with all that I had. Everything was perfect just as it was. Just as I was. I didn't want to change a thing. All I wanted was to continue enjoying this state of being. To be exactly where I was. I had never been so present in my life. It was an unforgettable experience. I heard of people talking about this state of being before but I never experienced it until this particular moment. What seemed like perhaps minutes was actually two hours of complete bliss. And then the bell rang, signaling that the meditation was over and it was time to exit the meditation hall for dinner.
When I was consciously brought back to my body, my orientation was off. I wasn't sure where I was. When the bell rang, I remember feeling a wave of emotions surface as I was jolted back to physical awareness. As physical reality quickly set in, tears began streaming down my face and the crying rapidly intensified into full out sobbing. At this point, everyone had exited the room and I was left alone. It wasn't uncommon for people to cry at these retreats. Everyone was respectful of each individual's space required for healing. The strange thing is, I had no idea why I was crying. I didn't feel sad. I hadn't tapped into any sad memories. Those were the happiest two hours I had ever had, so I was baffled at my reaction to this meditation experience. I don't know about you, but for me it’s really unsettling to be in full out ugly-cry mode and not have any understanding as to why. Once the crying ceased, I stood up and walked slowly out of the room. But not to the dinner hall. I didn't feel like eating. I needed to process what was happening. I needed to understand.
Walking through the gardens, I was surrounded by luscious greenery everywhere. Still a little out of sorts, I slowly put one foot in front of the other as I reflected on my experience. Taking in my physical surroundings, I stopped by this flowering tree slightly taller than myself. Interestingly, I remember being very aware of feeling like I had been intentionally stopped at this particular tree.
Within a few moments of standing there, a hummingbird appeared about two feet from my face as it drank nectar from one of the tree's flowers. I was frozen in awe. I had never experienced a hummingbird in such close proximity. This bird hovered for about a minute. I watched while it wildly fluttered its wings about and then flew away. It was a sight of beauty. I couldn’t help but feel like that bird had been sent to me. I don't know why but I intuitively felt like there was a message for me in this encounter.
As I stood there holding gratitude for this beautiful moment Mother Nature blessed me with, it hit me like a smack on the forehead. Everything made sense. The hummingbird and the flowers were signs of beauty, and it described exactly how I had felt in my meditation. I had felt beautiful. More specifically, I had felt loved. Unconditionally loved. Unconditionally loved by myself. That feeling I had in my meditation was a sense of coming home to myself, where all of the judgments and body shame no longer existed. In this place I accepted myself as I was. Once the meditation ended, the tears that followed were a result of me consciously finding this place after seeking it for so long. Deep down, I had been longing to come back to this place, but until this moment I was never aware it existed. This wasn’t intentional. My intentions for this retreat were to find balance in my life and to reconnect, but clearly a deeper unconscious part of me knew better. Putting it all into perspective, I realized it took me 31 years to finally show up for myself.
I know what I described may be a little too far left for some. All I can ask is that you keep an open mind. A flexible mind. This experience was paramount in discovering what I now know. It began an internal shift that would directly affect my external world. In the world I had known before this moment, I pushed for everything I wanted. I pushed my mind and my body to achieve or be what I wanted it to. I didn't sit around and wait for things to happen. I was taught that if I wanted something, I had to go out and get it. I don’t believe there is anything wrong with this mentality, but what if pushing ourselves to do what we believe we want is actually preventing us from receiving our truest ultimate dreams and desires?
In this meditation, I didn’t try to achieve the state I entered. I would’ve never even known what to aim for because I had no experience of it before this time. However, it was and still is one of the most profound experiences of my life. This revelation pointed out the fact that I clearly have opportunities and possibilities available to me that I’m not even able to imagine yet. I’m capable of things I didn't even know I was capable of. The only way I was able to discover this was by allowing myself the space for it to reveal itself. This discovery is important. It plays a huge role in how my inflexibility went from being one of the biggest disappointments in my body to becoming one of my greatest gifts.

4
A New Perspective, A New Experience
Although I had mixed moments of struggle and peace after day four, I never reached that state of happiness again. After the ten days were completed, the retreat ended and I was now allowed to speak to all of the people I just shared this experience with. The silence was broken.
As I mentioned earlier, I had no set plans or an itinerary to follow. I was winging this trip and chose to go with the flow, seeing where that would take me. The insights I discovered through my meditation process had left an impression on me. I felt more willing. Willing to be open to possibilities I might normally say “no” to. A group of people from the retreat were taking the ferry over to the Nicoya Peninsula to stay in Montezuma. I asked if I could join them, and a few hours later I found myself aboard the ferry with five strangers, awaiting my next destination.
The following day, I explored Montezuma with one of the women from the retreat. We hiked and swam in the waterfalls and later had lunch at a local's house, which happened to be surrounded by monkeys. It was surreal to be once again in such close proximity to wild animals in their natural habitat. The monkeys were everywhere. Some came up to our table wanting food, while others remained in the treetops, playfully jumping from tree to tree.
On the walk back to our hostel, we bumped into two girls who had taken the ferry with us from the retreat. They mentioned discovering an incredible open air yoga studio close by and were taking the evening yoga class. Sigh. I knew what was coming out of their mouths next. They asked if we wanted to come along. My body had an instant adverse reaction to the word “yoga,” and my heart sank as the girls had spoken it. However, after the silent meditation retreat, my head and body were in a different space. A more willing and accepting space. So I reluctantly agreed to join them, adding some enthusiasm to match their excitement; in hindsight, it was really probably mental hype for myself. I was traveling through one of the most yoga-dotted countries in the Western Hemisphere, so it was bound to happen. I rallied in my head and thought to myself, “Surely you can manage one more yoga experience.”
At sunset, we met the girls on the road and walked along until we found the entrance to the property the studio was on. A winding garden path set with low-lying lamps illuminated the way. It was a whimsical walk. You could hear the ocean waves crashing in the distance, and with the dusk turning to nightfall, the sounds of the jungle were heightened. The path finally led us up to an octagonal open-air studio in the middle of the jungle. We walked up the steps and grabbed yoga mats. There were already people laid out on the floor, but I noticed something. The energy was very different from the hot yoga studio I had been in three years prior. There was a lightness in everyone’s energy. People were smiling and relaxed. There was some whispering, but it was respectful and no one was silencing anyone. The teacher was there and welcomed us to her class.
As I lay on my mat, I curiously looked around and took in my surroundings. The ceiling was vaulted and lit with a warm, incandescent glow. This yoga studio was like being in a giant Tiki hut. I liked it. I sensed I might be in for a different yoga experience.
As the class started, I noticed the teacher had a very gentle disposition about her. She encouraged us to break at anytime and to not push our bodies into positions they weren’t ready for. Although I was highly insecure about my inflexibility and how I would fare in this class, I intriguingly felt safe to at least explore it within this environment. I didn't feel that the first time I tried yoga.
The class was incredible. It was a flow class. We were in constant movement. It wasn't overly difficult, although I did struggle with certain poses. I was able to keep up with the pace of the class for the most part, and--most importantly--I didn’t feel defeated at the end of it all. In fact, I felt relaxed, happy, and blissfully at peace. The feelings were very similar to when I was able to settle into my meditations. Not to mention my body felt as if it had just received a massage. I couldn't believe it. Was it possible? Could I actually like yoga?
After the class, I went back to my room at the hostel. I had my own room this time and was able to relax without any distractions. Lying on my bed, I wondered what had made this experience more enjoyable than my first experience with yoga? The physical environment was definitely better, but I could hardly compare a city studio to one set in the jungle. The energy of the class was lighter, though. I didn't experience the seriousness I encountered in the city. The lighthearted energy was welcoming. It felt safer to allow myself to become vulnerable with my inflexibility. This was good to note, but it didn't explain why I enjoyed the actual practice of yoga. I thought about how it made me feel at the end. I remembered thinking that it had felt like a massage. As I pondered on this thought for a moment, it soon came to me. I felt nurtured. I mentioned before that my body was exhausted both from working and from exercising. All I ever did to my body was push it to its limits--and often times past that. This yoga practice was the exact opposite. The stretching and breathing and gentle flow of the yoga class nurtured my body. Instead of taking energy away from my body, I was infusing energy back into it. This was a concept I always fell short on and a major reason for me taking my sabbatical. This was exactly what my body needed. Taking in this revelation, I set a goal for myself. I promised to practice yoga in each upcoming town that I visited. I allowed myself to be open to the possibility that perhaps yoga and I were not repelling forces to one another. Perhaps yoga was meant to be the yin to my yang.
The next morning I woke up and packed my bags. It was time to move on from Montezuma. I caught a bus that took me to a bus depot where I was to catch another bus to my next destination: Santa Teresa. It always seemed like chaos for me at these depots. I never understood which bus to take next without asking for help. After being pointed in the right direction, I found myself waiting in the hot midday sun by the side of the road. I placed my backpack down on the gravel and took out my water. This heat was compounded by the incredible levels of humidity. Sweating was inevitable.
As I waited for my bus to show up, an older man standing next to me began speaking to me. Amongst the bus depot chaos, he seemed pretty relaxed and I soon found out why. He lived here. As we chatted, we were interrupted by our bus arriving. I made sure my backpack made it into the storage below and then hopped on the bus. Making my way to the back, the older man followed and sat across the aisle from me. As the bus pulled away, he began to tell me about the area we were in and what to expect when I arrived in Santa Teresa. He was very helpful and warned me to be mindful of certain people. He wasn’t warning me about anyone in particular, but he warned me that, as a woman traveling alone, I should be aware of my surroundings. I noted his warning.
As time passed and this man continued to fill me in on life in Costa Rica, giving me tips and advice for my upcoming travels, it dawned on me that we had yet to introduce ourselves. We exchanged introductions. He told me his name and I smiled. His name was Angel. This encounter could’ve been chalked up to a random encounter with no real significance. But I knew better. I don't believe in chance encounters. Everyone we meet is for a reason. The magnitude of that reason could be small or large, but the fact that it’s intentional remains unchanged. I chose to partake in the meditation retreat to open my awareness during my travels. So when a man named Angel crosses my path, I see the sign. It was no coincidence that the day after I chose to allow yoga into my life I was graced with the presence of a man named Angel. I embraced it as a sign that I had chosen a supported path. My journey of blessings had only just begun.
After parting ways with Angel, I settled into a hostel in the town of Santa Teresa. The hostel was positioned on a hill, away from the main road. The beach was across the road and the ocean view from the property was incredible. I ended up sharing a small cottage-style house with a girl named Karen. She had these incredible blonde dreadlocks and a chilled out vibe that I was instantly drawn to. I could tell that she and I were going to get along.
We chatted, getting to know one another, and then she invited me to come surfing with her. I told her I didn't know how to yet but that I might try later in the week. She told me I should definitely try it and then walked out with her board.
The back wall of the cottage had doors opening out onto a porch that overlooked the jungle tops and, beyond them, the Pacific Ocean. I crawled into the hammock and swung gently, absorbing my Pacific view. Howler monkeys echoed off in the distance and insects chirped from the grass. It felt incredibly liberating to know that I had no job to be at, no tasks on my agenda to complete, or anyone to answer to but myself. I needed this. I questioned why I had waited so long to give myself this opportunity of rejuvenation. What was so pressing about work that I would refuse myself such simple pleasures? It was slowly becoming apparent how much I had mismanaged my priorities. Working without a vacation for five years was never going to happen again on my watch.
Living day to day with no future plans was slightly unsettling, but it was exhilarating at the same time. I literally had no idea what I was going to do with myself after this trip and after my sabbatical ended. Leaving the doors of opportunity open to all possibilities was the trade-off for living in uncertainty. I had left my comfort zone at home so that I could expand into these territories I had yet to explore. I liked the sense of adventure behind it all. I grabbed my book and opened it to the earmarked page. I had nothing but time. As I gently swung in my hammock, I drifted into a world of fiction with no cares in my world but the story on the pages.
Later that day, Karen returned from surfing. She filled me in on her afternoon on the water and then switched the conversation. She mentioned that there was a tiny yoga studio on the beach she passed on the way back that she wanted to check out. I perked up. Yes, I actually perked up at the mention of yoga. Since my latest experience, I was curious to try more classes. Plus, I had promised myself I would try yoga in each town I visited. I wasn’t about to go back on my word. I agreed to try a class with her but I also felt the need to inform her I was an absolute beginner. She looked at me with a smile that read: don't be silly.
“Just go at your own pace and do what you can,” she said. I smiled back at her and we agreed to try one in the morning.
The next day, we walked along the dirt road that separated the beach from the jungle inland. As we approached the studio, I could see it was set closer to the beach but not directly on it. Nestled under the canopies of the trees that bordered the transition from jungle to beach, I could see it was much smaller than the studio in Montezuma. I liked it. I liked the intimacy of it: an open-air, dark wood studio that provided a view of the beach and the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. It was perfect. I started to wonder if it was even possible to dislike yoga while practicing in these conditions?
We grabbed yoga mats and unrolled them onto the wood floor. There were six of us in total. This made me a little nervous. It meant that the teacher would have plenty of opportunity to focus on me. As open-minded as I was about giving yoga a second chance, I still harbored insecurities and fears about my inflexibility. I was willing to be vulnerable, but that didn't mean I was comfortable with it. The teacher sat in front of us and began her class. It started with a meditation, which I enjoyed, but then transitioned into a power flow class. It was very difficult to keep up but I tried my best. I enjoyed her teaching method, which helped. There was also another student in the class who was struggling almost as much as I was. I had a fellow newbie on my side. This encouraged me to practice what I could and not give up, but it was a struggle. This class was more of a workout than the class in Montezuma. Since I wasn't exercising on my own, I definitely needed the workout, but on the flip side of that coin I also wanted to explore working with my body in a less resistant method.
When the class ended, I was physically exhausted. My legs were shaking as we walked towards a cafe to grab breakfast. Karen clearly loved the class. She was much more advanced in her yoga practice, so I understood why. I, on the other hand, was left a little underwhelmed. I enjoyed the instruction of the class and breaking a sweat after going without exercise for so long. However, I didn't leave the class with the nurtured feeling I left with last time. I wanted more stretching and less strength-building. At this point, I didn't know what yoga was supposed to be. I was simply indulging myself in the world of yoga without really knowing the full reason why. I was exploring without expectations and willing to learn along the way. Allowing myself this exploration, I was taking mental notes of what I liked and what I didn’t. Clarity was taking form. I wanted more of the stretching parts of yoga. This made sense in regard to my inflexibility. Strength-building poses would likely make me sore and less mobile, while the deep stretching poses would allow me to address my inflexibility positively and, hopefully, create more mobility. I would like to note here that this was my understanding from the knowledge I had at that time. As I collected more information from my experiences, more understanding would follow, but I had to continue the journey in order to do so.
As I gained more clarity, I also noted my gratitude. I was thankful to be in Costa Rica, checking off a bucket list item while pursuing an adventure of the Self. As a result, I was being blessed with new perspectives in yoga, new friendships, and an abundance of choices with a freedom to follow my heart. I was living my dream.
 
 

