6 years ago this week I walked into Kula Burlington to take my first yoga class. I was hesitant, broken, scared, sick, tired & restless in my body which was betraying itself as a result of food sensitivities and an undiagnosed auto-immune issue. Having not been active in over a year my naturopath suggested yoga as a low impact way to regain strength, flexibility & connection with my body. I was doubtful this would provide any relief or help me rebuild my fitness, what I didn’t know is that it would not only change my life but it would also save it.
Every year during this week I take time to reflect on my journey to the mat, I acknowledge everyone I have encountered through the past six years and of course remember everything I have learned about myself and what my body is capable of. I know there are people out there who are hesitant to take the first step on to their mat whether they are coming back from injury, not sure where to begin or really don’t think they are ‘fit’ enough to start the journey. It’s my hope that my story will resonate with someone who is just starting out or is considering the possibility of signing up for an intro program at their local studio but maybe haven’t done it yet because they fear you aren’t ‘fit’ enough to get started. Let me tell you something about yoga, if you’re in the right place for your practice you will be surrounded by yogis and instructors of all abilities, ages, levels, backgrounds, and colours. That is what yoga is about – community and respecting where each other is in their journey.
I didn’t know much about yoga before I stepped on to a mat for the first time, my mom did some yoga DVDs in the basement and I’d seen some pictures in passing online, but beyond that there wasn’t a lot of chatter in my local community about the practice circa 2011. Today there are pictures all over social media and online as yoga has become quite popular and mainstream in recent years, many of these images portray a side of yoga that can make it feel unapproachable, difficult or exclusive to someone who is curious about starting a practice.
Day one at Kula I met Lindsay who was a Teacher and the Studio Manager working the front desk the Monday morning I arrived to sign-up for the 30 day intro special and attend my first class. Lindsay was friendly, helpful and interested in my background of what brought me to class on this morning. I explained to her that I had been battling some health problems and it was recommended that I come to yoga to help support my body and also start to rebuild my strength. What I respected most about Lindsay is that while she was positive in her response she didn’t sugar coat that the first few weeks would be a learning curve for my body. She recommended that I come 2 – 3 times per week for the 4 weeks to allow my body to become used to the movement, regain some flexibility, try out a variety of classes and meet a number of teachers. It sounded like a commitment, one at the time I wasn’t sure I wanted to make but I was out of options and I needed to do something that would get my body back on track to what I was once capable of.
The first few classes were interesting, not being familiar with any of the poses I took time transitioning from one posture to the next and also trying to be patient with my body which was getting used to a new form of movement for the first time. My first class was with a teacher named Shelley, it was Gentle Hatha and Lindsay had recommended that it be a good place to start both for the type of class and the support/modifications that Shelley would offer. One thing that I noticed early on in the class was that I was surrounded by such an array of people – age, body type, ability, etc. – including one older lady who I would come to admire for her commitment to her practice and how much she cared for her body. Over the next few weeks I stayed committed to what Lindsay recommended and before I knew it I was start to notice subtle changes within how my body moved and for the first time in a while I was feeling some relief when it came to the stiffness and pain in my joints. Little did I know that these first four weeks would be the start of something that would change my life now and into the future.
Finding My First Kula
“Kula is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as “community,” “clan” or “tribe.” This word is sometimes used by the yoga community to denote the sense of inclusion and belonging that can be cultivated through yogis coming together to practice yoga. This kula, or community, of yogis is considered sacred because it is a group of people who come together freely, with intention and a shared sense of purpose.
Throughout my teenage and early adult life I had friends, I had also at one point in high school been part of a local marching band which may have been my first exposure to what a sense of community really was. When I really started to get involved in my yoga practice and connect with those in the Kula community – teachers, practitioners and other students – I found for the first time in a few years that I was becoming part of a group of people where I truly could be myself and be comfortable within this space.
When I reflect on the sense of an inclusive community Kula presented me with from day one and subsequently the communities of Mula Yoga, Tribe Fitness Yoga Jam and Climber’s Rock Yoga continue to provide me with today I truly believe that it was on my mat that I found my confidence again. I’ve always been outgoing and engaging with people, but I know that after the setbacks in my health, the weight gain, bullying that occurred and self doubt that resulted, my confidence was not where it had once been. When I see myself within my sweat communities today embracing my strong, my body, where I am and supporting others on their pursuit to find their strength I know that these vibrancy and light comes from the early months and years of my practice, how I was able to find myself again through the journey on my mat.
I believe that my respect for honouring where I am in my journey and also acknowledging and respecting where others in my community are in their own journey comes from the Namaste chant that we become so familiar with in our yoga practice today.
The key foundation of yoga that I admire so much – it’s very similar to running – is that fact that with a yoga practice there is never an end point. The beauty of a yoga journey is that there is always room for growth, exploration and development, it’s not about racing to some pose and then you’re done. It’s also not just about the body, sure you’re body is the one getting into/out of these poses, but the mind and your emotions play a huge role in working through the thoughts/emotions/tension/fears that you will naturally encounter on your way to the pose.
Yoga is universal, with so many types of classes being offered across the GTA there is something for everyone in terms of difficulty, length, normal vs. hot temperature, small vs. large classes, stretching vs. flow, female vs. male instructor and an array of various workshops focusing on particular parts of the body.
As my practice continues to remain an active part of my training plan, physical/mental stability and a outlet for me to continue to connect with myself I can only hope that one day when the timing allows for it that I will complete my Yoga Teacher Training Certification to start teaching within the community.
Until then I’ll keep coming to the mat and sharing my story, as well as helping people understand that yoga is accessible to everyone no matter your experience level. Next week I’ll be sharing a post highlighting some tips to help you get started in yoga in the GTA community and key things that you should be on the lookout for as you attempt to find a place to call your own Kula.