5
The Left Turn that Changed My Path Forever
After a week of hanging out in Santa Teresa, I was ready to move on. My next destination: Tamarindo. I was told it was a more developed town and the surfing was ideal for beginners. I had hoped to surf with Karen, but the waves were too big. From the beach they looked tame, but once in the water, I felt the power of the undercurrent and the weight of the crashing waves. Things in the water were not as they seemed from dry land. It was intense. So I decided to wait until I was in Tamarindo.
After Santa Teresa, I arrived in Tamarindo late in the evening. It was a long day of traveling and I happily went straight to bed. The next morning, I got dressed and took the opportunity of daylight to explore the town. I found a cute cafe and ordered what was becoming my standard breakfast: a mango and banana smoothie with a bowl of yogurt and granola.
After breakfast, I walked through the town. As I walked along the road, I came upon a surf shop advertising lessons for beginners. Now was as good a time as any to jump in the water and get on a surfboard, so I walked in and inquired about a lesson. A young local said he would take me out so I paid up, grabbed a board, and we both headed towards the water. I realized right away that although his English was much better than my Spanish, there was still quite a language barrier between us. Understanding one another was going to be interesting.
He gave me a few pointers on the sand, and soon after that we were in the water paddling out past the break. By the time we got past the break, I was already exhausted! I turned my board around, preparing to ride my first wave. As the next wave came, I could hear my instructor shouting at me to do all of the things he had shown me on the sand. Starting to paddle my board forward, I braced myself to stand up. But nothing happened. Unable to push myself up, I didn't catch the wave in time. I did, however, expend a lot of energy for an outcome of nothing. I turned towards my instructor, embarrassed, but he kept his energy positive and motioned for me to try again. This continued for a while. I couldn't manage to push myself up to stand on the board. My body wasn’t cooperating with my mind. Surfing was beginning to feel similar to yoga. Only this was way more exhausting.
I could tell my instructor was losing his patience. The positivity he had earlier was all but gone, and instead I was now receiving head shaking and Spanish words muttered under his breath. I wouldn't have understood them even if I could hear them clearly, but I was pretty certain they were not encouraging words. Frustrated with myself and my irritated instructor, I called it a day and threw in the towel on surfing. In my mind, I didn't need to feel crappy about myself so early in the day. I left the beach and the surf shop rather disappointed in my body. I didn't like the fact that I was unable to surf. I believed I should’ve had no problems. I was strong enough, so why the difficulty? Was it my inflexibility?
I pondered on this thought as I walked through the town towards my hostel, feeling sorry for myself. Just as I was approaching a fork in the road to turn towards my hostel, I looked up and saw a sign on a building: Yoga and Pilates. I stopped dead in my tracks. How very convenient to be met with this sign at a literal fork in the road. I took the bait and turned left towards the building to check out the studio.
I peered into the space. It was closed, but there was a class schedule taped on the window. I scanned the list and found a yoga class that interested me. It was scheduled later that evening. Perfect, I thought to myself. In keeping up with my promise to myself, I would be taking a yoga class in the third town I visited. Hopefully the experience would be better than my surf lesson.
Later that evening, I threw on some yoga clothes and headed over to the building I found the yoga studio in. As I climbed to the top of the stairs, I could see another class in progress. I was early. On purpose. I wanted to make sure I didn't miss it, and I also didn't want to be stuck at the front of the class. That possibility made me anxious, so I waited near the entrance in hopes of being one of the first to grab a spot on the floor.
Once the previous class finished, everyone filed out of the studio. There was a peaceful and happy buzz amongst everyone leaving. Some people were laughing and others hung back, gathering around the teacher to chat with her. So far I could tell that yoga in Costa Rica was certainly not on the same serious level as it was in the city. I walked in and grabbed a mat. I made my way over to the furthest spot I could find. I was happy to continue trying yoga, but I was still very uncomfortable with my body's incapability. I wasn’t ready to showcase myself to everyone in the class. I settled onto my mat and waited for the class to begin.
The teacher was a woman and she was dressed all in white. The studio had filled up completely. She addressed the class. She was mixing things up by speaking in both Spanish for the locals and English for the tourists. Yoga in Spanish. As if it wasn't hard enough already to connect the Sanskrit pose names to the body action. This was going to add a whole new element to my yoga experience!
As the class began, I realized the teacher was very good at incorporating the English translation into the instruction without compromising the flow. I watched others to help make the connections, but I was able to keep up with most of the class. I liked her voice. She had a peaceful tone behind her instruction that was accompanied by strength and authority. Her teaching style was full of honor for the practice and completely void of judgment towards her students, making it feel like we were all on equal level. It helped in making her class very comfortable for me to explore my own practice further. She looked my way a few times and smiled at me when I encountered some difficulty. I found her smile to be gentle and acknowledging, reading as a simple gesture of encouragement for me to keep going.
She placed a lot of emphasis on the breath throughout her class. It was the first time I had encountered instruction dedicated to just the breathing. As I followed her words ‘inhalo’ and ‘exhalo,’ I noticed a shift in my practice. I had more presence. I felt more connected to my practice. There was an increased awareness of my body in its space. I felt stronger, and that meditative feeling I loved so much began to creep in.
After our floor work, we were instructed to move into our final pose, Savasana. Lying on the floor, I closed my eyes and dedicated my awareness to allowing my body to fully relax. I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my practice. I was grateful for showing up and keeping my word to continue my yoga practice, but this sense of wellbeing and peace prompted some tears to well up in my eyes. Not prepared for this reaction, I quickly gathered my composure and resisted the tears that hadn’t fallen yet. I couldn’t understand--why was my body having this emotional reaction?
After Savasana, we were gently prompted back to physical awareness. The class was over. I rolled up my mat and slowly walked out of the studio. That class impacted me. I had an emotional reaction I hadn’t had in the previous yoga classes. The reaction was similar to my reaction on day four of the meditation retreat, though not as extreme. Wanting to explore this experience further, I checked the schedule again on my way out and decided to take another class the next morning. Would I encounter the same experience again?
The next day, I woke up and headed straight towards the studio. As I walked into the class, I quickly found a spot at the back again and rolled out my mat. Just as I was about to settle onto my mat, the same instructor from the previous night walked over to me and introduced herself. Her name was Mariel. She remembered me from last night's class and asked if I was visiting. After some brief pleasantries, I informed her of my beginner status. I’m pretty sure I was stating the obvious, but I weirdly felt compelled to tell her, as if to excuse my poor yoga skills ahead of time. She smiled at me and then grabbed my yoga mat and dragged it towards the front of the room. What was she doing? No, no, no, no, no! I tried to stop her, but she had already moved someone else aside to make room for me. She looked at me and said, "There’s no need to be so far away." I silently disagreed. There was every reason to be as far away from the front as possible. Anxiety began to creep in as I now felt more on display to the rest of the class. Mariel totally called out my fears and forced me to face my insecurities. I should have hated her in that moment, but I weirdly liked her for it. Her disposition was not of aggression. I didn't feel like I was being thrown to the wolves but instead invited to join in and not sit on the sidelines any longer.
The class began and Mariel joined the practice with us. Again, there was a lot of emphasis on breathing. Being at the front of the class, I was acutely aware of how I might look in each pose. I tried extra hard to do my best so as not to look like a complete fool, although I’m quite certain my efforts were in vain. After a few different sequences and Warrior poses, Mariel moved us into a pose that was not enjoyable for me: a resting forward lunge. Most poses weren't enjoyable, but this one in particular topped the list.
Hip openers. This was the part that brought the most discomfort for me. It always felt like my hip flexor muscles were on the verge of tearing apart. Acutely aware of how I might look, I looked around the room. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their practice. How could anyone find joy in pain? Surely I wasn’t the only one in pain, was I? Being in the front of the class heightened my insecurities and judgment of my body. I tried to settle into the forward lunge, but my stubborn hip flexors wouldn’t let me. All those years of sports and weight training, not to mention my genetic gift of inflexibility (thanks, mom and dad), were rearing their ugly heads into my yoga practice. I could feel myself slipping into a wishful state. I so desperately wanted to be flexible. I hated feeling like the most inflexible person in the yoga class, which only made me more insecure about my inflexibility. I hated feeling like the eyesore, the ugly duckling of the class. Poor Mariel. She must’ve cringed every time she looked my way.
My pity party was exhausting. This attitude needed an upgrade fast. I was determined to become flexible one way or another. In sports, I learned to push through the pain, so I figured that must apply to yoga as well. I tried to push a little deeper but it backfired, creating more pain while my body seemed like it hadn’t even budged.
I must’ve had a funny facial expression from all the pain I was experiencing because the next thing I knew, Mariel was crouched down beside me. She smiled at me and whispered near my ear, “Just let go, Nicole.”
Just let go? What was she talking about? I was as far as I was going to go. Couldn’t she see my pain? I was trying my best. At least I thought I was. After a moment of “I can’t” thinking, I softened my approach. I took a deep breath in and relaxed my body, gently allowing myself to let go. What happened next I never knew was possible.
I fell deeper into the pose. A lot deeper. How was that possible? What just happened? Only moments ago I was convinced my body was incapable of moving any further. As a flurry of questions inundated my mind as to how my body was actually more flexible than I ever knew it to be, I was overcome with one thought. Was it me this whole time holding myself back and not my inflexibility?
For as long as I’ve been in this body, I had never been open to such a possibility. It brought into question not just my physical capabilities, but how I mentally hold myself back from that which I think I can’t do. This revelation left me dumbfounded and, at the same time, smiling on the inside. All this time, I was more flexible than I thought. And it wasn’t my body holding me back, it was my mind.
I’m a stubborn person, and it dawned on me at this very moment, as flashes of my stubbornness and bullheaded attitude in life crossed my mind, that my body was only doing what my mind believed it could. My body was following suit. I equate stubbornness with aggressiveness and hardness, and so it made total sense that when I softened my resolve, my body responded accordingly. When I let go, I wasn’t forcing my body to do something. I was allowing it the space to do what it needed to do. I surrendered my need to make it do what I wanted and instead let my body dictate how it would move. Remember that nugget of wisdom I learned at the meditation retreat about accepting the body as it is? Bingo. Right here.
Suddenly, it wasn’t pain I was experiencing anymore. The pain had dissolved. I noticed different sensations arising as I surrendered into the pose. It was almost as if my body was talking to me through these sensations. And I was listening. There was wisdom in the teachings from my body that day.
They say in yoga that a headstand is an opportunity to flip your world upside down, to change your perspective of the world. So what happens when you flip your perspective? The picture is exactly the same, but the view is completely different. What else happens when you are in a headstand? Physically, your body is inverted and the heart is now above your head. We live in a linear world that places importance and value on that which is literally higher. Having the heart higher than the head (the mind) is interesting in a world where we are governed more by our minds and less by what is actually in our hearts. This pose reminds us to listen to our hearts more. To listen to how we feel.
I may not have been in headstand, but everything about my practice changed that day. At that moment on the mat, I felt connected to my body. Connected to what I like to call my internal teacher. Everything that I was feeling made sense. I had a feeling of joy emerge from within that I usually only felt when I was meditating. Not only had I learned how my mindset was limiting my body, but I was discovering another way to connect spiritually.
I learned at that moment that my inflexibility was never a hindrance. Finding acceptance for my body as it was, I shifted my perspective. It wasn’t anything to be ashamed or embarrassed of. It was a gift. By being inflexible, I was invited towards a whole new journey in my yoga practice, a journey that would shine light on so many aspects of my life that until this time had been cast in darkness.

6
Resistance and Persistence
I cannot emphasize enough how pivotal this revelation was to discovering what was waiting for me throughout the rest of my personal yoga journey. It was the first time I chose to see my inflexibility in a completely different light. Instead of playing the victim of an inflexible body, I began to see the blessing. For years, I was ashamed and disappointed in my body. I had never placed any onus of my inflexibility on myself because I believed I was genetically doomed. It couldn't be my fault. It was simply a matter of genetics.
In that one moment when I chose to consciously let go into the forward lunge, I proved otherwise, forcing myself to look into the mirror. I had no choice but to address what was blatantly staring back at me: my own resistance.
As inflexible people, we are so used to encountering resistance with almost all movements, thus putting us in a constant state of pushing back. Pushing back becomes an instinctual response towards resistance, and in many cases we don’t even realize we’re resisting. Let's use a weight-bearing exercise as an example.
The weights provide a resistance for our body to work against. As we gain strength with that weight, we need to increase the weight or resistance to continue building strength. The same applies for flexibility. As we gain more flexibility, we need to increase the stretch to continue increasing our flexibility. The difference, however, is that we cannot approach flexibility the same way we approach strength building.
When we attempt to stretch, we are met with so much resistance that our natural inclination is to move into that stretch resisting it, like in a weight-bearing exercise. That is exactly what I was doing before Mariel hinted to me to let go. I wasn’t aware of my resistance until she gently and indirectly pointed it out to me. The reason why I wasn’t moving further into the stretch was literally due to me pushing back away from the pain. It wasn't until I softened my approach that my body finally moved further into the lunge than I thought possible. Letting go and softening the body into a relaxed state (no muscular contraction) requires very conscious awareness on our part. Our bodies do not understand meeting resistance without resistance.
There’s a saying, "That which we resist will persist." There couldn't be a truer saying in this scenario. As long as I continued to resist the stretch, the pain and inflexibility would persist. By allowing my body to release that resistance, I invited the pain or discomfort of the stretch to come forward fully, allowing my flexibility to increase. This may seem absurd initially--to invite the pain forward. But, if given a chance, the pain can pass and the body can be allowed to open up to other sensations of the stretch. The pain no longer persists. I have played with this scenario time and time again throughout this journey, and the result is always the same. Invite the pain forward and it will soon dissolve with conscious efforts of the mind and body. Fight the pain and you are sure to make little to no movements in the direction you are hoping for.
One of the key elements to achieving body relaxation in the midst of discomfort or pain is your breath. This is the number one rule to ceasing body resistance and pain: deep conscious breathing. If you don’t integrate conscious breathing into your yoga practice or stretching practice, you won’t achieve the deeper stretch without the pain. Also, you won’t achieve the mind and body connection that is so inherent in us all. The breath is your bridge. Without it, you can never make the crossing to the other side which, in this case, is a more flexible version of yourself. Your mind initiates the movement message from the brain. Your breath carries the intent behind the mind’s message for the body to move. Your body receives this intent and responds accordingly. Without the breath, there’s no intent. There’s only mindless pushing or resisting. This leaves the body without any intent to absorb, thereby leaving it helpless and, in effect, mindless. Your body may be receiving the message to move but it’s only half the message. The result is half the movement. The mind and body remain disconnected and you remain inflexible. Trust me. I have caught myself in an unconscious stretch many times and there’s very little to no improvement compared to what transpires when conscious breath is invited into the stretch. We’ll revisit the importance of the breath later on, with more tools to help you make gains in your flexibility.
In addition to these gains are benefits of personal insight that will undoubtedly pop up into your awareness. When you invite conscious breath in, you’re inviting the innate wisdom of your internal teacher to come forward as well. Who is your internal teacher? It’s you. It’s the all-knowing part of you that holds every answer to your conscious and unconscious questions. This is who you tap into to receive the wisdom that has always resided in you but remains hidden due to self-disconnection.
As you begin to strengthen your mind and body connection, you’ll begin to hear your internal teacher speak to you. It may sound like a voice or it may seem like a thought that doesn’t necessarily sound like you. Whichever form it takes, know that your internal teacher is there to support you and your highest truth. What does this have to do with becoming more flexible? Your increased flexibility becomes a direct result of your mind and body connection. This connection fosters an internal environment supportive to your highest needs. Sometimes support shows up in ways we could never have anticipated.
I didn’t even know I had an internal teacher, and therefore it’s something I never anticipated from practicing yoga. However, as soon as I chose a conscious practice, I unknowingly opened another channel of learning that would ultimately provide me with some of the most profound insight I could’ve ever hoped for.
Resistance and Persistence: A Story of Forgiveness
We’ve visited the physical process of resisting and persisting but there is also an element in emotional and mental resisting and persisting. Becoming conscious of our role and responsibility in our personal limitations and beliefs is key to changing them to better serve us. This journey opened me up to this important reality.
Many years ago, I had suffered what I believed to be the ultimate betrayal by someone I had cared very deeply for. I carried this pain for almost seven years unknowingly. I believed I had dealt with my pain and moved on, but as time passed it slowly became apparent that I had forgotten one important element: forgiveness. Since that betrayal, I had unconsciously put up many walls around my heart. In my mind I thought I was ready to welcome love back into my life, but after being single for almost seven years I started to question what my role in that was. Perhaps I hadn’t dealt with my pain and was resisting the need to deal with it. In all that resistance, the pain persisted. I had a strong sense that until I forgave this person, I would be unable to move forward into a loving relationship again. Since I wanted to have a loving relationship again, I knew it was time to end the pain through forgiveness. Being single for seven years was long enough.
How does one find forgiveness? I certainly didn’t know. In theory it seems so simple, but to actually arrive at the point where you no longer feel the pain and hold only forgiveness is a much harder feat. Unsure of what to do, I decided to take a solitary beach walk at sunset, allowing myself to walk for as long as I needed. My intention was to find forgiveness, so I held space for it the entire time. As I set out on my walk, I kept my pace slow and easy. I allowed myself to connect with my surroundings. Living on an island, I had walked the beach many times, but this felt different. When you choose to act with a specific intention behind it there is conscious awareness present in you. This conscious awareness began a shift about twenty minutes into my walk.
As I became acutely aware of my surroundings, I absorbed everything. I watched the water move along the shoreline in front of me. The water rolled in and receded. As I watched Mother Nature at work, I began to connect my own life with how the water was moving onto the beach. The water would come and go, just like the many people we meet in our lives. Some people stayed for brief moments. Others were there for the longer haul. It made me think about how and why we meet the people we do in our lives. The stronger the relationship we have with people, the greater the lesson is to be learned.
I shifted my awareness to what this lesson could be that I was to learn from this person who betrayed me. The strongest feeling that I had felt in the depth of this betrayal, if I’m going to be honest, was insufficiency. I didn’t feel like I was enough. Pausing on this thought, I watched the water roll onto the beach again and recede. I noticed something more, though. I noticed that if I only focused on the area directly in front of me where I was to take my next steps, there were moments when I couldn’t see the water anymore, only the sand. My focus was only on one area, and so all I could see was what I was choosing to look at. If I lifted my head and broadened my gaze, I could see the entire sea and beach at once. The water was still there. On the surface, this thought process seems elementary, but it was connecting the dots for me. It made me think about how this person had come into my life and was now gone. However, if I chose to see things differently, then this actually was not the case at all. If I chose to see the broader picture, this person was still present in my heart and mind.
As I continued to walk and mentally connect more dots, the picture revealed itself. The picture was of my forgiveness. All of a sudden, as I began to see everything for what it was, I physically felt a surge of energy release from my chest. I’m not kidding you. It was as if someone had lifted the weight weighing down on my heart all of these years. At the precise moment this energy was released, I had an epiphany. I had awoken my internal teacher. It was so crystal clear I couldn’t believe I had been unable to see it before. The lesson was so simple and so perfect. This person had come into my life to be my mirror.
My pain was rooted in insufficiency. I blamed him for making me feel insufficient through his betrayal. Pointing the finger at someone else is usually a very strong indicator to pause and review yourself. Now that I was reflecting on my role, I could see the error in my pain. All he had done was highlight to me how I perceived myself. Being honest with myself for the first time, I saw that it was I who believed I was insufficient. This person only showed me what I believed. He was my mirror.
Something very surreal happens in the moment when you’re able to remove the emotions and see the love in the lesson. The pain dissolves. It was as if that pain had never happened, and in that moment I could smile at myself for the silliness of it. Yes, all of my pain seemed silly once I removed my emotional blinders. By removing the emotion, I could see this person as another loving soul entering my life for a lesson I not only needed but likely asked to learn. There was no reason to hold onto the pain. The pain was really only created by me anyway, so of course it makes sense that I would be the one to dissolve it.
How does this have to do with resisting and persisting? The very next day I met someone with whom I ended up entering into a long-term, loving relationship. I stopped resisting the pain, allowed it to surface, and through forgiveness I was able to watch it dissolve before my very eyes. I allowed for mental and emotional flexibility. In response, room was made for love to come back in. The same applies to our bodies and flexibility. Our physical limitations begin with our mental limitations. Our bodies are designed to move with ease. Don’t allow your mental limitations to prevent you from believing you, too, can be flexible. Instead, reflect on why you limit yourself. Once you become aware of these limitations and false beliefs you, then have two options: you can, of course, brush the limitation aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, returning to ignorant bliss, or you can choose to own that false belief. I don’t believe you want to choose the former, otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen to read this book. Choosing the latter, however, puts you in a position of empowerment. Once you own that false belief, you now have the power to see its error and release it from having any power over you. Remember, your body is designed to bend and move. You’re not destined to inflexibility for the rest of your life unless you choose so.
Returning back to my time in the jungle, I thought I had it all figured out with this yoga. I was the one holding myself back by resisting my own flexibility. Now that I understood this major discovery, yoga became my new addiction and I wanted to experience it at every opportunity.

7
My Internal Teacher - Access Unlocked
After some time in Tamarindo, I left to explore more of the country. My adventures brought me into Panama, but over the weeks I wasn’t able to find a place to practice yoga. I searched for studios and instructors but always came up short. When I did find a studio, the teacher was away on vacation. Tired of searching when I knew all along where I could practice happily, I made my way back up to Tamarindo. With only two weeks left in my trip, I wanted to make the most of my yoga practice with a teacher with whom I felt comfortable. It wasn’t lost on me either that in a country known for yoga and surf, I was having difficulty finding yoga. On some intuitive level I knew that I was meant to finish my trip continuing to learn from Mariel. Her teaching style left an impression on me and the results I received from her class impacted me greatly.
Happy to be back in Tamarindo, I knew where my first stop would be. Dressed in my yoga gear, I headed over to Mariel's studio. As I walked into her studio, Mariel remembered me and welcomed me back with a big smile. There was something about walking into her space that put all of my inflexible insecurities to rest long enough for me to explore my practice further. I told her I was back for two weeks and she suggested I buy a 10-class pass. I gladly did.
This was the first place where I felt that I belonged and that I was good enough to practice yoga. This aspect of the practice isn’t talked about as much, although I am sure it’s thought about often. Having insecurities about your inflexible body and how it will perform throughout the class can weigh heavily on your mind. Finding an environment that supports your needs is just as important as finding the right teacher, if not more important. Usually the two go hand in hand, but if you found a great teacher at a studio with an environment that wasn’t as supportive to your insecurities and physical struggles, you may not allow yourself the space to fully engage your mind and body.
For the next two weeks, I attended as many yoga classes as I could. I absolutely loved her style of teaching. I felt compassion from her for my beginner level. She had a way about her that muted my own insecurities, allowing joy into my practice. I never felt judged for my yoga inadequacies. Her easygoing attitude influenced the studio environment and the students. Everyone engaged their practice fully but never brought a serious attitude into it. Students would make jokes throughout the class and everyone would laugh or giggle. Yoga was never a serious practice in her studio, yet it was fulfilling. My practice grew stronger and my connection to yoga grew deeper. Because I never felt externally judged, I was less judgmental of myself. That being said, I still struggled within the physical aspect of my practice. My arms always felt heavy and holding them up in the air was a struggle. I wondered how long it would be before I could hold my arms comfortably in Warrior poses without being consumed with wanting to rest them by my side. And when would Downward Facing Dog become the resting pose people referred to it as instead of a shoulder annihilator?
As my practice continued over those two weeks, I noticed some improvement in my flexibility. Not a substantial amount, but definitely some improvement. I was still unable to reach my toes. Lacking in the patience department, I was hoping that after all of this yoga, I might be able to touch my toes by now. Apparently, it would take more time than I anticipated. I was learning the names of the poses, though, and this helped me anticipate my body positioning throughout the class, giving me more time to spend in each pose. Moving faster allowed me to keep up with the class.
There was one aspect of my practice, however, that really took me by surprise: Savasana. At the end of every practice we were guided into the final pose, Savasana, which was designed to allow the body to absorb the effects of the practice and neurologically reset. These moments seemed to be when my internal teacher spoke up the most.
Going quiet and moving into stillness created the space for me to tune into my body and listen. As I lay there, often in gratitude for having the courage to show up to another yoga practice, thoughts entered my mind that never seemed like mine. The reason I say that is because of the tone behind the thought. The thought had confidence and an all-knowing conviction behind it. It was also very supportive and loving. This is why it can seem like a voice is speaking to you even though you don’t literally hear a voice. This voice, or internal teacher as I like to refer to it, speaks from a place of power. There’s no fear behind the voice. The messages of insight always empowered me despite the emotional response they often triggered. Have you ever been engaged in a conversation with someone who asks you one question about yourself which instantly triggers tears to fall from your eyes? If you have, it’s because that question tapped into a truth you’ve been ignoring but your body can no longer ignore. That is what happened to me. Truths were revealed to me and the power of the revelations brought me to my emotional knees.
For me, Savasana represented everything my body needed at that time. Rest. Until this trip, I never allowed my body to rest. I ignored its needs by tuning out any mind and body connection. In Savasana, I listened. I put my body first for the first time in my life. So it makes sense then that this is where I uncovered some of my greatest insights. The biggest insight that came from these moments was how little I loved myself. The tears were plenty.
I would find myself lying on my mat feeling completely composed and then, without any notice, that voice would creep in with a self-loving message, provoking tears to stream down the sides of my face. It happened almost every Savasana. The more present and engaged I was in my practice, the more likely there would be some truth-revealing message and emotional response in Savasana. At first I was embarrassed to cry in a room full of people I didn’t know. But I soon let go of that shame. I grew to love Savasana. It was a special moment with myself that I didn’t really know I could cultivate before yoga.
It was kind of like having my own personal therapist without having to pay the heavy fees. Not to mention the depth of insight I received far outweighed anything I had heard from any external source. This is available to all of us. You can receive answers to all your questions, too, even the ones you’re not consciously aware you’re asking. I personally think it’s quite extraordinary that yoga unlocked my ability to find my answers of truth.
During my last class with Mariel, I remember feeling extremely grateful during the Savasana. As I lay there with my eyes closed, absorbing the effects of the practice, I had one thought. I was grateful to have found Mariel. I believe she was instrumental in my connection to yoga. If I hadn’t found a teacher with as much awareness and compassion for the body insecurities I had in practicing yoga, I’m not sure I would’ve connected to my practice the same way. It was her awareness of the inflexible subtleties affecting my practice that illuminated my resistance to my own movement. All it took was that day in forward lunge when she whispered to me to “let go.” That simple instruction was a catalyst, opening my eyes to how I was limiting myself in my yoga practice. Not only that, but it increased my awareness of how much I pushed my body to do things instead of giving it the space to do what it needed and observe. It highlighted how much I needed to change my approach.
Being present in a yoga class with a compassionate teacher makes an impact. Anyone who is inflexible or intimidated to try yoga for any reason understands this. In order to continue in your practice with the vulnerability it requires, it becomes a key element. Compassion was inviting me to the front row when I wanted to hide in the back unnoticed. Compassion was never singling me out more than other students in assists (which helped my body to feel accepted as it was in my practice). It was the first time I felt like I belonged in the yoga community. For years, I struggled to walk through a yoga studio’s doors for fear that I didn’t deserve to be there. Her compassion translated into how the class was taught and whom she attracted as students. Mariel created an easygoing environment within her class, keeping things comfortable for every student while removing the seriousness factor that can cultivate self-judgment. It was a safe place for me to explore yoga and all of my inflexibilities: physical, mental, and emotional.
As I walked out of her studio for the last time, I remember thinking to myself that if one day I were to become a yoga teacher, I would approach my class with the same level of compassion. Practicing for only two months, I’m not sure why I considered teaching yoga. But I did. At the time it was a passing thought. More of a hypothesized scenario. I knew that there were too many of us inflexible people who were too intimidated to try yoga. That intimidation needed to be removed, and the only way I could see it being removed was with full awareness of what it felt like to be in our shoes.
I hugged Mariel goodbye and thanked her for more than I think she was aware she provided. I wasn't sure how to express my gratitude without sounding like a weirdo, so I kept it short and sweet. It would be the last time I took her class, but as one door closes, another door opens. With no idea where this newfound love for yoga would take me, I jumped on a plane and headed back to Canada.

8
Stumbling onto the Teaching Path
Back in Canada after my two month adventure in Costa Rica, I had no plans of what was next, but I was happy to be around family and friends again. My only certainty was a need to find a yoga studio I enjoyed so that I could continue practicing yoga.
The search proved to be fruitless. I’m not sure if it was me or the fact that I was back in a city, but I couldn’t find a teacher I connected with. Looking back now, I believe it was part of a greater plan. I don’t doubt there were great teachers in Toronto. For whatever reason, I wasn’t connecting with any of the ones I was trying out. I found many classes to be void of the compassion I found in Mariel's, but more importantly I found it void of any connection at all. One of the aspects of yoga that I enjoyed the most was how it made me feel, which was a result of making that mind and body connection. It could’ve been me, but I found the classes to be dry, with too much emphasis on the positioning and not enough focus on making a connection with the pose. It was more like practicing yoga on autopilot. The last class I took before I gave up on my search, I remember wondering if the teacher even enjoyed what she was doing. Her voice was monotone and unengaging. She was like a robot in her instruction. Her disconnection to her instruction was making it hard for me to connect to my own practice. I walked out of that class shaking my head, wondering why it was so difficult for me to find a class I enjoyed enough to want to take again.
Later that week, I walked through the city with my friend, Miranda. We were catching up since I hadn’t seen her since being back from Costa Rica. Filling her in on my trip, I found myself talking about yoga most of the time. In fact, if you had asked any of my friends at the time, they would’ve probably told you it’s all I talked about. I was kind of obsessed. But in a good way. I like to call it eagerness to learn more.
One of the other things we chatted about was what I planned to do next. I had no plans with my sabbatical from work other than going with the flow. I was enjoying my freedom, but at the same time I felt like I needed to make productive use of my time off.
Miranda looked at me and said, “Nicole, all you’ve done is talk about yoga. If you can’t find a teacher you like, why don’t you learn how to teach it yourself?”
My mind paused on that thought as my pace slowed down. It was brilliant. She was absolutely right. If I learned how to teach yoga, then I would never be at the mercy of needing someone else to take me through a yoga practice. Plus, I’d get to immerse myself further into the world of yoga, which was further piquing my curiosity with each practice.
“I love that idea!” I exclaimed. “But where would I go to learn?”
Miranda went on about a friend of hers who had just completed her yoga instruction at a school based in Costa Rica. She explained further that her friend raved about the program and the experience she had there. I had to smile. Was I meant to go back to the place where it all began? It made sense that the place where I fell in love with yoga would also be the place where I learned to teach it.
That night, I went online to read the school’s website. I researched a few other month-long programs based in Mexico and some Caribbean Islands. It was very clear to me that the one in Costa Rica was the one for me. The other programs felt like yoga bootcamp. They had a regimented energy that I associated with working out. Yoga bootcamp was definitely not what I needed. With the program in Costa Rica, there was an openness behind their school of thought. An invitation to explore our individual way of teaching versus learning a specific way to teach. Thinking back to that robotic teacher I last practiced with, I knew that was the last thing I wanted to be. I resonated with their allowance for intuition in this training and so, without hesitating further, I booked and paid for the next teaching program they offered. In six weeks, I’d be heading back to Costa Rica to embark on the next phase of my yoga exploration.
In my online booking haste, it didn’t dawn on me that when starting this program I would’ve only been practicing yoga for four months. And I am thankful every day that it didn’t. Had it crossed my mind, I’m sure I would’ve found a way to talk myself out of it. As I talked to others about taking this course, I consistently received the same reaction: one of awe that I’d have the guts to do that with so little yoga experience under my belt. I had never considered it. Now that people were constantly making me aware of that fact, I started to wonder what I had gotten myself into. After practicing yoga in a safe and compassionate environment with Mariel, I had loosened the grip of my insecurities. But they started surfacing again the more I listened to others. Was I going to be good enough to get through this program? Insufficiency. It has a funny way of clouding your choices with self-doubt even when you feel in your gut it’s the right thing to do.
I had to ignore the nagging self-doubt that was never there before speaking with others. I had to follow my instincts and do what I felt was right for me. Besides, my intention was to learn how to teach yoga so that I could practice whenever I felt like it. If teaching others came out of it, that would be a bonus.
In the weeks leading up to leaving for Costa Rica again, I discovered some classes in the city I really enjoyed. That would be Murphy’s Law. As soon as I stopped needing to find a teacher and class I enjoyed, I found it. Or perhaps that was part of the greater plan to steer me towards a teaching program. Or maybe once I stopped trying to control my outcome, I allowed free-flowing energy to bring me what I needed. I believe it was a mixture of both. There was clearly a plan in place but there’s no way I would’ve been able to see it from where I was standing at the time. The plan was, after all, only in the beginning phases. However, what I could see was that as I stopped pushing my need to find the perfect class and teacher, I created space for them to show up.
The class I found, which by the way has been my absolute favorite yoga class I’ve ever taken to this day, was a power yoga class timed to the beat of a drum. Now you might be wondering how a power yoga class could provide me with that nurturing aspect my body needed versus the rigor of the strength-building power yoga usually offers? That was the unique part of this class; it provided both. However, it would’ve never been ideal to try it on my first attempt at yoga as an inflexible person.
I remember taking the class for the first time. It was packed. There were no mirrors in the room, and they had us set up so that half the class faced towards the other half. Of course I chose a spot in the last row on one side of the room. No one was behind me to make me feel self-conscious. I hadn’t been in a class with this many people before, so I was a little overwhelmed by it. I had only read the synopsis of the class online and wasn’t really sure what to expect. What I experienced was truly empowering.
The teacher briefed the class in case anyone was new (me) so that we could understand the rhythm of the practice. She emphasized the breath pattern to follow--the ujjayi breath. I had never learned this before but I practiced it during her explanation. It’s done by making a sound at the back of your throat when breathing deeply. The sound resembles what you hear when you place a sea shell to your ear--the ocean. I found that this style of breathing deepened my breath and slowed it down. It was easier to control. I really liked it.
Once she finished demonstrating the breath technique, the class started. She slowly took us through sun salutations, coordinating our breath to the movement. Once we completed a few sequences, the drummer started. This was the coolest part. Imagine 50-plus people in a room with no mirrors, half of the class facing the other half, all in synchronized breath and movement, while a single drum beat plays in the background. It was hypnotizing. The synchronized sounds transported me into such a meditative state. The drumbeat synced with my heartbeat. That’s when I realized the beat was mimicking our hearts. Forgive me for lack of better expression, but it was so cool. I was clearly way behind in my technical skills for this class but I didn’t care. I was so enthralled by the beat and feeling like one breathing unit with the class that I didn’t have time or a desire to listen to any insecurities I might’ve had in that moment.
The class was advanced for me, but I managed to keep up because of my breathing. This is when I learned how much power is behind the breath. Coordinating my inhale and exhale ujjayi breathing to the movements of the class powered my body. I am certain that without this breathing technique I would’ve tapped out at some point. The moves and poses were causing me to sweat profusely. At the same time, I still felt like I was giving back to my body. Part of that had to be my breathing. I was literally powering myself up. At the same time, moving to the sounds of what felt like an external heartbeat was nurturing my soul. I felt so connected to the primal sound of the heart.
The heart chakra is our centre of unconditional love and compassion. Practicing yoga to the energetic beat of this centre was filling my entire being up with love and compassion for myself. Energetically, I was vibrating at a much higher level than I was used to. If you’re not familiar with the energy levels associated with such feelings like sadness, anger, or love, it’s quite simple. Feelings such as anger, fear, and jealousy resonate at a much lower vibrational level. If you find yourself in one of these states, you will find yourself attracting other people or situations that resonate with those energy levels. If you’re feeling joy, love, or happiness, those feelings resonate at much higher levels of energy and therefore you will attract like energy in the form of people and situations. Like attracts like. Energy has an effect on us at our cellular levels. Have you read about the Emoto experiment of writing positive words on a container filled with water versus one with negative words? When frozen, the crystalline structure of the water literally changes. The positive words create more symmetrical and aesthetically pleasing shapes than the negative words. Although this study is controversial, I believe that your body responds the same way to your energy and thoughts.
Resonating at a higher level throughout this yoga practice brought me into such a peaceful and content space. When we moved into Savasana, I felt as if I had immersed my heart into a pool of hope. It was similar to my feeling when meditating on day four at the silent meditation retreat. I was content with all that I was. I didn’t feel the need to change any part of me. I was grateful for being present in that moment.
Walking away from that class, I remember feeling like in that moment my life was perfect. I was perfectly happy. Of course it was brief and gradually lessened over time, but it amplified the fact that I was capable of creating my own happiness. Happiness was my choice. It was another moment of better understanding that at any given time I always had the power to change how I felt. Yoga was shifting my internal world in ways I had never experienced before.
But don’t get me wrong. I’m human. These moments of clarity and self-love only lasted so long. I had good days and bad days on the mat. I was gaining many insights, but putting them into practice was another thing. Just as I had moments of enlightenment, I had moments of serious struggle and fear. It was a constant battle trying to prevent my Ego from taking the driver’s seat. And sometimes I succumbed, handing over the wheel.
It was still difficult to always feel comfortable in the classes. I was clearly one of the less experienced students in every class. I battled my Ego constantly to keep my spirits up regarding where I was in my practice versus where everyone else was. How could I not look at others and wish I could already do what they were doing so effortlessly? This is one of the hardest barriers to work through in a yoga class: learning to honor your individual practice. My physical flexibility was improving but still not as much as I would’ve hoped for. However, the flexibility of my mind and heart was definitely improving and that was something I never expected.
The one constant that remained more powerful than my Ego was the connection that yoga facilitated between my mind and body. Knowing this connection waited for me each time I stepped onto my mat was the encouragement I needed to silence my nagging Ego. I knew my Ego would show up more times than not. But I was slowly learning how to work with it and not judge it. Each time I stepped onto my mat, I committed to giving back to my body. And I loved that. It was my time to connect with myself and deepen my own yoga practice. At a time in my life where my one goal was to nurture my body and explore all that brought me happiness, yoga had become my anchor.
Back to School
Touching down in the Liberia airport, I couldn’t believe I was back in Costa Rica again after only being gone for two months. I never expected that I’d be back so soon--and for an entire month! At least this time I was staying in one place. As I grabbed my luggage from the carousel, I looked around. I knew there was a shuttle picking me and other yoga teachers up from the airport. I quickly zeroed in on a girl carrying her yoga mat like me. We saw one another at the same time and quickly fell into an excited conversation.
Hungry, Lauren and I grabbed some food since we still had a couple of hours until our shuttle was departing. We chatted about our start with yoga and our reasons for taking this course. I was met with the same shocked look when I revealed that I had only been practicing for four months. Shocked but supportive. We talked about how the body can reveal what is going on behind the scenes emotionally and mentally.
We talked about the hips holding emotions, and that when people engage in hip opening poses there can be an emotional release that comes with it. I knew too well in my massage profession how much we bottle up our emotions in our muscles. It wasn’t uncommon for me to massage someone and have them burst into tears on my table. Oftentimes, the client on the table would have no idea why they were crying. A lot of people are unaware that our emotional, mental, and physical bodies are not separate. When one is out of alignment, it affects all other systems within us, including the ones we cannot see.
I mentioned how practicing yoga was helping to open my chest muscles and pull my shoulders back. A long career in massage therapy had me hunched over a table for close to eight hours a day. Sure, I tried to maintain my posture while massaging, but when you work as much as I did, fatigue sets in and you forget about subtleties such as posture. Anyone who sits at a desk all day can relate to this. Your shoulders round forward and sitting up straight is a constant conscious battle. As we were discussing this, though, Lauren brought something to my attention.
“Have you experienced any anger or sadness during any of the chest openers?”
“Not that I can recall,” I answered. “I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to the chest openers, to be honest.”
“Pay attention. Oftentimes when your shoulders are rounded forward it’s indicative of protecting your heart. You may not be addressing some matters of the heart that need to be resolved. Don’t be alarmed if some aggressive emotions surface when you begin to move deeper into the chest opening poses.”
I was intrigued. It made sense. Considering what I now know, she couldn’t be more spot-on. However, at the time I was only slightly aware of what pain I was beginning to observe within. Her words would follow me forever. The tangible result I was able to measure was my flexibility, but I knew too well that my physical flexibility was only scratching the surface. My mind’s own limitations, though, would never be able to dream up what was coming in the following weeks. Yoga was not just a method for me to increase my flexibility or make a mind and body connection any longer. Yoga was becoming the gatekeeper to a purpose I didn’t know to be within my realm of possibility.
Our shuttle would be leaving soon so we finished our meal. We gathered our belongings and exited the airport. We found our shuttle. There were about six of us in total, all women, who were on this shuttle. We were all heading to Nosara to learn how to teach the one thing we all had in common: yoga.
The car ride was a long one. The familiarity of this sort of traveling was not lost on me. As our driver continued on, avoiding as many potholes as he could, we took the opportunity to get to know one another. I seemed to bond with the two girls physically closest to me, Rebecca and Brianne. In fact, we bonded so quickly that by the time we arrived in Nosara, I felt as if we had known each other for years. Our personalities clicked and I knew I was experiencing the beginning of what would become lifelong friendships.
Since it was evening, we checked into our rooms. I was sharing a room with a girl I had not yet met. When I arrived at my bungalow, she opened the door. Her name was Alyssa. She was from Hawaii and greeted me with this energetic warmth. She was about ten years younger than I was but we connected right away. She was really sweet and filled with joy. I had been blessed with a great roommate and was happy to share my space with her for the next month.
After chatting briefly, I turned in for the night. Our introduction to the property and the program began the next day. I was looking forward to the experience awaiting me: yoga for a whole month with like-minded, friendly people. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the next month of my sabbatical.
The next day I woke up and headed for breakfast. The cafe anchored the property we all stayed at. The food there was incredibly fresh and healthy. It was also a great meeting spot for everyone to come together and hang out. Once it was time to head up to the studio, we got up from the tables and headed into the jungle.
The path that we would follow every day from our bungalows led us through the jungle, and there were often howler monkeys in the treetops above us. Once we arrived at the smaller yoga studio that was high up on a hill, we were asked to take a seat on the floor. We were given our itinerary for the month. Yoga class began every morning at 6AM for two hours. I was beyond excited. A two hour yoga class to start my day was exactly what I was hoping for. The rest of our day was made up of teaching skills and other activities.
Once the introduction was over, we were left to explore the grounds at our leisure. As I looked around the small outdoor studio, I watched some of the others move into headstands and other difficult arm balancing poses I was unable to do yet. It was in that moment that it hit me. I was far behind in my actual yoga skills compared to the majority of the people in this training program. On the outside I’m sure I looked calm, but on the inside my self-confidence was crumbling into a pile of rubble. How could I even think about becoming a teacher when I couldn’t do most of the difficult poses many others were able to do? This wasn’t just a yoga class I had walked into where I was the newbie. This was teacher training. The expectations had to be higher. In an instant, I reverted back to the very first moment I stepped into a yoga studio. I felt like the outsider. The fraud. Luckily, I was brought out of my self-doubt downward spiral by my new friend Rebecca. She was asking me a question. I looked at her with a blank stare.
“I’m sorry,” I replied with embarrassment. “I didn’t hear what you just asked me.”
“Oh, it’s okay! I was just asking if you knew how to do a headstand? I still can’t do one. I’m scared to death of falling on my face!”
It was as if she had secretly read my mind. How did she do that? Needless to say, her confession relieved me. I wasn’t alone. Her confession was a gentle reminder to stop judging myself and where I was in my yoga practice. It’s hard to remember that we each have our own struggles and hurdles to overcome. No one path is the right path. The only path that should matter is the one you choose to walk. This was my choice and it was time to own it. There was no need to put pressure on myself to meet false expectations that only existed in my head. I had to constantly remind myself that no one was concerning themselves with my yoga path. They were too busy, involved in their own journey. I needed to step out of my head and into my heart. This process was going to require a lot of internal support. Clearly, I could turn on myself quickly if I allowed for the negativity to come in. Instead of beating myself up, I would be better served to have a compassionate heart. The course hadn’t even started yet and I was already faced with my first lesson.
When I woke up the next morning it was still dark out. I got dressed and grabbed my yoga mat. Alyssa and I walked over together to the Rancho, the large open-air studio where most of our training would take place. It was interesting to watch Alyssa open her mat close to the front of the class while I hung back and chose a spot at the back. Even after four months, my insecurities still dictated some of my choices. This teacher training brought everything to a different level for me. Just as I found some comfort in attending yoga classes, I felt thrown back deep into my fears. The fear of exposing that I was so far behind in my skills frightened me. I didn’t want anyone to notice me. Yet here I was.
As the class began, we were greeted by one of the owners, Amba. She was teaching our first class. As Amba started her instruction, my fears slowly fell away. She had that same easygoing attitude about her like Mariel. She was laughing and making jokes as she demonstrated some yoga. I quickly tuned into that and silently laughed at myself. My fears always had a way of making yoga too serious. I was at this training because I enjoyed yoga, and I was preventing myself from experiencing what I loved about yoga by choosing to focus on my insecurities. So I switched gears. I got out of my head by focusing on my breath. I brought intention into my practice for the next two hours. There were moments she poked fun at herself and some of the poses. I internally thanked her for that. It was a lighthearted class but physically demanding. My body definitely got a workout but I enjoyed her class thoroughly. I liked her style of teaching. She maintained the calming environment of a yoga class while adding an element of fun. Her style was congruent with what attracted me to yoga in the first place. It was my Ego that was distracting me from fully enjoying it. I needed to be very mindful of it going forward. I had survived my first yoga class at teacher’s training! What happened the following day, though, was something I will never forget.

9
The Support and Wisdom from Tree
The second day of training left me quite emotional. So much happened in such a short time span.
For some reason, I struggled throughout the morning practice more than the day before. I was having a bad day on the mat. I felt disconnected from my body, unable to move easily or maintain my balance postures. My frustration kept building, and by the time we moved into Tree Pose I had reached my limit. Tree Pose can be an easier balancing pose compared to most others, and it should’ve been the moment I was able to regroup myself and still my mind. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead of steadily holding myself up on one leg, I was continuously falling out of Tree. I couldn’t balance myself properly for the life of me. With each attempt to start again, I grew angrier and angrier at myself. I couldn’t accept such defeat with something I considered to be simple. My harsh attitude towards myself wasn’t helping my situation. I continually failed at holding the pose.
As I fell out of Tree for the last time, I became aware of myself and my angry energy. Taking a deep breath, I settled down and checked in. I wasn’t here to berate myself. I was here to nurture myself. I needed to shift my approach as I did that day with Mariel in the resting forward lunge. I needed to allow myself the space to keep falling without constant self-judgment. Interestingly enough, once I became okay with falling out of Tree, it stopped happening. I wasn’t resisting the fall any longer. I was allowing my body to do what it needed without judgment, and it responded by holding Tree Pose for the remaining time. I had settled my mind and entered the pose from my heart space. Moved by the immediate result from my awareness and shift in approach, the only thing falling now were a few tears from my eyes. How could I be so awful to myself and expect great miracles to occur?
To this day, Tree Pose is one of my favorite poses because of this moment. I never forget the reminder of falling out of Tree with grace. It’s never about how often you fall but how you choose to fall. Do you berate yourself over and over for not being able to hold a simple balance pose? The answer is of course not, but the reality is that we do. This isn’t exclusive to Tree but to all poses we find difficulty with. Tree just happens to be a common one. It’s something I witness with many inflexible people more often than not. We tend to be unkind to ourselves. We become frustrated with our inabilities, leading us to lose focus on our breath and ultimately lose the mind and body connection needed to remain present. If there’s one thing that Tree taught me, it’s to be kind to myself. My body had enough struggles to overcome, it didn’t need me to add any more to the plate. This applies to all of us. Be kind to yourself. Nothing good will come from you beating yourself up over a stretch or yoga pose you find difficulty doing.
In these moments of frustration, we need to stop and honor our body for doing what it can, no matter how small the movement is. Instead of sitting in a seat of self-judgment, be the witness. Notice the position of your body. Notice the areas that feel the discomfort and learn to be okay with it. It’s simply where you are in your practice. That’s all. Nothing more and nothing less. Dropping the expectations allows you the space to be you. This is incredibly important for you to grasp if you truly want to make gains with your flexibility, regardless if you’re doing so via yoga or a stretching program. You’ll undoubtedly face frustration after frustration as you move towards a more flexible body. This is a certainty. How you deal with this frustration is where the choice lies. Choose to be kind to yourself. Fall with grace.
Just as the class was winding down, one of the owners, Amba, asked us to think about our grandmothers. She asked us to feel their presence, gently guiding us to lay our bodies down onto the mat for our final pose, Savasana. It was an interesting request, but knowing I needed mental flexibility as well, I remained open to it. I thought about my father’s mother, my grandmother. Even though she passed before I was born, I often felt that she was around in spirit. As I sat on my mat, I could visualize her in my mind and connected with her presence around me. As I thought about my Nana, who was still alive, I struggled. For some reason I found it very difficult to even picture her in my mind. I couldn’t tune into her at all. I didn’t like this feeling, but we were being instructed to lower to the floor so I followed. I tuned into my other grandmother again and allowed myself to absorb the morning’s practice while I lay in stillness with my eyes closed.
Once the class was finished, my friend Brianne came over to me and asked if I was ok.
I looked at her with some confusion and replied, “Yes, of course I am. Why do you ask?”
She paused for a second and then replied, “I felt your sadness while we were in Tree Pose. I started crying myself. It was very strange.”
Her answer took me by surprise. She had been a few mats over and one row in front of me, so there was no way she would’ve seen me unless she looked back over her shoulder, which she hadn’t. Filling her in on what had happened during Tree and the self-awareness I learned, she understood. She said that she literally felt my pain. Her connection to my experience left me wondering: How did someone I barely know connect with me in such a vulnerable moment without actually knowing what was going on? I could only accept the reality as a divine moment and be grateful for her friendship and support. It seemed that as I was learning to literally and figuratively support myself in Tree, support began to show up externally through friendship. This is a great example of how much our internal world dictates our external world. Remember this because it will happen to you as you make your own internal shifts. Your external world is a direct result of your internal world.
We left the class together and then I headed to the cafe to eat breakfast alone. I used breakfast to read my emails and catch up with friends and family back home. Have you ever had a sense of knowing that something was about to happen before it actually happens? Well, that morning I did. I had this sense of looming dread without knowing why I was feeling this way. It had stayed with me since Savasana. I opened my emails. Waiting in my inbox was an email from my mom. I clicked on the email. As I read the email, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My Nana was very sick and in the hospital. She was expected to pass at any time.
Sitting there in sadness, I couldn’t help but be drawn back to the end of the yoga class when we were asked to connect with our grandmothers. Was this why I couldn’t connect with her? I was overwhelmed by my emotions and sat at the table alone as tears filled my eyes. My Nana was a beautiful and bright woman with a cute sense of humor. I was going to miss her very much.
I hoped for an unexpected recovery, but two days later the news came of her passing. My family didn’t think I should leave my teacher training to come home for the funeral and told me to stay. I wasn’t a fan of funerals, but I did need to say goodbye in my own way. Fortunately for me, that support I had found in Tree Pose was showing up more than ever.
I had shared my news with a few of my closest friends in the yoga program. Upon returning to my room that afternoon, I found a handmade lei lying on the doorstep with a handwritten card from Alyssa. She expressed her condolences and offered me the lei to say goodbye to my Nana at the beach, a tradition in Hawaii. Moved by her thoughtfulness and the beauty of this lei, I decided to say my goodbyes that evening at sunset.
My friends Rebecca and Brianne came with me. Without any of my family to surround me, I greatly appreciated their support. It had been less than a week here and already I felt deep connections forming with these women. I was truly blessed and knew I was being watched over. We took pictures of the sunset, which filled the sky with magnificent purples, reds, and orange. Standing knee-deep in the water with the lei in one hand, I could only believe that my Nana was there in spirit as I read my final goodbye to her:
 
Nana,
May you shine your spirit on all of us today as the setting sun shines its warmth on the water, saying goodbye to us once again.
You were loved and will be remembered.
Thank you for your gentle love and sweet humour. You are a smile imprinted on my heart forever.
Until we meet again...
 
I looked out to the sun one last time, remembering her face, and then cast the lei into the ocean. As I watched the flowers drifting away towards the horizon, I was filled with love. Death is often a time when we reflect on the true importance of our lives. Although there was sadness from my loss, I didn’t want to dwell in it. In her honor I would celebrate life. Being in Costa Rica, surrounded by new friends and an opportunity to explore my yoga practice further, I had so much to be grateful for. So instead of crying, my two friends and I jumped and laughed in the water. My Nana would’ve wanted it that way.
My fears that had begun to creep back into my head at the beginning of this course were no longer invited to take the driver’s seat. I promised myself going forward that I would approach everything from a place of encouragement and support. I knew I was receiving small signs or messages from above that I would always be supported. If people I had newly met were surrounding me with such love and support, surely I could too. The key was allowing this process to unfold and be whatever it may be.

10
The Butterfly and its Miraculous Transformation
The first week of training had passed and I felt good about where I was in my yoga practice. The shift from constant judgment to self-support had made a huge impact. Not to mention that this class was filled with some of the most supportive and kind people I have ever met, which contributed to creating a very safe environment for vulnerability. Without the judgment, I was able to truly bring awareness to how my body responded in each pose. I was fully present when I stepped onto my mat. I took the time to breathe deeply. I noticed that when I purposefully sent my breath into the areas of my body receiving the stretch, that area relaxed even further. There was a distinct difference in the stretch response of the muscles during conscious and directed breathing versus during unconscious breathing. Take, for instance, standing in a forward fold to touch your toes. Among the major muscles being stretched are the hamstrings in the back of the legs. If I chose to hang out in this pose with no intention behind my breathing, then very little stretching would actually occur. If I instead chose to deepen my breathing, it did two things: it relaxed my mind, allowing my muscles to relax further, and it brought more presence into my stretch. When I talk about presence, I am referring to the awareness of my body and how it’s responding. This is very important for everyone practicing yoga but especially important for us inflexible people. Increasing your awareness allows you to understand your body better. This allows you to target your body’s specific needs, a requirement for increasing flexibility faster. Since our bodies are unique, your areas of inflexibility may differ. But what is key and will enhance this process even further is directing your breath to the exact area being stretched. So while I am in a forward fold reaching for my toes, I am consciously driving my breath not to my belly (as you are taught in yoga) but beyond it into my hamstrings, or the back of my thighs. With each inhale, I can literally feel the backs of my legs stretching further, allowing me to move deeper and deeper into the pose.
Implementing this technique is crucial to increasing your flexibility faster. Remember, the more your flexibility increases, the more easily you will move from pose to pose, allowing you more time to spend in each pose. The more time you can spend in each pose, the greater your chances are at receiving its full benefit. In general, it will make your yoga practice more enjoyable. Not just because you can move easily but because you are fully present in your practice when you bring in mindful breathing.
As my practice was deepening, I also experienced a lot of muscle tightness. My body wasn’t used to a two hour yoga practice every day on top of everything else we were doing throughout the teaching program. The physical demands were taking a toll on my body and, although my flexibility was improving, it still wasn’t at a rate I would expect in direct relation to the amount of yoga I practiced. This was another awareness I received.
Initially, an inflexible body requires more nurturing and less strength-building in a yoga practice if the goal is to gain more flexibility. Although I enjoyed the yoga practice, the physical demands were more than what my body truly needed at that time. So when Sunday arrived and we were told we would be watching a film in the Rancho that evening, I was ecstatic. I was thrilled to have some downtime to relax and give my body a reprieve from the physical activity.
That evening, we gathered in the Rancho, and I grabbed plenty of cushions to rest on since we were watching the film from the floor. I found a spot and settled in. While we watched this film, I was intuitively guided towards a major discovery that yielded results I didn’t know were possible. Choosing to be consciously aware of how your body responds to physical stresses, you are also strengthening something else: your intuition. By becoming more aware of your body’s responses, you’re acutely tuned into every sense, and your intuition is that sixth sense that no one can see but you’ve likely felt at one point or another in your life.
While sitting on the floor and watching this film, I could feel the pain and tightness in my hips and knees that had accumulated over the week. As a massage therapist, I instinctively began to self-massage particular points of my body I knew would effectively ease my discomfort quickly. While sitting, I intuitively moved into a reclined Baddha Konasana Pose, also called Butterfly. I was reclined against multiple cushions stacked behind me so that I was partially upright, enabling me to watch the movie. My feet were pulled in towards each other and my knees winged out to the sides. It was a passive pose. I was allowing gravity to do the work for me, pulling my knees closer to the floor while I just sat there watching the movie. I could feel the stretch along my inner thighs all the way into my knees, so I gently massaged those muscles while I sat in this very relaxed position.
As I continued to work into the muscles and ligaments with my hands, I could feel my hips opening substantially to a point they had never reached before. My curiosity was piqued. Knowing which muscles and ligaments to target in any pose was a major advantage to me. Understanding how they responded under manipulation and stretch was an even bigger advantage. I was in a position (no pun intended) to utilize all of my massage therapy experience in conjunction with my yoga to explore my flexibility further.
Intrigued by how much improvement I witnessed from one pose, I moved into various other poses where I was able to comfortably self-massage. The response was the same. A drastic improvement in my flexibility beyond anything I had ever experienced in a yoga class. Knowing that my body had undergone multiple years of physical demands both professionally and personally, what it truly needed was a chance to recover. My body needed the gentle approach of yoga: stretching more often and for longer amounts of time.
Once the movie was over, I approached my friend Rebecca and filled her in on my discoveries. I told her how much flexibility I had just gained in the hour and a half we spent watching the film. Curious to hear more, she walked back to my room with me. Once there, I showed her some of the poses I was now able to do. For the first time, I was able to not only touch my toes, I was able to get my hands fully under my feet! This was beyond a miracle to me. My eyes widened at the discovery and I became giddy with excitement. I was literally bouncing around the room in delight. Laughing with excitement, Rebecca wondered what else I could do.
I then moved into four more poses that I had never been able to get into prior to that evening. I couldn’t believe it. The results were mind-blowing, but the feeling of being flexible beyond anything I had ever experienced was where all the good stuff resided. I’ll never forget that evening. It was the first time in my life I felt flexible and, if I’m honest, I loved it. I kept moving into pose after pose to determine how far my flexibility had improved in each one. I couldn’t get enough. I was engaging in a love affair with my body’s flexibility. With each pose, my excitement expanded.
What does it feel like when you no longer feel the same resistance within your body that you’ve been feeling all your life? Liberating. It feels absolutely liberating. It literally felt like I had a new body.
What’s so interesting is that this discovery started with me intuitively choosing Butterfly Pose. The process of how a caterpillar lives and then transforms to emerge as its new self, the butterfly, is very similar to mine. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to move my body fluidly like my fellow classmates did. I moved slowly in my yoga practice. My results were slow to appear, if they appeared at all. The process always felt like a struggle, and at times I wondered if I’d ever be able to get to the point I was trying so desperately to reach. As the caterpillar’s only goal is to reach its food for survival, my Ego’s main goal was solely to be functional in a yoga class.
However, we are often told that the beauty lies in the journey, not the end goal. In my efforts to attain more flexibility, I made discoveries along the way that required unanticipated self-reflection. I learned to nurture my body instead of demand from it. Becoming aware of how my resistant approach in many aspects of my life was fear driven by my Ego, I learned that resistance didn’t begin in my body but in my mind. Removing the fears and creating space to accept my body through my yoga practice, I was learning to move from my heart with more compassion. If I wanted to move effortlessly and gracefully, I had to move from a place of less judgment.
This choice to tune into my internal world and allow the time for my body to recover is when the real transformation emerged. Before the caterpillar can emerge as the butterfly, it wraps itself into a cocoon and rests there until it’s ready. Patience with your body is necessary if you are to make the transformation from inflexible to flexible. This step is vital and can’t be overlooked. While in a resting state watching that movie, I chose to give back to my body. I massaged key areas while sitting in passive stretches for a very long time. I sat in some positions for up to twenty minutes. I didn’t push my body into a deep stretch. Instead, I allowed gravity to do the work when possible, naturally allowing the joints to open further as the ligaments and muscles received their slow and steady stretch. This resting state was like my cocoon. Once I gave into allowing my body the time to recover, a more flexible body was able to emerge. Mind you, this physical transformation wouldn’t have been complete without the mental transformation.
Gaining the flexibility was the most exciting and tangible effect. However, what I began to realize at this stage of the journey was that the transformation didn’t have to be traumatic. Stretching didn’t have to be painful. And not just physically painful. Through mindful and directed breathing, I was able to anchor my mind away from the physical pain; this allowed my body to move through the pain instead of resisting it. The release of physical pain was crucial, but the biggest growth and change came as a result of me dropping my habitual fear and self-judgment. It wasn’t until I learned to move from a place of compassion, my internal dialogue rooted in support, that I was able to observe how readily responsive my body could be. As inflexible people, overcoming the pain that a stretch brings forth is found in a place that is quiet, still, and calm. The approach cannot be one of fearing the pain or fighting it. Your body won’t respond the way you wish it to. Your body needs to be given the time to respond accordingly. By anchoring your mind through your mindful breathing and by giving your body the time to release into the stretch at its own pace, you are now in a place where true transformation can happen.
The old adage “No Pain, No Gain” doesn’t apply here. If you believe it, let it go. It will not foster the results you desire. Gaining flexibility (physically, mentally, and spiritually) requires the exact opposite approach of that applied to sports or workouts. It doesn’t mean there won’t be any pain, but instead of pushing through it, you move gently and slowly. You don’t disconnect from your body to overcome the pain. Instead, you breathe into it comfortably. You observe your body’s response to the pain while you anchor your mind through your breath, which promotes relaxation and pain dissolution.
When I sat for 90 minutes watching that movie, I was relaxed. My face wasn’t contorted into silly faces from pain. I wasn’t holding my breath trying to push through any pain. I took a casual approach in my stretching which ended up yielding my greatest results. Remember that if you find yourself in pain (not discomfort) in any yoga pose or stretch, back off slightly. You’re pushing your body to do something it isn’t ready to do yet and it’ll respond with resistance. Always remember when it comes to increasing your flexibility, resistance is your enemy.
At the close of my first week of teacher training, I was ecstatic about my revelations and improved flexibility, but I still didn’t have the awareness of how I was going to use it going forward. All I knew is that I found a way to improve my own flexibility much faster than any yoga class had and I was eager to continue exploring this further.

11
What is Yoga & The Power of the Heart
If you ask someone “what is yoga?” you may be surprised to get a different response depending on the person you ask. The answer may not be as obvious as you think. Some might say that it’s a practice of various poses (asanas) designed to stretch and strengthen the body. The word “yoga” is Sanskrit, derived from the word “yuj” in Proto-Indo-European. It means “union” or “yoking.” You’ll often hear yoga spoken of as the union of the mind and body. One day in our teacher training we were asked: What does yoga mean to you?
This was a very interesting question because many people replied with different answers, and yet none of them were wrong. How can that be? Shouldn’t there be one simple definition for such a simple four-letter word? The reason why no one was wrong is simple. Yoga is a very personal journey. What is right for you may not be right for someone else. I began to understand from this discussion that yoga could be anything and everything all at the same time.
It makes sense. If you think about how the very practice of yoga is designed to improve the flexibility of your body, you also see it’s designed to improve the flexibility of your mind. In fact, as you’ve seen in my own personal journey, the flexible body doesn’t come without a flexible mind. Given its very flexible nature, it makes sense that yoga could mean anything to anyone.
For me, yoga was my opportunity to nurture myself. I didn’t want to use it as a way to build strength in my body, as I was already doing that with my workouts and my job. Instead, this was my opportunity to heal, to explore the idea of not pushing myself to physical extremes, and ultimately to explore my relationship with my body.
As the weeks went on to complete our training hours, I learned a lot about my own practice. I chose awareness of my body in every asana throughout each practice. I paid attention to the tiny details of how my inhale could expand an area of my body while the exhale gave the body permission to move deeper into the pose. In spinal twists, I noticed that this was a very key area for me to focus on in order to improve my flexibility. Bringing complete presence into these poses, I could feel the space between each vertebra opening a little bit more on each inhale, while on each exhale I was able to twist even deeper. It was akin to wringing out a wet cloth. I had to bring mindful breathing in or the results were not the same. If my mind was elsewhere while in the pose, my body didn’t respond as readily. The results were significantly less compared to the results mindful breathing brought.
Paying attention to the insights my body was teaching me, I made mental notes. At this point, I was beginning to understand how an inflexible body would best benefit in yoga. In some ways, I had wished I had known then what I know now because it would’ve made my initial experience a lot easier. However, I learned along the way that these moments should be cherished because once you move past them you don’t really get to experience them again in the same way. This is one of the most unexpected realizations I had on this journey: inflexibility was the greatest blessing to my yoga practice.
This was the most radical shift I have ever encountered within. To shift my perception from one rooted in shame and, dare I say, hatred, to a perception rooted in acceptance and self-love was nothing short of a miracle. It’s important to note that I had no idea before beginning yoga that I even had these issues. I was certain that I was the sort of person who loved herself. It was an incredibly rude awakening--a slap across the face, really--when I began to see how wrong I had been. Struggling with self-love is a common struggle but hard to own. Who actually wants to admit they don’t like themselves? Not many people, I would assume, since it’s often linked to weakness; in fact, vulnerability is anything but weak. Vulnerability shows others you’re human and offers an opportunity for connection, which is how people relate to one another. Finding relatability in someone else’s vulnerability is an open invitation to not only connect with them but with your own vulnerability as well.
The Heart’s Power
The heart is literally a very powerful organ. Not only does it pump blood to every cell in your body, some sources say that the heart has an electrical field sixty times greater than that of the brain, and that this energy can impact people within an eight-to-ten foot radius. Whatever the specific mechanism is, we all know we can be affected by other people’s emotional energy. Have you ever been standing in a room when someone with very negative energy walks in and you notice your entire mood change for the worst? That’s an example of how strongly the heart energy can impact others, not just its owner. So if your heart energy can strongly impact others, imagine the impact your heart has on your own cells. Remember when I was in Tree Pose and kept falling out as the frustration and berating mounted? As soon as I switched to a more loving approach, one that was allowing and accepting, my body responded accordingly by finding the balance to hold the pose. There’s a direct relationship between your heart energy and everything you do. When you can shift your energy from unconscious or unaware to one of consciousness and love, every cell in your body will be affected positively. Sometimes the effects will go unnoticed, and sometimes they will take you by surprise like they did me.
One morning after breakfast, I went to the Rancho with my friend Lex to meditate. He was trained in the Vipassana technique I had learned at my silent retreat earlier that year. Realizing we were both students of Vipassana, we thought it would be nice to practice together. Many believe that meditation is more of a solo event, but in fact if you’re in groups you can help one another energetically make the transition into a deeper state of consciousness. As I mentioned above, the electrical field of your heart is strong enough to reach others close by.
We sat down on the floor with our cushions side by side and about five feet away from each other. I closed my eyes and began my meditation. Slowing your mind down and achieving that desired peaceful state can be a struggle. The key is practice. Some days are harder than others. On this particular day, I wasn’t struggling too much. Within about ten minutes, I had shifted into a deeper and quieter state. (Perhaps I have Lex to partially thank for that, being two hearts within five feet of one another). After some time had passed in this state, something happened that I wasn’t anticipating. In fact, what happened next scared me so much I had to end my meditation.
Sitting in my seat and going through the technique I was taught, I noticed a tingling sensation begin at the base of my spine. Continuing to use this technique, the sensation intensified and I noticed some warmth in the area. With my eyes closed, an almost whitish violet light appeared at the base of the spine. It may be difficult to understand the possibility of how you can see light in your spine, especially with your eyes closed. It’s like seeing yourself from within. I’m not sure how to explain it other than that this is how I experienced it.
As the light and warm tingling sensation began to grow, it took on a spiraling movement. With this movement, I immediately realized I had tapped into my kundalini energy. I had never done so before but I had read enough about it to recognize what it was. Kundalini is the energy of the consciousness. Your head is a positive magnet for this energy and the base of your spine is the negative magnet. When your energy is stored at the base of your spine or is moving towards the base, that is when you find your mind pulled towards restlessness during meditation. The energy of this magnet is associated with unawareness and selfishness. When the energy moves upward towards your head, the positive magnet, you’re reversing the energy force away from its lair (the base of the spine) towards awareness. This energy is associated with loving and generous thoughts. This is why kundalini is often associated with the snake; it sits in a coil at the base of the spine and then slowly rises upwards as it uncoils. This uncoiling effect is what I was witnessing.
This was a completely new experience for me. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t stunned, even in my meditative state. Paying very close attention to every sensation that I could witness, the energy moved up my spine and something very unexplainable happened. I felt like I was levitating. My eyes were closed the entire time and I highly doubt I was physically off the ground, but I felt like I was. In a meditation paradox, I was freaking out in my calmness because as the energy traveled further up my spine it felt like I was lifting higher and higher off the ground. The white light became brighter and pretty soon the fear was overwhelming. The intensity of the spiraling energy was so strong that I honestly believed it might explode out of me like a rocket. I had to stop.
I opened my eyes to shut the process down. Everything diminished quickly. The light, the warmth, and the tingling sensations were gone. I didn’t want to disrupt Lex from his own meditation, so I sat there quietly. To put it mildly, I was slightly awestruck by this experience. On one hand, it was pretty damn cool. On the other hand, there was this aspect of fear around the experience that caused me to shut it down. Interestingly, I shut the energy down just around the time it reached my heart chakra. At that time I was unable to really understand what was happening, but looking back now I see it.
The yoga training was clearly tapping into my heart energy as I made shifts from being ashamed of my inflexibility to loving my inflexibility. The dialogue in my head was no longer dominated by unaware and hateful thoughts. Instead, the dialogue was encouraging and supportive. By practicing conscious breathing and thereby bringing awareness to my practice, my heart energy was expanding. I believe that the fear I experienced in this particular meditation experience was in relation to leaving a place I knew so well (fear), and entering a place that was quite foreign to me (love). I don’t think I was ready to let go. It’s hard to admit it, but letting go of our fears can be a very difficult process.
The point, though, is that through my yoga practice I was clearly awakening parts of me that I had never been able to before. And all of this was initiated through my willingness to face my inflexibility. Did I believe that any of this was remotely possible when I started? Absolutely not. I didn’t even realize I had body hate issues until I started paying attention to my inner dialogue during yoga. I had no idea that any of this was available to me. All I wanted was the ability to touch my toes one day and not feel like a freak show in a yoga class. The awareness was evident, though. Choosing awareness every time I practiced a pose, that awareness would evidently lead to places my unaware self could’ve never imagined.
I truly believe that there is an unexpected bonus to being inflexible when learning yoga. As inflexible people, we are forced to move slowly. We simply can’t move well. We’re forced to pay attention to every sensation that arises in a stretch or asana because if we don’t, we won’t advance with the results we desire. We have to sit in our own seats of discomfort while we surrender ourselves completely to our pain. This is where the magic happens. This is our bonus. Believe me, your body has much to teach you if you’re willing to listen. I promise you there are insights awaiting you far greater than anything anyone will ever be able to tell you. It’s here where the opportunity lies in discovering your true Self, your internal teacher who holds the answers to all of your questions. Your true Self that has been waiting to share wisdom and truth, if only you are ready to show up.
When you take the time to sit in the seat of your own discomfort and bring mindful breathing into your practice, you are showing up. You bring your presence and your power into that very moment. This is where I found the joy in my yoga practice. Increasing my flexibility was fantastic, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. I never knew there would be valuable insight and truth awaiting me in my yoga practice. This insight brought awareness to my need to start nurturing my body, practice compassion, and ultimately learn how to love myself. This is why I continue to practice yoga to this day. Not solely to maintain my flexibility, but to continue receiving the truths I believe we all seek at one point or another in our lives. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.
Yoga has the ability to be anything you want it to be. It doesn’t have to be about becoming a yogi master. It doesn’t have to be about achieving the picture-perfect asana we see flashing across almost every media outlet related to yoga. Don’t get me wrong. It can be. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, either. The poses are beautiful to look at and so is the body engaged in asana. However, let’s face it. Most of us can’t relate to that. There’s no relatability for an inflexible person looking at a picture of someone contorted into some highly advanced yoga pose. It’ll likely reinforce your belief that yoga isn't for you. I would go so far as to say stop looking at these photos if they make you feel uncomfortable about trying yoga. The truth is, it’s only one aspect of yoga and the asana is generally ten percent of yoga, anyway.
Ask yourself, what would you like to get out of yoga? Is there anything about it that attracts you and, if so, what? How do you find yourself drawn to yoga? How would your body benefit from engaging in yoga? How would your mind benefit from yoga? This will be your own individual practice, so allow yoga to be what you need it to be. Forget everything you have believed until now and start with a clean slate so that the picture your practice will paint reflects you and your desires. Keep an open mind and an open heart. Your open heart will be your guide and will anchor you into compassion for yourself. Remember the power of your heart energy and its ability to expand its reach beyond your mind. Once you step on that mat, the only person that matters is the one showing up. You.

12
Becoming the Teacher
After the four week program ended, we had completed our 200 hours. We received our certification at graduation, which declared we were now certified RYT200 yoga teachers. I should’ve felt confident and secure to teach a class at this point. But I didn’t. The thought of teaching a class scared the crap out of me. It’s one thing to follow someone else’s class, but to lead a group of people through your own designed class is quite intimidating. I was no longer able to be that person at the back of the class hiding my inflexibility from everyone. I was pushing myself, front and center, directly into the spotlight. Sometimes I think I’m downright crazy for the self-inflicted torture I choose to put myself through. Had I thoroughly thought this through, I’m positive I would’ve talked myself out of this training before I ever started. But I didn’t. And now I had to face the music. The fact that I had only five months of yoga experience under my belt at this point was a huge factor in my insecurities. Even though I knew I had much more knowledge of the body and how it moved than most yoga instructors, all I tended to focus on was my shortcoming: lack of yoga experience.
After leaving Costa Rica, I was back home, where I struggled with calling myself a yoga instructor. Despite all of my revelations, I didn’t feel like I fit the bill of what a yoga instructor should be. I felt like a fraud; a yoga instructor should surely have more than five months of yoga practice under their belt. I was deathly scared of teaching my first class. Would I be good enough? Naturally, I was afraid people would reject my style of teaching. I had learned to find compassion and acceptance in my personal practice, but finding compassion for myself as a teacher was much harder. The truth is that any one teacher is not for everyone. Connecting with your teacher is a very personal thing and doesn’t always depend on the extent of their yoga skills or experience. However, allowing my fears and judgments to take the reins on this one, I delayed teaching a class.
Instead, I focused on my own practice. I would practice almost daily and implement all of the skills and insights I had learned to this point. Noticing which poses would benefit my body the most, I focused on practicing those. Then I began to work with some friends individually. My best friend who had accompanied me on that first yoga class experience had a very inflexible body and was inspired by the benefits my yoga practice had given me. She was curious and wanted to work with me to explore her own flexibility.
One day she was at my apartment and we were on the floor trying out various yoga poses. I could see she had the same struggles I had when I started, and I could feel her frustrations and disappointment with her own body building. She would continuously put herself down in front of me and make jokes about herself to ease her discomfort. It was like watching an earlier version of myself. I knew exactly how she felt and why she felt the need to joke about herself to me.
Instead of taking her through a yoga routine, I opted to try a different method. I put her into a relaxed Butterfly Pose just as I had done that night watching the movie. I asked her to note where her knees were resting in the air and how it felt. Then I showed her which muscles and ligaments to self-massage in this particular pose. I showed her the massage techniques to use that would yield the fastest results. As she did this, I also kept my hand under her knee of the leg she was working on. I wanted her to see the difference, and so I allowed the knee to rest in my hand. After a few minutes I told her to stop. I took my hand away from her knee. She was astonished at what happened as a result.
Her knee dropped almost three inches closer to the floor. Her knee and hip joints had opened up significantly from the relaxed pose combined with some self-massage, allowing this three-inch drop. To say she was blown away is an understatement. I clearly remember gasps and expletives coming out of her mouth at the obvious and drastic improvement. I started laughing. It was like reliving my own moment of discovery all over again. There was so much excitement in her voice. She wanted to work on the other side. So we did. The results were the same, albeit a little less drastic than the first side. This is because we all have one side that is inevitably slightly tighter than the other; which side that is depends on your own body.
After a few more stretches, we then went back to some of the yoga poses we initially tried that had originally resulted in frustration and disappointment. As I expected, it was easier for her to move into the poses and hold them for longer. I remember her looking at me with wide eyes, telling me how crazy it was. She was like me. She had always been inflexible and had never known her body to be able to do what it did that afternoon. I guess you could say that this is when the light bulb turned on. I began to wonder if I was onto something bigger than just improving my own flexibility.
Reverting Back to Unsupportive Habits
After some time, I had moved back to the islands. Working as a massage therapist, I had yet to start using my yoga training beyond my personal practice. In fact, I actually fell out of my own yoga practice for almost a year. I hadn’t found a studio I enjoyed enough or that fostered the type of environment I was looking for. On top of that, I was becoming lazy with leading myself. I had good intentions, but for some reason I wasn’t following through on them. I fell back into my routine of massaging for long hours without any focus on nurturing my own body. Compounding this effect, I followed a rigorous workout routine as well. I had fallen in love with interval running and had added that to my fitness routine a few times a week. I was back to beating my body up without taking the time to care for it.
One morning, I woke up to discover that I couldn’t lift my head up off the pillow. The moment I tried to, I was immediately stopped by the most incredible shooting pain in my neck. I froze. As I quickly assessed my body, I knew my entire back and neck had gone into spasm. In order for me to get out of bed and make it to the bathroom, I had to cradle my hands under my head, lifting it while turning onto my side. Lying on my side in agony, I knew I couldn’t get up to walk. I had to slowly and gently roll off my bed to the floor and crawl on my hands and knees to the bathroom. I had no idea what I could’ve possibly done to my back to generate this much pain.
After a twenty minute ordeal of getting to the bathroom on my hands and knees, I made my way to the stairs. I looked down. There was no way I could stand or walk yet. I reverted back to being a child, slowly and gently sliding down each stair, one at a time, on my bottom. Every step was painful and took my breath away. When I reached the final step, I was relieved. The sofa was only a few feet away. Crawling to it on my hands and knees, with huge effort I somehow rolled myself onto the couch, lying on my side. As I lay there in disbelief, the shock began to wear off and the tears began streaming down my face. This pain was beyond any pain I had experienced in a very long time. I couldn’t get my body upright or stand. Fetal position was my only option.
I ended up spending two days incapacitated on that couch. Getting treatment wasn’t an option because I could barely move myself to get anywhere. It was awful, but it gave me time to reflect. I hated being stuck on that sofa. I couldn’t work and I couldn’t exercise, which ate me up inside. I hated being immobile. I was in a forced resting period and I knew it. The signs were anything but subtle, and I knew that once I was able to slowly move again I would begin my stretching and yoga routine to unlock my back.
As soon as I was able to move my back into any sort of stretch, I began yoga. I played around with different yoga poses that I anticipated would be most beneficial to healing my back pain. I’d hold the poses and stretches for a significant amount of time, allowing my body to respond slowly and at its will. I was in so much pain that I had to use my breath to anchor me into the pose. My mindful breathing allowed me to not only stay in the pose for a longer time, but it also gave me the awareness of how my body was responding. The stretches proved to be extremely helpful, and within an hour I began to see noticeable improvements. I continued to do this even when I went back to work. Any spare moment I had was given to stretching and opening my back up. I found that hip openers, spinal twists, gentle spinal flexion/extension, and chest openers were all my major keys to success.
I think it’s important to note that, in this particular case, I was taken right back to my most inflexible state. I could no longer touch my toes (standing upright was nearly impossible for a day) and movement was slow to come. I was taken right back to the beginning, as if I were learning my lesson all over again. As my father always says to me, “Nicole, you love to learn your lessons the hard way.” It’s true. I don’t know why I insist on making things difficult on myself, but I do. And this case was no different. Even though I was beginning to see the error of my ways, I hadn’t fully grasped the lesson. Apparently, it’s “third time’s a charm” for me.
Once I was able to move again, I was back to work and gently working myself back into the gym. I needed to be very careful because my lower back was still not completely stable. There was no way I could run yet, but that was what I missed the most. I made certain to implement stretching after each workout, but that was where it ended. I wasn’t taking separate time to engage in my yoga practice. Honestly, even as I write this I shake my head at myself for being so stubborn and thickheaded about it. Why I continued to resist yoga is beyond me. Luckily, the Universe would make certain that resistance ended.
After five weeks, I was able to get back on the treadmill and start running. I was happy to be back into my full workout routine and eager to make the gains I lost while recovering. However, there were other plans in store for me. When I got off the treadmill after a 30-minute interval running session, I noticed my back didn’t feel quite right. That dull pain was beginning to increase in intensity. I quickly got to the mat and did some stretching. It seemed to help.
The next morning, it was like groundhog day all over again. I had trouble lifting my head up off the pillow and had to crawl out of bed to the bathroom once again. I thought to myself, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” I knew it was the run the previous day that had sent my back into spasm again. The pounding my spine absorbed from running wasn’t helpful. Honestly, I knew better. But I was too eager to run again. Patience is a lesson I repeat often. As I sat on the floor, I wondered if I’d ever be able to run again. Running had become my favorite activity in my workouts and the thought of never being able to run again frightened me. I was only 33 years old and, at this rate, I was certain I would have back issues for the rest of my life.
So I repeated myself once again and began my yoga and stretching routine to heal my back. Luckily, my back had not gone into as much spasm as the first time and I was able to recover faster. Taking my yoga seriously at this point, I made it a regular part of my routine, just as I did with working out.
By this time, I thankfully had figured it out. Allowing my yoga practice to slip to the wayside, it became evident to me that the back spasm episodes weren’t random. They were indeed planned and intended to guide me back into yoga practice; I had done a pretty good job of resisting keeping it up myself. I remember thinking to myself that I’d never be able to run again unless I kept up my yoga. And that’s when it hit me.
The universe had set up its own personal guarantee system with me to keep me engaged in yoga. How very clever and yet so very perfect. It isn’t that I didn’t want to do yoga. I truly enjoyed it, but I was falling into old patterns that no longer served my body. Gone were the days where I could abuse my body to no end and get away with it. So I began to implement my yoga practice into my routine like I did with my workouts. A few things happened as a result.
For starters, my back pain healed itself and I regained all of my lost flexibility and more. I noticed that there was a flexibility memory within the body. Even though I had lost a lot of flexibility, I was able to gain it back much more quickly--often within one to two yoga practices. Comparing how differently my back felt when I kept up my personal yoga practice, I didn’t feel stiff any longer and work wasn’t taking its usual toll on my body. I was able to run with more comfort in my hips, allowing me to take longer strides and thereby improving my run times. Also, I was generally feeling more grounded and creative.
The creative element was an interesting surprise. I hadn’t expected that, but I found myself wanting to create more and ideas were flooding my mind with possibilities. My mind was becoming more flexible. The willingness to explore other life paths beyond what I was currently doing was continuously at the forefront of my mind. This happens as we increase our awareness. Through my yoga practice and dedication to mindful breathing, my awareness was expanding. When this process begins, it’s impossible for the expansion not to spill over into other facets of your life. Your entire perspective begins a shift, allowing this expansion to occur. It’s a gentle awakening within that ultimately begins nudging you out of your comfort zone and into areas that support growth and meaning in your life. You begin to want more for yourself and of yourself. When I say “more,” I don’t mean in terms of things or objects. I’m speaking of the entire reason for your existence. You’re no longer satisfied with getting by in life and running on autopilot. Your life begins to mean more not only in how you live it but in how you can effectively be of service. This world is a community and each of us plays an integral role in the betterment of it. Once your awareness begins expanding, you begin to see exactly how many possibilities are out there just waiting for you to choose them.
All of this is possible from the simple act of choosing flexibility. By choosing to engage your body and mind into an activity that effectively is expansion, you’re already choosing to step out of your comfort zone. Once you take this step, growth begins and your world shifts accordingly. You cannot shift internally and expect your external world to remain the same. It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you’re the creator of your existence. Your reality becomes what you perceive your world to be, which means once you begin to see more, your world becomes more.
Discovering Yin Yoga
As the years went on, I began teaching classes and working privately with clients. I began to dabble in Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is much different from most regular yoga classes you will find. Regular yoga classes usually build heat within the body, focusing on building strength while moving in a way that facilitates more flexibility. Yin is the opposite of this. Yin Yoga requires you to sit in a pose anywhere from three to twenty minutes, thereby requiring little movement. The focus of the pose isn’t so much on the muscles but on the connective tissue like the ligaments, fascia, and blood. Each pose is also more of a passive or relaxed pose as the muscles are not meant to be engaged. This allows the focus to go directly to the connective tissue. I found Yin Yoga to be much more beneficial to my body initially than regular yoga. I also found that it was easier for my less flexible students to practice because it didn’t require them to be moving a lot, in and out of various poses. I noticed as well that men seemed to gravitate more towards the Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga became the last puzzle piece to understanding the inflexible body. When you’re in a Yin Yoga pose, your muscles are relaxed but you still feel the pain of the stretch. However, instead of targeting the muscles you’re now targeting the ligaments and fascia. These tissues are so crucial to the development of your flexibility. Physical flexibility isn’t just about lengthening the muscles. If you want to move with less effort, you want to keep your joints healthy. This is where your ligaments come in. To keep connective tissues healthy, you need to apply a slow and steady load to them. Constant movement doesn’t work. Ligaments need the time to slowly engage into any stretch. This is why you hold the poses for at least three minutes. Ligaments are like those really thick rubber bands. At first they’re really hard to stretch, but eventually they’ll soften with a gentle and constant load. The pain you feel in Yin Yoga is partly due to the degree of stretch your ligaments and other connective tissue can take.
Let’s take the hip joint for instance, and go back to the resting forward lunge. In Yin Yoga, there are various resting lunges (where the back knee is resting on the floor) to target the connective tissue in the hips. In a resting forward lunge, one of the major ligaments that causes a lot of pain for inflexible people (and most people, for that matter) when being stretched is the inguinal ligament. It spans across the front of each hip towards the pubic bone. The only way that the ligament will positively respond is if you slowly move into the forward lunge. That means not trying to reach your end point of the stretch immediately out of the gate. You take your time, moving gently and slowly. Using mindful breathing will increase the stretch response rate of the ligament. As the time passes, you begin to notice that you can move a little deeper into the forward lunge. So you allow that movement and wait for the body to relax further. You continue this process, gently moving further and further into the stretch, until the time is up and it’s time to move onto the next pose or other side.
The result is a drastic improvement in mobility of the joint as well as stability. When you apply such a slow and steady load to a ligament, it not only stretches it, it strengthens it. This is vital for joint stability, something that can prevent many injuries from occurring, not just in sports-related activities but also in daily physical demands, especially as we age. In fact, I believe that it’s important to implement this style of yoga immediately into any beginner’s practice because it will also help to prevent you from injuring yourself in yoga.
I see this happen all the time. Many times, people become a little overzealous in their practice and push their bodies into poses they may not be ready for. The result is usually a sprain of a ligament in the joint pushed too far. This can happen a lot with beginners because they’re not aware of what their body’s limits are. Or sometimes a teacher applies an assist to their body that their body is simply not ready for. This is why it’s vital to become tuned into your own body and learn how to listen to it. Is the pain strictly common stretching pain or is it your body telling you something isn’t right and to back off? Your body is your own responsibility, so make sure you understand it. I can’t emphasize this enough. It will only benefit you in the long run and create more awareness within your individual practice.
Since I’ve mentioned it, I believe it’s important to address assists. When you take a class, there will often be teaching assistants (in larger classes) or the teacher themselves who will come around and assist students with their poses. The intent is to guide you into correct body engagement so that you can understand how the pose should feel, as well as understanding where your body is in space. This is often great; it has been very helpful for me in many situations to understand where my body should be in space in any given asana.
However, I have witnessed and personally experienced teachers or assistants pushing the student too far. There’s never malice behind the intention. I believe it comes from a lack of awareness of the human body and its response to manipulation. I know all too well how quickly a spasm or sprain can occur with the slightest wrong movement. Everyone’s body is built differently. What someone’s body can do, yours may not, and it can simply be due to an anatomical difference. Or maybe you’ve had an injury that you forgot to mention to your instructor that is now at risk for re-injury. The only way to prevent this is to know your body’s limits and what feels right and wrong for you. Don’t be afraid to let your instructor know that you don’t wish to be assisted if this is the case. They don’t wish to hurt you and you don’t want to leave a yoga class with a new injury.
Stretching the connective tissue requires patience and time. Without either, you won’t achieve desired results. (Interesting to note here that the more patience you have, the less time it will take.) Yin Yoga is great for inflexible people because of this aspect. Your body needs the time and space to open up. Your joints become strengthened while the mobility of them is highly improved. This makes your life so much easier when you attempt a vinyasa style yoga class. Keeping up with the class becomes easier because now you can move in a greater range of motion, increasing your speed while decreasing the effort of each movement. Yin also gives you time to practice your breathing while bringing presence into each stretch, which I’ve outlined as being key to improving flexibility faster. This is a big bonus to practicing Yin as a beginner.
I find Yin Yoga to be a meditative practice. It really allows you to slow your mind down and, through conscious breathing, engage in releasing your stress. In today’s world, which seems to be moving at lightning speeds compared to even just ten years ago, this is a major benefit. I think it’s safe to say we could all use some time to slow our lives down, and Yin Yoga provides a great avenue for it.
Finding My Teaching Niche
Knowing that Yin Yoga was making huge impacts on my flexibility as well as my students’ flexibility, I began to incorporate a fusion of both regular yoga styles and Yin into my practice. Having a balance of both allowed me to receive the benefits of both styles of yoga. I eventually stopped teaching classes, continuing to work privately with clients one-on-one or in mini-group settings. This allowed me to focus on the specific needs of my clients. Funnily, I often found myself working with mainly beginners who were very inflexible. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that way. The more I taught, the more I realized that I had the most joy when I worked with those who had the same flexibility struggles as I did. Maybe it was the empathetic connection. I knew how harsh we could be on ourselves and our bodies, and I wanted to help steer people away from that pain and instead learn how to accept their bodies as they were.
The more I worked with inflexible people, the more I realized the response was the same. Once they knew I too had struggled with severe inflexibility, they communicated hope for themselves. Where yoga was believed to be an impossible activity for their body, now they were inspired to try yoga with an open mind. Becoming more aware of just how prevalent the shame around inflexibility was, I started to wonder why it wasn’t addressed more openly. If inflexibility is such a prevalent issue, why isn’t the yoga community addressing it in a way that speaks to its inflexible audience?
The client that helped me understand just how important my discoveries were to helping others was a man in his late 50’s. I’ll never forget this client. He had called me up to book a massage. I went to his home and we discussed his back pain. I knew exactly where the problem resided and so we began the massage.
After the massage, he stated that his pain was almost gone and he could move around much more easily. He then asked me about yoga. It was something he had been interested in trying for a while. I explained how yoga could benefit the maintenance of his back and how it was a great preventative tool for his back pain. He admitted to liking the idea of yoga but then explained to me how he just wasn’t flexible enough for yoga. This common belief, held by many inflexible people, is a major reason why people don’t try yoga. They believe their bodies aren’t designed for yoga or capable of doing it.
He mentioned how in all of his life he had never been able to come close to touching his toes. I shared with him that I too used to be inflexible and unable to bend over past touching my shins. When I revealed this personal information, I noticed I piqued his curiosity. But then he went on to explain that his chiropractor had told him years ago that he’d never be flexible.
Now my curiosity was piqued! I asked him if there was something structural in his body that was preventing him from his flexibility and he replied no. He said that his chiropractor told him that some people just aren’t flexible and he was one of those people.
Okay. Let’s hit the pause button briefly. Suffice it to say this angered me. When I hear crap like this, I get really upset because my client now believed he could never be flexible, hence never attempting yoga (even though he was clearly interested). All because an authoritative figure on the body told him so. In my opinion, I found it to be highly irresponsible of this particular chiropractor to project such a belief onto his patient. This client was clearly interested in exploring the possibility of his flexibility but never took action based on the sole belief flexibility was never an option for him. This is a major reason why I’m writing this book. I know there are so many of you out there who believe flexibility is not within your reach, whether it was something you were explicitly told or not. Never let anyone project their limiting beliefs onto you and, more importantly, always allow yourself the possibility to explore and find out for yourself. Remember you’re the owner of your body. No one has to live in it but you, so the final say is always yours.
My reaction to my client’s confession was simple. I told him that that was crazy talk and that he could absolutely improve his flexibility. Since I’d just massaged him, I knew exactly where his flexibility issues resided. I asked him if he’d be interested in a private yoga session.
He responded excitedly with a yes but only if I believed he could do it. I was in awe at how much power he had given to this one doctor’s belief. He truly had no confidence in his own body’s capabilities.
Of course I believed he could do it. I told him that I would tailor the yoga routine to his body. I warned him that we might not get him touching his toes after one hour, but he would definitely see enough improvement to warrant his chiropractor wrong.
He accepted the challenge.
Two days later, we met again and I took him through a personalized practice that I knew would be easier on his back while maximizing his potential for increased flexibility. He was quite pleased with how quickly his body responded to the routine I took him through. I have to give credit where credit is due. He was diligent in following my breathing instructions, and I could tell he was putting forth every effort to follow my lead no matter how silly he may have felt. I knew that practicing in the comfort of his home without the risk of anyone else potentially judging him was allowing this to occur. His home was a safe environment to explore his flexibility in an intimidating activity. I was proud of his courage and intention to give this opportunity his full attention. I know how difficult facing limitations can be.
Just past the halfway mark of the routine, I knew he was ready to move into a standing forward fold. I wanted him to see how far he had already come only halfway through the practice. I knew reaching for the toes would be his best gauge of improvement since this was a benchmark he had never been able to achieve. As he bent forward into a standing forward fold to reach his toes, he used his breathing as I had taught him and slowly moved his upper body towards the floor. What followed, even I wasn’t expecting.
He was able to graze his big toe on one foot with his index and middle fingers. He looked up at me in disbelief. He told me that he never thought he’d ever be able to do this. It was the first time in his life he had ever touched his toes. I have to say, even I wasn’t expecting such expedient results. He stood up and exclaimed his disbelief with more excitement. He was grinning ear to ear. Then he went and touched his toes again, this time getting even further.
I can’t express how much joy it brings me to witness this moment. It’s such a privilege to be part of it because I know how monumental it can be. To push past any limitation that has been a longtime belief is an extraordinary feeling. It renews hope for possibilities that were once believed to be impossible. It’s an incredibly liberating feeling to witness your body moving in a way it never could before. Watching my client touch his toes over and over again with the same joy I had that night after the movie was infectious. I was filled with so much joy for him. He had broken through a barrier that would never hold him back again.
When I left his house that day, I knew that I had to share my revelations, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready. Even with such successes, can you believe I still struggled calling myself a yoga teacher? My Ego wanted me to believe I had to be some sort of yogi master before I could allow myself the comfort of calling myself a yoga teacher. This would never happen, however, because I didn’t care to learn every pose or how to teach them. My reasons for learning yoga were never about becoming an advanced yogi. It was never about the actual act of yoga for me. It was about nurturing my body and the experience it created within. I had no desire or need to be able to hold advanced yoga poses or teach them. I get why many do, though. It’s empowering to do something you once couldn’t. My empowerment didn’t lie in the strength-building poses, however. My empowerment was found in the subtleties of the nurturing aspect of yoga. The moments when it was just me and the acceptance of my body as it is, not how I wanted it to be. The problem was that I was finding it difficult to fit myself into the box of what I believed a yoga instructor to be. This insecurity and insufficiency was plaguing me, not as a student any longer, but as a teacher.
One morning, as I was sitting on my back porch with my morning coffee looking out to the sea, I had a thought cross my mind. What if I was never meant to be a yoga teacher in the typical sense I understood? Being completely honest with myself, I liked teaching yoga but I never got fully excited about it. My excitement and passion was rooted in helping inflexible people move past the physical, mental, and emotional barriers that prevented them from their own flexibility. This is where my joy resided as a teacher. Realizing this, I then asked myself, what if I was meant to teach something in a way that didn’t exist yet? Every struggle and experience I overcame on this journey lead me to this one point that now begged the question: Am I ready to show up?
When you set out on a path that takes you into your deepest fears, you’re provided opportunities that you may never have known to exist in the realm of possibility. This is how I felt about my own personal journey with yoga. I never knew that it would lead to this. I knew how intense the struggle of inflexibility was on a physical level and a mental and emotional level. Hindsight is 20/20, but now that I can look back I see the perfection of everything: my struggles with inflexibility and the shame and insufficiency that can accompany it; my early interest in the human body; my extensive massage therapy knowledge and experience with tissue manipulation and its response; and my journey with yoga. I saw how when it all came together it taught the greatest lesson of all: self-love. Knowing that so many others had similar struggles, it became obvious it was time to share my organic solution.
It took me so many years to gain enough courage to try yoga and be vulnerable enough to face my body shame head-on. I wish that I had someone to stand in my corner, share the same fears, and show me not only a compassionate way to overcome it all but that flexibility was not something that would elude me forever. To know there’s hope and that I don’t stand alone in my inflexible fears makes this journey worth every painful setback, every disappointment, and every tear that fell. What makes it even more special is knowing that I can now share the techniques and insights to help you gain not only the flexibility (on all levels) you desire, but also set you up for a more enjoyable experience in your practice should you wish to try yoga.
All of the blessings I received in my own journey have now become my service. I wish to pass on the gifts so that you too may find joy in your own inflexibility. To do so, I had to break the mold because there wasn’t a space for me to fit into as a yoga teacher or for you as a student. I’m creating it for us so that we can all sit in the seats of our own inflexible discomfort together and share the joy that is ultimately awaiting us all. So find your uncomfortable seat and let’s get started.

13
Why Yoga?
If you’re like me before I ever tried yoga, then you may be resisting yoga for multiple reasons. Becoming vulnerable with your physical incapabilities in a room of experienced yogis is less than ideal. So the big question becomes, why would you subject yourself to such a torturous experience?
The obvious starting point to discuss is increased flexibility. You can benefit from improving your physical flexibility. It’s great for injury prevention. As you get older, your body becomes more susceptible to injury. Not only are you more susceptible to injury, but the recovery process is usually longer and more frustrating. After I had finished my 200 hour yoga teacher training program, I had gone home to be with my family for the Christmas holidays. I had just spent thirty days in the heat and humidity and was eager to see some snow.
One day my brother, sister, and I drove up to a ski resort to try snowboarding. We were all newbies at it and thought it’d be a fun experience to learn together. I had been skiing since I was six, but snowboarding was a completely different animal. So after renting all of our equipment, we headed over to the bunny hill for our lesson. After about half an hour of our lesson, which took place on the flat ground, we were instructed to go to the top of the hill.
At the top we had a new instructor, but she was busy trying to help a very large group before us down the hill. It was going to be a while before she was able to assist us. Still waiting for my brother and sister to get to the top of the hill, I turned towards three guys who were in my lesson. After a quick discussion, everyone agreed we could probably go down ourselves. I mean, it was a bunny hill. How hard could it really be? What damage could possibly ensue on such a tiny hill?
Making my way down the hill, it became very apparent how different snowboarding and skiing were, at least for my body. Having both of my feet locked onto one board was throwing my balance off. My instincts were rooted in skiing, and I didn’t know how to respond with both feet strapped down to the same board. I felt trapped. Before I was less than halfway down the hill, I had toed into the snow too far forward, causing me to be thrown down the hill. To break my fall, I naturally stuck my right hand out. Big mistake. As my hand hit the snow, I felt my right shoulder pop out and somehow pop back in as I rolled continuously forward. In shock, I hadn’t felt any pain, but I was so embarrassed. Trying to get up as fast as I could, I quickly realized that my shoulder wasn’t having it. Although it was still mobile, the pain was already setting in.
That accident abruptly ended my afternoon on the hill. I was left in the chalet alone to wait until my brother and sister were done. By the end of the day, my shoulder had completely frozen, becoming 100% immobile. Any slight movement caused me excruciating pain. Even the wind blowing caused me to wince. The pain was so bad that I was unable to sleep that night. I knew I had to get my shoulder looked at immediately by a professional.
Two days later, I went to a chiropractor who treated me with acupuncture and ART (active release technique). After the treatment, he re-checked the range of motion of my shoulder and both of us were shocked at how much improvement there was from only one treatment. I told him I’d be back in a couple of days. After two more treatments, I gained back almost full range of motion in my shoulder. My chiropractor couldn’t believe it. Shoulder injuries are one of the slowest to heal. So why had my shoulder healed so quickly?
The only plausible reason was my yoga. I had just spent every day for a month intensely practicing yoga. I knew that yoga had substantially strengthened the ligaments of my shoulder joint, which is the most unstable joint in our body. This injury and recovery had proven to me how effective yoga can be for the health of our joints. Not only had I recovered rapidly, but I was sure that had I not been practicing yoga for a month prior, my shoulder would’ve likely fully dislocated from my fall. Instead, I only suffered a subluxation. A consistent yoga practice can improve the health of your joints for day-to-day activities and, in the event of injury, decrease its impact while improving your recovery time.
By improving your flexibility with a combination of yin and yang yoga styles, you strengthen your joints while increasing the range of motion, allowing you to move better. If you’re an athlete, this will enhance your performance. If you’re a runner, you’ll run faster because your hips will open up, allowing for a longer stride. Golfers can expect a more effortless swing, creating better accuracy when driving a golf ball. Gym goers or CrossFitters will gain more strength by training the entire muscle belly at improved ranges of motion while improving muscle recovery times. The list is endless. The point is that improved flexibility will not only help to prevent you from getting more injuries, but it enhances your performance levels at any age.
What if you’re not an active person? How does flexibility help you physically? If you sit or stand for long periods of time in your job, then you absolutely benefit from increasing your flexibility. Back pain is one of the most common forms of pain, especially if you’re not as active. The spine is one of the greatest indicators of your age, so keeping a healthy spine is paramount to maintaining your youth. Through my discoveries, I learned how vital stretching was to supporting the health of my back. If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know that when your back is out, everything else becomes next to impossible to accomplish. The spine is the hub of your body, and it becomes quite difficult to isolate any movement without involving the spine. Improving your spinal flexibility through various yin and yang yoga poses will prevent/limit future injuries while making it easier to sit and stand for prolonged periods of time. In addition, particular poses will improve hydration to the discs between each vertebra. As you age, your discs lose their hydration; back pain is associated with intervertebral disc degeneration. By engaging your body in specific yoga poses, you can help to improve the hydration of your discs, maintaining the youth and vitality of your spine for a longer time.
There is definitely a misconception that yoga is designed more for the female body than the male body. A lot of men believe flexibility isn’t something they are meant to have, and so there’s an automatic disassociation between them and yoga. Luckily, that belief is losing its strength as the number of men showing up in yoga studios is on the rise. Unfortunately, that number is still low in relation to women practicing yoga. Men, you need to step up your game. Yes, yoga is for you, too. Yoga has been traditionally practiced by men, and many of yoga’s most historically influential teachers--B.K.S. Iyengar, K. Pattabhi Jois, and T. Krishnamacharya, to name a few--were men. Many modern male athletes have made yoga a part of their daily routine. In fact, many athletes use it not just as a preventative tool against injury but also as a way to increase the life expectancy of their careers. Believe me, as an experienced massage therapist, I’ve witnessed how improving or maintaining your flexibility through the act of consistent yoga or stretching can be one of your body’s greatest tools in injury prevention.
Whether you’re someone who’s active or not, yoga provides many benefits, and being flexible is not just about how far your body can bend. Although the physical benefits may be your only interest at this time, you’ll also find benefits extending beyond them. As I’ve said before, a flexible mind allows for a flexible body. The mental expansion that accompanies the upcoming Four Fundamentals of Flexibility is beneficial to everyone, flexible or not.
You’re an expansive being living in a world filled with infinite possibilities. If you’re unwilling to see other perspectives by being too set in your ways, you end up preventing yourself from seizing unforeseen opportunities when they do come knocking. Keeping your mind open to other possibilities prepares you not just for the physical shifts that will follow but the internal shift of expanding beyond your own self-imposed limits. This is the breeding ground for your greatness. In a world where many of us live in limitation, expanding your flexibility teaches you how to start living less out of fear and more out of love.
By bringing yoga into your life, you are giving yourself the opportunity to nurture your body, mind, and soul. Nurturing yourself seems like an obvious necessity, but many of us fail to do so. This was one of my hardest lessons to learn. Living in a world that asks us to put our bodies last, you may work long hours, get less sleep, endure high stress daily, eat out of convenience, push your body to physical extremes, and never think about how the culmination of these factors equates to abuse. We abuse our bodies day in and day out and expect they will continue to run like well-oiled machines. It’s time to open our hearts and learn how to be kind to our bodies, not just as individuals but as a community. Your body is your only vehicle for maneuvering through this life. In a world that constantly asks you to push forward, it’s vital to make the time to stop pushing your body and start nurturing. It’s not just an act of kindness towards your body, it is an act of self-love.
As you begin to nurture your body, you also begin to water the seeds of wisdom. You create more awareness of your body, which in turn begins a process of revealing your own innate wisdom. How does this happen? When you become more aware of your body through how it responds in stretching and yoga, you are listening. Your senses are heightened by tuning into how your body moves, how it doesn’t, how some areas are more painful than others, how breath affects your body’s potential, and so on. When you tune into your body instead of demanding from it, you are presented with an opportunity to listen. This was an incredible discovery for me. I’m truly amazed at how much insight is available to me through my body. I’m a thinker and a bit of a control freak, so I always feel that I need to think my way through something to get to the answer. Instead, I learned that the answers are often already within. This is likely not the first time you’ve heard this. I’m not conveying anything groundbreaking to you, but I never knew that my body was a tool for revealing the internal teacher that resides in us all. This is available to you. The reason why it can show up for you more so as an inflexible person is that your body literally slows you down. Moving slowly is your only viable option. It becomes necessary to allow the space and time for your body to be ready. Listening becomes paramount or not much will happen. So you see, your inflexible body has its advantages.
These gifts of wisdom that your body can help impart to you will be tools in your toolbox forever. All you need is you. And a willingness to explore your flexibility on all levels: body, mind, and soul. Your inflexibility will help guide you to the deepest parts of you if you’re ready. The greatest treasures are often the ones hiding in the places none of us want to go. You’ve already found the courage to pick up this book, so I encourage you to keep going. I’m here with you every step of the way.

14
The Four Fundamentals of Flexibility
As an inflexible person, finding the courage to move past the intimidations of yoga can be daunting. Your mission is never made easier when the yoga world sells you flexibility via complicated yoga poses. I continuously shake my head at media ads, Instagram accounts, and articles using complex yoga poses as the path for us to take towards flexibility. Let’s get very real here for a moment. If you’re selling an inflexible person “flexibility” with just a few “simple” yoga poses that look like human pretzels, then you have no clue as to how we are wired mentally, emotionally, or physically. To keep things very simple (as one should when teaching us any sort of yoga), we don’t bend well. Some of the simplest acts, such as sitting crossed-legged on the floor, are difficult and painful to get into. Besides, as I’ve learned, the poses are only tools. The efficacy comes through how you choose to engage yourself in each pose. Engagement starts by knowing your fundamentals.
Before you begin any yoga or stretching routine, you’ll want to address four key fundamentals. If you don’t address these in the beginning, you’ll likely struggle and perhaps even give up. We don’t want that. As I mentioned before, the struggle doesn’t need to be a part of this process, but it’ll show up from time to time. Fear not, because that’s why I’m here with you.
Fear
“F-E-A-R has two meanings:
‘Forget Everything And Run’
or
‘Face Everything And Rise’
The choice is yours.”
Zig Ziglar
 
It’s time to ask yourself what are your greatest fears around your inflexibility. What intimidates you and prevents you from exploring it in a public setting, such as a class, or at all? For me, my greatest fear was exposing my incapabilities. I didn’t want anyone to know I sucked at stretching. I was convinced I would look like an absolute eyesore while engaged in yoga and wanted to spare everyone and myself the torture. I was an overachiever and couldn’t bear the humiliation. This may also be the case for you, but perhaps it’s something different. If you’re a man, perhaps you believe flexibility is a female attribute and that practicing yoga will affect your masculinity. Or maybe, male or female, you’re afraid of being insufficient--not good enough to practice yoga. Whatever that fear is, you need to isolate it and call it out. Allowing it to hide in the dark will only give it power over you. If I had allowed my fear to continue controlling my actions, I would’ve never discovered the one thing that has ultimately brought the most joy into my life.
If nothing comes to mind right away, then you may want to sit with it for awhile. Find a quiet place in your home or outside in nature, and sit in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and sit with the intention of uncovering your fear around your inflexibility. Remember that setting intentions sets the tone for your actions. If you think this step is silly, you most likely need this. Don’t judge it, just try it. It’s part of getting flexible in your mind so that you can get flexible in your body.
Once you’ve uncovered your fear or fears around your inflexibility, you can now keep it in the light. Don’t worry about the reasons why you have this fear. All you need to do is acknowledge it. Remember, you’re not your fear. You’re the witness to your fear. You may want to judge your fear, calling it silly or ridiculous and brush it aside as if it’s unbelievable to own such a fear. This isn’t the best action to take. Your job isn’t to decide how great or little your fear is. Your job is simply to acknowledge it and witness it. It’ll come in handy at times so keep it where you can see it. Pay attention to it and allow it to float around as you continue forward with your flexible journey.
As you move through different stretches and yoga poses, you’ll be uniting your mind and body together through breath. Your fears may come up in subtle or blatant ways. Pay attention and listen. This is when your internal teacher comes forth with insight readily available to you. The only way you can receive such insight is when you’re the witness, not the judge. When you’re judging, you’re listening to the Ego, and the Ego has one intention: to keep you exactly where it wants you, under the control of your fear. So move forward as the witness with compassion, an open mind, and an open heart. Your body will follow
Acceptance
“A moment of radical acceptance is a moment of genuine freedom”
Tara Brach
 
This was a hard one for me to learn, but once I did, the results were monumental. As physically inflexible people, we often approach our bodies from a state of wishfulness. We wish we could just touch our toes. We wish we could move with a little more grace. We wish we could get into that one pose that everyone else can. We wish we were lucky enough to be born with flexibility. We are never present with our bodies, accepting them in any given moment just as they are.
Acceptance is a form of unconditional love. Not accepting your body for how it is at any given time is a form of body hate. It’s also an act of inflexibility. You must learn to be flexible in the acceptance of your body at every stage of the journey. When you become accepting of your body and its degree of capability within any given stretch or movement, you can appreciate yourself. It makes your journey not just tolerable but fascinating to witness.
Remember when I was continuously falling out of Tree Pose and responded with anger towards myself? I was judging my body for not being able to hold a pose. As soon as I switched gears to accepting my body and recognizing that if I needed to fall it was okay, my body responded with confidence and strength, maintaining the pose. When you engage in any stretch or pose, it’s crucial to always be okay with where your body is in that given moment. At times you may find yourself experiencing setbacks in your flexibility. Always respond with acceptance. Be okay with it. Like I mentioned before, when you’re not loudly judging yourself, then you’re quietly listening to your body. Your body has much to teach you. There are hidden gems and nuggets of gold buried deep within that will provide you with the lessons and insights you’re looking for but may not consciously be aware of yet. Physically, you’ll find your muscles and connective tissues responding with a melting effect. Think of your body as ice and your acceptance as the heat. The more heat you offer, the more the ice will melt, giving way to the fluidity of water--your flexibility. When there’s ease in your mind and heart, there’ll be ease in your body.
Remember this at every moment of engagement--accept your body as it is. Despite the resistance you may encounter, approach any stretch or yoga pose with the ease of acceptance. You’ll be rewarded with muscles and ligaments that lengthen, giving you the flexibility you desire. The results will come quickly. In some cases, the results may come so quickly it might scare you.
I remember a time I was in a Yin Yoga pose called Winged Dragon. This is a basic resting forward lunge pose but with a twist. Your front knee is winging out to the side while your back knee is resting on the floor. Think Butterfly meets Forward Lunge. I continuously met with a lot of resistance in this pose. My hips never wanted to open enough to allow my knee to fall further towards the floor.
One day while I was engaging my body in this pose, I softened my mind with acceptance of where my hips were opening up to. If this was as far as they were willing to go, then this is where I was going to be. Instead of judging my body for where it wasn’t, I chose to be present with my body and breathe mindfully into the hip area. It didn’t take long before there was a click in the joint as the hip bone (femur head) gave way to the gravity of my winged knee, allowing my hip to open so much that my knee moved inches closer to the floor. The movement was so drastic that it took me by surprise. I wasn’t prepared for that kind of movement when moments before it felt like my hip couldn’t budge any further. My reaction was to come out of the pose immediately. I thought perhaps I may have injured my hip joint, torn a ligament, or done something else that would explain the unexpected and drastic movement. I had to move my hip around to make sure it was okay before I went back into the pose. Once I did, I hit the same sticky point again where my hip had originally stopped. But in seconds I felt that click again and it allowed the hip to fully open. I wondered if maybe there was scar tissue that my hip bone needed to move over. Regardless of the reason, it had to be a slow and steady movement. To this day, I still encounter that click every time I move into this pose. It’s my body. It’s how my body moves and it’s how my one hip adjusts. Now when I encounter the click, it’s a reminder that my body is uniquely mine and I’m grateful for it.
There’s no way to predict how much your body will open up to its flexibility until you arrive there. Be prepared to be surprised. Your body is capable of more than you give it credit for so long as you give it the space to do so. Have the patience and the willingness to be present with your body every step of the way. Resist the temptation to future step and to wish for being somewhere your body isn’t able to go yet. The operative word is yet. It will happen as long as you can accept your body.
“We never noticed the beauty because we were too busy trying to create it”
- Author Unknown
 
Accepting your body as it is can be a very profound moment. I remember the moment I clued into how important body acceptance was, not just to my own practice but as a life lesson. When the light’s shining in one room of a house, it’s hard for that light to not spill over into other rooms. Like a domino effect, you’ll find yourself drawing upon many instances in your life where acceptance would’ve served you better than resistance. For example, learning to accept my body as it is in any given pose, regardless of how I may look or feel in it, highlighted the very important lesson in my life to enjoy every moment as it is, not as I want it to be. If you’re a bit of a control freak like me, you’ll hit this lesson many times.
When I sat in a seated spinal twist and turned off my need to twist my spine as far as I could, I was no longer focused on the end point or where I wanted my spine to be. I was present in my body and the depth of the twist in that moment. This allowed me to focus on the twisting motion. That’s how I discovered that my breath could actually move my spine without me doing anything. As I sat there breathing deeply, I was amazed at how my spine responded to my breath pattern. The inhale opened the spaces between each vertebra and the exhale closed the gap, gently squeezing the spine into a deeper twist. I was learning how different areas of my body moved without me forcing the movement, all because I chose to accept where my body was in the moment.
I found great joy in these discoveries. Maybe I enjoyed this process because I’m an anatomy nerd, but I also believe that on some level we’re all interested in learning more about our own individual bodies. Acceptance brought me into the present and allowed me to enjoy it for what it was, nothing more or less. More importantly, acceptance drove out the shame of my inflexibility and replaced it with gratitude. It’s an exceptional moment when you can see the beauty in the one thing you considered to be the ugliest part of you.
Mindful Breathing
"The wisest one-word sentence? Breathe."
Terri Guillemets
 
Breathing. It’s literally your life force. How you breathe can dramatically change your body’s response system deep down to a cellular level. It’s also your vehicle of wisdom. Think of of it like your own personal magic carpet ride. If you allow it to, your breath can transport you to higher levels of consciousness, opening you up to the inherent wisdom that has always resided in you. You’re already the wisest version of yourself; you just haven’t tapped into it yet. Integrating the mind and body through your breath will awaken your internal teacher. Your internal teacher is ultimately you; this inner voice of innate wisdom holds the answers you seek, consciously and unconsciously.
Mindful breathing is intentional breathing. Before you begin any stretch or yoga movement, it’s vital to turn off autopilot breathing and turn on mindful breathing. Your breath will be the bridge between your mind and body, uniting the two so that they can share seamless communication. This is vital because the body will follow what the mind is doing. Flexible mind, flexible body.
Your breath will also be your anchor. Keeping you present in your body and mind, mindful breathing will prevent you from drifting off to sea in an ocean of distractions. If you’re distracted, you’re not going to achieve the results you desire. I promise you that. Having a heightened sense of awareness of how your body feels in each stretch or pose will help imprint the pose onto your brain for future reference, allowing you to become aware not just of the miniscule movements occurring but also of any insights your body is trying to communicate to you. When you’re distracted, you have essentially shut the door on yourself. No one likes a door slammed in their face so don’t do it to yourself. Keep the door open because you never know what insightful gifts may show up on your doorstep.
Lastly, your breath will be the driving force in substantially increasing your flexibility. Learning how to breathe into the area receiving the stretch (directed breathing) will single-handedly improve your results dramatically. I cannot stress this fact enough. Learn how to do this. Requiring some visual work and imagination on your part, deeper breathing alone will begin to increase the flexibility of your spine and ribcage. For an inflexible person, this area is very important in improving overall flexibility. First, you’ll allow the lungs more space to expand on your inhale, allowing more oxygen into your bloodstream. This not only invigorates the life of your body on a cellular level but also on an emotional and mental level. Second, a more flexible spine and ribcage will serve as a starting point for the rest of the body. Starting from the center and moving outwards is the best way to get faster and lasting results.
If you haven’t worked with your breathing techniques before, it’s time to start. Your breath is a key component to improving your flexibility, therefore you’ll want to nail this down before you begin any stretching. The last thing I want for you is to enter this journey aimlessly. Always have your purpose and intention intact and at the forefront of anything you do. Every inhale you take is an opportunity to expand your flexibility, and every exhale you release is an opportunity to embrace your flexibility. Think of your breath like your very own personal hug. Your inhale is your hug invitation, opening your arms as wide as you can, and your exhale is your hug embraced, wrapping yourself up in self-love. Kind of cool, if you ask me.
So let’s try this together. Find a position that you can comfortably sit in. It doesn’t need to be on the floor. Find a chair if you need it. Sit tall with your shoulders back and spine long. You can do this by lifting from the crown of your head as if someone is pulling on a string from the top of your head while you slightly tuck your chin under. As you inhale, draw the breath in through your nose, sending the air deep into your belly. As you exhale, gently push the air out from the bottom of your belly upwards, breathing out through your mouth. Repeat this several times until you feel comfortable with it. If this is your first time breathing this way, then it may feel uncomfortable in the beginning. As you become more comfortable, your breathing will begin to deepen and lengthen. Once you have this breathing pattern locked in, you can then move to the visualization technique required to send the breath to any area being stretched.
Using the standing forward fold stretch as an example again, let’s try this together so that there’s no misunderstanding going forward:
1. Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your hands at your side, palms facing forward.
2. As you draw in a deep inhale (through your nose), sweep your arms up into the air above your head.
3. As you exhale (out through the mouth), engage your core muscles (contract your abs as if you are pulling the top of your ribcage down towards your belly button), and fold forward, reaching for your toes.
4. On your next inhale, imagine the breath going directly into your hamstrings (the back of your thighs). With each inhale, do you notice the hamstring muscles stretching a little bit more? It’s almost as if the hamstrings are expanding.
5. Exhale slowly. As you release the exhale as slowly as possible through your mouth, envision your hamstrings relaxing and lengthening, allowing you the space to get closer to your toes or deeper into the stretch.
6. Continue to repeat steps 4 and 5 multiple times until you have full awareness of how your directed breathing impacts the stretch response of your muscles.
Note: Keeping your core muscles engaged at all times while in any forward flexion of the spine is key to protecting the lower back from injury. It removes any potential strain on the discs between each vertebra as well as on the muscles in the low back area.
Did you notice a difference in how your hamstrings responded to stretching with directed breathing versus without it? The intention truly makes the action better, creating superior results. Every single time you practice mindful breathing with the intention of directing that breath to the area being stretched, you’ll achieve noticeable results. And fast. If you become distracted and forget to do this, you’ll likely be disappointed as the results will be far less superior. Don’t waste your time. As the saying goes, “You only get out what you put in. Don’t expect more until you do more.”
Speaking of expectations, you’ll also want to follow this rule: act without expectations. It may seem odd since this whole book is dedicated to helping you achieve results that are quick and successful, but the trick is not to expect them. These methods will gain you flexibility faster, but placing expectations on the body creates that “push” factor, the last thing an inflexible person wants to bring into any stretch. Remember that it’s about the journey, not the end point. Find the joy in your journey and the rest will fall into place. The joy comes from being present through your breath, witnessing yourself without judgment, and accepting your body at any given stage of your flexibility.
Compassion
“How you speak to yourself changes everything”
Unknown
 
Be kind to yourself. I’m a victim of not following this fundamental principle on many occasions. I witness it all the time with students, too, especially inflexible ones. Trying with difficulty to contort your body into a position that others move into seamlessly is exhausting and disappointing. In the beginning I found that I was constantly berating myself as I looked around the class, comparing my beginning to other people’s middle. Let’s be honest; I’m not going to tell you not to look at others while in a yoga class, focusing only on yourself. The truth is you will have to watch others. How else are you going to learn what you’re supposed to do? Not only are you learning the positioning of the body in each pose but also the names of each pose in Sanskrit, a language likely bearing no resemblance to your own. You need to match the visual with the audio.
The difficulty lies in resisting the urge to compare yourself to others. When a teacher asks you not to look at your neighbor but to focus on your individual practice, what they really should say is don’t compare yourself to your neighbor. As a beginner you will need to look at others, but can you sit in a seat of non-judgment towards both yourself and the person you are learning from?
Compassion for yourself at all times will help you find the flexibility you desire much more quickly than judgment will. Compassion creates allowance while judgment creates a block or resistance. Any form of resistance is not your friend. When you do catch yourself in a state of judgment, witness it, release it, and move on. Don’t make yourself feel bad for judging others or yourself. Guilt is a nasty trick the Ego uses to prevent you from moving forward with compassion, or moving forward at all. It’s simply another form of judgment. So, be the compassionate witness to your body and its capabilities at any given moment. When you do have moments of judgment (because you’re human and you will), witness it, release it, and move forward with compassion again.
These are my Four Fundamentals of Flexibility. They are now in your toolbox forever and will come in handy time and time again, both on and off the yoga mat. As I’m sure you can see, these fundamentals can be applied to many areas of your life.
Fear is your friend as long as you keep it in the light. This keeps you in the driver’s seat and in full command of how you make your choices in life. Instead of your choices representing your fears, they can now represent your deepest desires and hopes. That’s empowerment.
Acceptance maintains harmony. It demonstrates maturity, an understanding that you can’t control everything. Letting go opens you up to possibilities bigger than the ones your self-imposed limitations hold space for. Instead of resisting, you are now flowing in harmony with the guiding energies that ultimately are supporting you.
Mindful breathing is the gateway to your internal teacher. Your innate wisdom awaits you. Instead of looking for answers outside of yourself, turn inwards, tune into your breath, and listen. Every intentional breath is an opportunity towards expansion, allowing you the space and time to receive the insights your internal teacher has to offer.
Compassion is the ultimate form of love. Have compassion for yourself and others in all of your encounters. If you find yourself judging, witness it and then release it. Be kind always, and you’ll watch your relationships with others--and most importantly, yourself--flourish.
Use these Four Fundamentals of Flexibility at any time and all times. Use them well. They will serve you with expanded flexibility of your body, mind, and soul. You may find yourself confronting unanticipated hidden issues, buried deep down. Remember that bringing them into the light with these tools offers you a chance to learn more about yourself, move past your blocks, and lead a more enriched and meaningful life. Go at your own pace and listen to your body. Your own journey awaits you.

15
How To Survive Your 1st Yoga Class
The time has arrived. You’re equipped with the Four Fundamentals of Flexibility and now you want to put them into action. It’s time to attend your first yoga class. I know how intimidating this experience can be and remember mine like it was yesterday. However, I’m going to help you manage your experience so that you’re in a position to leave the class feeling good about yourself, not defeated like I did.
Why Your Body Is Struggling
I didn’t have the body awareness in my first yoga experience that I do now. Heck, I didn’t have a lot of things that we’ll discuss, but body awareness is an important step in understanding your yoga experience. Understanding why your body is in pain or doesn’t move with certain poses and transitions will help make some of the inevitable frustrations you’ll face easier to manage. It’s important to note that, to any experienced yogi, the areas I highlight may seem very basic. Don’t take your current flexibility for granted. To an inflexible beginner, these basics are real struggles and a great importance lies in understanding their value. Let’s take a look at the main culprits that will hinder an inflexible person’s experience.
The Spine and Ribs
The spine and ribs are the hub of your body when it comes to increasing your flexibility. When I was still in massage therapy college, we were asked to bend forward to measure the degree of flexion of our spines. I remember my classmate gasping at me when he was measuring my flexion. He told me that a segment of my spine (my lower thoracic) literally did not bend. I sarcastically thanked him for not hiding his reaction from me. It didn’t help since I already felt like an inflexible freak. Luckily, I later found compassion in my yoga practice and learned how to unlock my spine.
In any yoga class, you’ll inevitably find yourself practicing spinal twists. As a beginner, the majority of your spinal twists will likely be done in a resting position. If you’re in a twist while in a resting lunge, you may fall over or lose your balance to some degree. Remember that if you fall at any point out of a pose, reward yourself with compassion and gently try again. You’ll probably be holding yourself to the highest standards, but it’s important to have compassion for your body and its capabilities in that moment.
Spinal twists are great for increasing the space between the vertebrae. You have tiny little muscles and ligaments in there that, when stretched, will ease your spine tremendously. One of the greatest ways to do this is through your breath. Pay close attention to how your spine twists and untwists with your breathing. Mindful breathing will drastically enhance your spinal twist experience while helping you to gain more flexibility in your spine.
When you get to a standing forward fold (touching your toes), you may look around to see that some people can place the palms of their hands flat on the floor. I know. It’s not fair. Try not to compare yourself with others, though. Instead, allow me to indulge you in a little trick that will get you closer to your toes. When you bend over towards the floor, bend from your hips, not your waist. It’s a common mistake many beginners make, but now you’ll know better. Some of your inflexibility is simply due to improper technique! Try it now. See if it works.
First, bend forward to touch your toes as you normally would. Note your range of flexibility. Next, try bending from your hips. Place your hands on your hips to give you an idea of where to bend. As you bend forward, keep your back as flat as possible (like a tabletop). It helps to look forward (not at the floor) as you do this. Once you get as far as you can maintaining that tabletop spine, allow your spine to curl forward into flexion, bringing you even closer to the floor. Drop your gaze to the floor or behind you. It instantly gets you closer. You see? You’re already more flexible than you thought! Would you like another belief-buster? Many people believe that tight hamstrings are the main culprit in being unable to touch the toes. Although these muscles do play a role, they’re not your main problem. Your spine is. I have experimented with this belief and always find that once the spine becomes more flexible, the action of reaching to touch the toes is far more improved than when one simply stretches out the hamstrings. Even to this day, I can wake up stiff and unable to touch my toes, but within five minutes of spinal stretching and movements I am back down to the floor with my hands.
This brings me to another important point. Your flexibility will have good days and not-so-good days. Depending on how often you are practicing your stretching or yoga and how active you are, it may seem that your flexibility is regressing back to an earlier level. Don’t stress when this happens. It happens all the time to me. The body has excellent stretch memory, and you’ll find as you re-engage your body in a stretching routine that it will rebound much faster than it did when you first started. Many times it can take as little as 15 minutes of focused stretching and movement to regain flexibility.
The final spinal tip I can give you is for Upward Facing Dog and Downward Facing Dog. Combining these two poses and moving skillfully from one to the other is fantastic for your spine. The flexion and extension movement of the spine is incredibly improved with consistent use of Up Dog and Down Dog. In Up Dog, it feels like your lower back is being compressed. Allow the lower back to melt into this compression. You can do so by keeping your belly soft (not contracted). Keeping the belly soft will enhance the lower back compression, giving you a little more extension in the spine. I often get mini self-spinal adjustments when I do this and it feels great. In Down Dog, make sure to press both hands fully into the floor with your fingers spread wide apart. Not only will this prevent you from wrist pain in the future (this can happen from improper Down Dog technique), but it will help lengthen your spine. Be very aware of your spine in these positions because if you bring your mindful breathing into both of these and do them often, you will see very fast results in your spinal flexibility.
The ribs also play an important role in your flexibility and your yoga experience. As your spine becomes more flexible, so do your ribs. This is due to the joint of each rib at the spine. To enhance your experience I have mentioned the importance of mindful breathing. Every time you breathe, your ribs move. The deeper your breath, the more movement your ribs make. Now if your rib muscles and joints are tight, it will be difficult to breathe deeply. This is where practice, practice, and more practice come into play. Increasing flexibility at the spinal joints as well as increasing the space between the ribs can enhance your flexibility progress substantially, simply due to the fact that you have more space to breathe into. The deeper your breath, the more engaged your body and mind can be.
Child’s pose is a great pose for beginners to tune into their rib flexibility. While kneeling on the floor, bring your forehead towards the floor (or have it rest on a rolled towel/pillow if your forehead cannot reach the floor comfortably), and sit back on the heels of your feet. Your arms can be extended in front of you with the palms resting on the floor. If you need a pillow to place between your heels and buttocks, use it. It’s very common for you not to be able to sit on the heels yet if you’re inflexible.
Once you settle into this position, begin your mindful breathing, directing your inhale into your back ribs and then side ribs. Notice how the inhale expands the back ribs and then side ribs apart from one another, and how on the exhale your chest begins to relax further towards the floor. Continue doing this for at least one minute. All of your awareness is on the back ribs and side ribs expanding and your chest (heart) relaxing closer to the floor as you breathe more and more deeply.
As a beginner (or even as an advanced practitioner), you should always feel free to move into this position when you need a rest from the class. When you find yourself here, remember the engagement you just learned. You will most likely feel gratitude for the reprieve this restful pose can bring. Surrender into the pose fully as it’s a great grounding pose, connecting your forehead (your third eye) with the earth (ground).
The Hip Flexors
The hip flexors are comprised of two smaller muscles. One muscle starts at the back (lower spine) and crosses through the hip to the front of your body. The other muscle is one of four muscles located in the quadriceps (the front of your thigh). The majority of your flexibility problems will likely stem from the hip flexors. Sitting and standing for long periods of time and constant physical training keep these two muscles pulled as tight as a rubber band.
When your hip flexors are tight, you’ll find difficulty with a variety of poses, but to start small you will simply struggle to sit upright. That’s right. Sitting on the floor will be a struggle. I know. It’s not fair. Whether you’re sitting with your legs crossed (if you manage to get into a cross-legged position) or with your legs straight out in front of you, it will be difficult to hold your spine up straight. Remember how I mentioned my Pilates experience and how exhausting it was to sit upright without slouching? Or how my legs were shaking? This is why. For such tiny muscles, these suckers pack a punch. It doesn’t matter how strong your core muscles are (which are what should be holding your spine up). If your hip flexors are tight, you’ll struggle. So when you find yourself sitting on the floor and breaking a sweat when others are taking their break, understand that once you are able to stretch those hip flexors out you, too, will be able to sit on the floor in bliss.
Does it seem defeating already that you should expect to find sitting on the floor a sweat-breaker? Find comfort in knowing that at least you now know why. Find even more comfort in knowing that you’re not doomed to struggle with this forever.
One of the greatest stretches for your hip flexors is a resting forward lunge. It’s why I used it often in this book. The problem is that the knee that is resting on the floor will be in agony. When I first started, I couldn’t bear to have my knees resting directly on my thin yoga mat. I had to double up the mat (actually triple) or use a folded blanket or towel to rest my knee on. This case didn’t last forever. Once I increased the flexibility of my hip flexors, I was able to rest my knees on the floor without any extra padding. Unless you have a major knee injury, this will likely be the case for you as well. How does the knee become pain-free by stretching the hip flexors? The quadriceps are comprised of four muscles on the front of your thigh. Each muscle has its own action, but they all converge to attach to a major tendon which crosses the knee joint, resulting in knee extension as one of this muscle group’s actions. Your hip flexor muscle that belongs to this group of four is called Rectus Femoris. It’s the only one out of the four that’s responsible for hip flexion. When you relieve the tension on this muscle, it in turn relieves the pressure on the major tendon crossing the knee. Until you increase your hip flexor flexibility, make things easier for yourself and bring a towel to your first yoga class. Your knees will thank you.
Speaking of lunges, depending on which class you take, you may find yourself moving from a Downward Facing Dog into a lunge or a Warrior pose. If you’re as inflexible as I was, you will inevitably fail at making this transition in one attempt. This is an exhausting one because it really slows you down in a class. Your hips just aren’t flexible enough to make the leap yet. As I mentioned earlier in this book, you will probably have to pick your foot up from the midpoint of your mat (where your foot will usually land) and move it to the front. Your hip flexors and surrounding ligaments are too tight to lift the leg forward on their own. If you find yourself picking your foot up to move it forward, then it’s likely because your hip flexors are too tight. Once you gain some flexibility, though, you can expect this movement to become fluid and less exhausting. Until then, be prepared to move slower than the pace of the instructor. It’s okay. You’ll get there. It’ll just take some dedicated focus on increasing your hip flexor flexibility.
Poses or stretches that are key to improving the hip flexor flexibility are: Warriors 1 and 2, Butterfly, and all resting forward lunges (Yin: Dragon Flying High/Low, Baby Dragon, Winged Dragon, Cat Pulling Its Tail). There are others but these are your most valuable stretches. These are the ones that will have the most impact and bang for your buck. Keep in mind that these can be painful, so it’ll be imperative to incorporate your mindful breathing at all times. The breathing will anchor your mind away from the pain, allowing for the pain to come forward and pass. As long as you focus on that pain, you’ll be in “resistance mode” and that mode is anti-flexibility mode. Don’t fight the pain, gently breathe into it.
 
The Hips in General
We discussed the hip flexors specifically, but the hips in general are crucial to your flexibility pains and gains. Any muscle that flexes, extends, or rotates your hips is part of this discussion. Improving the flexibility of your hips lowers your incidence of back pain dramatically. It also helps you to move more easily as you transition between poses. Poses you will want to focus on for healthier hips in general are Pigeon (or Sleeping Swan in Yin Yoga) and both Square and Shoelace (Yin Yoga poses). These three poses do wonders for opening up your hips and with dedicated focus can also ease/prevent back pain when done in conjunction with the hip flexor openers.
I mention the hips to give you a tiny heads up on something you may never expect. The hips, believe it or not, house a lot of stored emotions. I know that not everyone will believe this, but take it from someone who has worked with the body for over 15 years; I have witnessed many random emotional breakdowns on my table while massaging both men and women. Our muscles may store emotions we haven’t dealt with over time. Stress is stored in our muscles, and if you’ve ever had a massage, you know this. Yoga is a form of massage in that your muscles and connective tissues are being manipulated by how you stretch your body. In yoga, you will be guided into various hip opening poses. As you continue to work on the hips more and more, you may unlock emotions that were buried long ago. If this happens, you may have an emotional reaction such as sadness or anger. Don’t be alarmed. This is absolutely normal and is beneficial for you to experience. It’s a purging of your emotional, mental, and physical body. If you’re present enough to have the awareness when this happens, honor your emotions instead of bottling them back up. Let go of the need to control the emotional release. If you’re in a class while this happens, it may feel awkward to allow yourself to feel these emotions, but do your best. The sooner they come out, the sooner you can move past them and, surprisingly, you will notice your body relax further, giving way to increased flexibility. Also, this is probably one of the greatest aspects of working with your body. This is when your body begins talking to you. This is when the insights begin to reveal themselves to you. Be grateful to have had the courage to move through some pain and learn about deeper parts of you that may have been hidden until this time. There’s an incredible opportunity available here for personal growth. I’m not lying when I tell you that yoga has become the cheapest form of therapy I’ve ever encountered, yielding the most meaningful results. You may not be interested in the personal therapy aspect right now, but it’s an open avenue to personal growth if you ever decide you do, and that’s super cool in my book!
The Chest
Ah, the chest. I had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the chest area. Working as a massage therapist for as long as I have has put strain on my back and neck muscles because my shoulders were so rounded forward. This is due to very tight chest and anterior (front) neck muscles. Many people have this problem, especially if you’re in a career like mine that has your body hunched over, or you sit at a computer all day. The chest is important to note because opening it up will impact two areas greatly.
Your spine will be allowed more flexibility, especially into extension, making your yoga practice more mobile. This is fantastic news. However, there is an even greater impact on something less tangible. Your heart lies behind your chest wall. When you open up the flexibility of your chest, you are literally opening yourself up to giving and receiving more love. Body positioning can speak volumes about how we communicate to others and ourselves. When your shoulders are rounded forward and you’re hunched over, you’re assuming a position that protects your heart. You literally put a barrier up around your heart. Isn’t that interesting? When you pull your shoulders back, you’re saying to the world and to yourself that you are open to giving and receiving love. So how does this relate to yoga?
In yoga, you will encounter various heart opening poses (chest openers). Upward Dog is one of them. A key chest opener I always suggest is Melting Heart (Yin Yoga). Some are more advanced, however, and tend to elicit a more intense response. This intense response can sometimes take you by surprise in ways you may not know how to handle.
One day I found myself in a Kundalini yoga class. I really enjoyed this class because there was a lot of focus on breath and movement but also on the energy centers of the body. The class was going great until we were guided into a very intense heart opening pose: Camel. In Camel Pose, you’re on your knees (which is already a humbling position to be in). From here, you lean back to grab onto the heels of your feet and press your chest up towards the sky as your head falls backward to look behind you or up at the ceiling (depending on your flexibility or willingness to let go). This pose can bring up a lot of fear. Just allowing your head to fall backwards is difficult to do, and it took me a while before I felt safe enough. It’s about allowing the heart to be higher than the mind.
This particular day while I was in Camel, I found myself suddenly overcome with anger. When I say anger, I mean anger. The literal conversation in my head that I seemingly had no control over at the time was “F-bomb you” after “F-bomb you” after “F-bomb you.” I couldn’t stop it. It was like an F-bomb runaway train. I didn’t like the feelings that were coming up. Can you imagine? I was in a room filled with others where the vibe is all about peace and inner calm and here I was F-bombing out of control in my head! I tried to breathe through it, but the intensity of my emotions was too powerful for me to handle at the time. I had to come out and move into Child’s Pose to retreat. I was shocked at how a yoga pose was capable of eliciting such a powerful response from me. I was even more shocked at my anger. Where was this anger coming from? And who was it directed towards? Me?
Chest openers can have this effect on you. I had clearly been harboring anger from my past and my body had moved into a protective position of closing off my heart (chest). Considering how much my yoga journey has taught me about self-love, this particular instance is of no surprise to me now. Perhaps I had been unconsciously flipping the bird at myself throughout my entire life. I clearly didn’t have the healthiest relationship with my body before I started yoga so this makes complete sense.
I have come to love my heart openers, but I still encounter fear from time to time as I move deeper into my practice. It’s helpful to be aware of their impact on your emotional body so that you understand that what’s happening is happening at deeper levels than you may anticipate. There’s no need to play the hero here. Take your time with any pose that feels uncomfortable whether the discomfort is physical or emotional. Be as present as you possibly can, and if you need to come out, come out and rest. Honor your feelings and your body. You may not be ready to move through those emotions yet. But one day you may and it will be another step forward in your journey and practice.
Savasana
This is not so much about a body part as it is about the entire body. Savasana (pronounced Sha-va-sa-na) is one of the most critical poses and hardest to do. It’s also one that many people believe to be pointless. In Savasana, you lie on the floor on your back. It’s also called Corpse Pose and is meant to be the closing pose to your practice. Some are not certain how Savasana benefits their body as they probably assume they could lie on the floor at home on their own, but believe me this is a critical pose to complete.
Physically, your goal is to relax every inch of your body. To surrender into complete relaxation is actually harder than it sounds. Never walk out of a class before Savasana. You’re doing yourself and body a huge injustice. This is an opportunity for your body to regain balance. After all the movement, stretching, twisting, and strengthening, this time allows for the entire practice to be integrated and for the body to reset itself. It also gives you a moment to pause and absorb your practice. This is when I found myself having my greatest reflections. The insight I received was received mostly while I was in Savasana. Everything is quiet. Your body is still. Your perceptions are heightened. Answers will come forth. You’ll have this sudden realization when clarity floods your mind. Answers that may have eluded you until this moment become obvious: light bulb moments.
When I first began my mindful practice, I found myself receiving insights more often than not. Sometimes there would be tears. Sometimes just clarity. This is why I can say to you now, enjoy your inflexibility. The insights I received then had an innocent beauty to them. Not knowing when they would show up and what they would reveal was probably the most beautiful aspect of my practice. That isn’t to say the beauty is gone now, but there’s something beautiful in the beginning aspects of our struggles when we choose to face them head-on, moving forward through our fears. Choosing the uncertainty over the comfort of knowing. Once you do, you can never reverse your growth. So take the time to enjoy the struggles because they make every experience coming your way worth it. Always stay for Savasana. It’s your final moment of gratitude to yourself for showing up. You deserve that.
Reread this chapter often so that you can effectively empower yourself in your yoga and stretching. Remember your fundamentals when you practice. They are so crucial to this experience and your personal gains. If you’re a beginner, I highly suggest finding a Yin class to attend. Yin will target areas regular yoga doesn’t, while also being more accessible for your body to actually practice. A gentle flow class is also ideal for inflexible folks. The gentle movement of the class is highly beneficial to improving flexibility faster. If improving flexibility is your goal, stay away from power yoga classes or ones that are more demanding on the body. They are not ideal for the inflexible body in the beginning. Wait until you make some advances in your flexibility and have the fundamentals in place. The few stretches and poses I have mentioned in this chapter are simple in relation to others but are the most powerful you can do to improve your experience and flexibility at the same time. You don’t need to be a yogi master to get the flexibility your body deserves. Have faith that you can practice yoga with a class of strangers and not only survive, but thrive. Your journey will begin and you will be eternally grateful for all that your body, mind, and soul will receive from the simple act of stretching and yoga.

16
Surrendering Yourself into Limitless Expansion
For many years I allowed my inflexible shame and fears to dictate my choices. Choosing from a place of fear kept me under the thumb of my Ego. I bought into the belief that I couldn’t change my body. The truth is that my body never needed to change; my perspective needed to shift.
By bending my “No Yoga” rule, I began the process of becoming more flexible. Flexibility was initially only a physical barrier for me to overcome but, as my experiences deepened, I discovered that the roots of my inflexibility went beyond simply being imprisoned in a body that couldn’t bend. I was the judge who sentenced myself to my limitations.
The only way I was able to effectively break through my inflexible barriers was to reconnect with my body after being disconnected from it for so long. Instead of silencing my body with loud and hurtful judgments from my Ego, I learned how to silence my Ego and listen to the wisdom my body had to teach. For someone who used her body to heal others, I’m amazed at how much I resisted the need to take care of my own. Once I did, though, I found the deepest and darkest secret I had been keeping: I didn’t know how to love myself. The only way I could ever uncover such a secret was to drop to my knees in humility and surrender my fear of insufficiency. Through surrender, I made space for an internal shift that in turn shifted my entire world. Because I chose to see things differently, I was shown a path I would’ve never considered otherwise. Our fears often hide the treasures that will ultimately bring us our greatest lessons, joy, and life purpose. My journey began through physical inflexibility but transformed into an expansive journey of self-love, revealing a purpose of passion I never knew existed within.
My hope is that Inflexible Me will restore hope in your inflexible journey; inspire exploration of not just your body but your mind and heart; create a community for us inflexible people to feel safe in, supported, and encouraged; and bring more awareness surrounding inflexibility into the existing yoga community. We all have insecurities and I hope that this book sheds some light on the deeper and darker sides of inflexibility not currently being addressed. An inflexible person’s barrier to entry in yoga is often their shame and physical struggle coupled with the yoga community’s lack of empathetic awareness towards inflexibility. This isn’t a blame game. If you’ve never lived through a particular struggle, it’s often difficult to understand it. I hope this story reveals some understanding and that more measures are taken to design yoga classes and their environment to be inclusive of all levels of flexibility.
With the techniques offered in this book and a deeper understanding of the inflexible body, mind, and soul, you no longer need to feel incompetent or embarrassed. You can feel empowered, choosing to make choices that support you. Yoga isn’t just for the bendy people. It’s for all of us. We just need a few more fundamental tools and techniques to move past the inflexible barrier to yoga. Allow yourself the opportunity to discover the liberty of moving with less resistance. It can be one of the greatest feelings when you experience for the first time what it’s like to move beyond the resistance you’ve always known. It’s like trading in a vehicle with no shocks or power steering and finally getting behind the wheel of a luxury car that drives smoothly, hugging every curve in the road. It’s effortless. When you’re used to living with resistance, meeting effortless is a dream.
Flexibility is attainable. Inflexibility is not something your body is doomed to for the rest of your life.
Remember the Four Fundamentals of Flexibility:
 
FEAR Address your fear head-on. Shine light on it so you never have to hide behind it again.
 
ACCEPTANCE Be accepting of your body and where its capabilities lie at any given moment. Acceptance is how you break the resistance and persistence cycle.
 
MINDFUL BREATHING Always keep intention at the forefront of your actions by using mindful breathing to anchor you away from any distractions. This builds awareness and the ability to deepen your practice mentally and emotionally. The awareness brings stillness and quiet, creating an ideal environment for hearing those intuitive hits of insight that will surely come.
 
COMPASSION Lastly, always remember to be kind to yourself. Compassion goes a long way in not just speeding up your gains in flexibility but fostering a very healthy relationship with your body and self.
 
Once you have a grasp on these fundamentals, you’re well-equipped to enter a yoga studio and potentially even enjoy the experience of your first class. When I tried my first class I hated it, and it took me three years and meditating in silence for ten days in a jungle before I could consider yoga again. It doesn’t have to be that extreme. You know what you’re up against. You understand why your body isn’t moving as fast or as fluidly as everyone else’s. And you’re okay with it. You even have a few tricks up your sleeve to empower your practice.
I would never say I regret not having these tools available to me at my start. This was clearly the path I needed to walk. Knowing that my discoveries can help you move past your own inflexible barriers encourages me to share my story. My joy for your flexible achievements, both physical and beyond, is genuine. I’ve lived through the experience and empathize with the inflexible journey. As you now go out on your own personal journey, may you be open to all the possibilities and opportunities that come from the willingness to choose expansion. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone and you’ll never be the same. Your journey will teach you how to uncover your own golden nuggets of wisdom. All you need to do is listen. Sit in the inflexible seat of your discomfort and witness your internal teacher emerge from within. Your physical inflexibility is only the tip of the iceberg as you plunge into the depths of your all-knowing Self. Have hope that on the other side of your pain is the treasure you’ve been unconsciously seeking all along. Expand from your heart and watch your limitations fall away, revealing your limitless potential. Watch how your body reveals to you that you are sufficient. Everything you need, you already have.
 

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