Everyday Goddesses is a series of posts I'll be writing here, profiling women in my life who embody strength in everything they do- on and off the mat. Melissa is the Just Be Yogi I affectionately call my "mat mother". Whenever we're in class together, our mats are right next to each other (she puts the lulu logo in the back, I put mine in the front, it's just how it goes). At first, Melissa was just the exceptionally kind woman who saved me a spot in class on busy nights and chatted with me while I was still finding my place in the community. Today, she's one of the most inspirational and supportive women in my life. She continues to inspire me every day, and I'm so honored to have been able to share the teacher training journey with her.
I asked her a few questions about being a strong yogini, and her responses were just as beautiful and articulate as I expected. I can't thank her enough for participating in this series.
Are there any struggles or difficulties in your life that led you to yoga? How has yoga helped you to overcome these obstacles?
I was struggling with early empty nest syndrome after having made the decision to allow my son to move to his dad's house in Scotts Valley to attend high school there. I had spent the prior 14 years strongly identifying with being a single mother and suddenly I was just...single. I joined a gym to occupy the time which would normally be spent helping with homework, cooking dinner, and enjoying time at home with my son. I walked through life with a heavy heart, questioning if I had made the right decision, questioning who I was, second guessing, doubting, full of negative self talk and self limiting beliefs. Issues from my own childhood started to surface. I was grieving. I took classes like Zoomba and Pilates at the gym, and I ran on the treadmill, staring out the windows, watching other gym members by the pool with their kids, missing my son. I would always pass the yoga classroom on my way out, wondering what was happening in there and why so many people seemed drawn to yoga. I started to notice the looks on peoples faces as they poured out of the open doors when a class ended. "I want to feel like that," I said to myself.
I was nervous for my first yoga class. I remember thinking to myself that the teacher looked like a mermaid. The lights dimmed, the class started, and I followed the cues, finding my body landing in poses it hadn't been in since my childhood years as a gymnast. The teacher read a quote towards the end of the class and I felt like she was speaking directly to me. How did she know, I wondered. When the class finished with savasana, I became so overwhelmed with an unexplained stirring, I cried. For months I placed my mat in the same corner of the classroom and allowed hot, silent tears to roll into my ears during savasana. There's a t-shirt I've seen that says "I'm here for the savasana." I really was.
Having suffered from a violent trauma in my early teens, I had spent a couple of years in therapy learning to cope with what had happened to me. I thought I was fine. What I found was yoga released the emotions I had carried around in my body. Yoga helped my body to heal wounds I didn't realize were there.
On my mat, I learned to love myself for the first time in my life. Taking my lessons off of my mat and into my life allowed me to grow even more and find happiness and gratitude in simple, everyday things I used to not see or had previously taken for granted. Loving myself opened me up to a greater capacity to love others, to give selflessly, and to want to share the lessons I've taken away from my mat. It's a yoga practice, not a yoga perfect, and the lessons keep coming.
How have you changed as you've grown stronger, both mentally and physically?
Mentally, I have become more observant and deliberate in my thoughts and actions. We all have these moments in life where things are so perfect, we wish we could stay in them forever. Maybe it's holding your baby in your arms, maybe it's hugging a loved one, perhaps it's simply gazing out at the ocean waves. We all have them, those moments of perfection. Yet, it's so easy to forget those moments and let them go. On the contrary, when we screw up in life, it's so easy to revisit those moments. I used to lay awake in bed replaying regretted scenarios or words I had spoken and wished I could take back, exaggerating the regret each time I rewound and hit play. Now I focus more on the positive moments. I try to soak them up as much as possible when they are happening to make them easier to revisit later. The negative thoughts still come, however I now know without the dark there wouldn't be light. We all make mistakes. I forgive myself, I reflect, acknowledge, and start again. It takes work, but the work gets easier and is never in vain.
Physically, I know my limits are yet to be reached. I never thought at 47 I would be doing handstands and chatturangas. I have physically turned the clock back on my body. And that's pretty bad ass.
Do you see the pursuit of strength to be one more women are being drawn to? Do you think more women should pursue strength?
There is definitely a movement happening. More and more women are coming together in support of each other, instead of competing or tearing each other down, and it takes strong and confident women to do this. Never in my life have I been more surrounded by so many cheerleaders! It lifts me up and gives me strength. I have found true sisterhood in yoga. I believe more and more women are observing this movement and are drawn to it in the same way I was drawn to my first yoga class. It is through example that we can begin to make a change for others.
Do you have any examples of moments when the lessons you've learned in yoga have transferred into your every day life?
Recently, I was faced with a situation that felt very "unyogic" to me. Instead of reacting defensively, I did some self study to see what I had done to contribute to the situation. Instead of feeling like a victim or building a story around how I felt I had been wronged, I allowed the dust to settle until I could see things clearly. The moment when I want to get out of the pose is when the work begins. I've learned to sit with the uncomfortable instead of reacting to it. I've learned to not take things so personally. I've learned everyone sees their life and their experiences through their own filters of past experiences and their own stories, including myself. This has allowed me to remain in a place of love. And that, my dear, sweet mat soulmate, is what it's all about.
Melissa teaches at Just Be Yoga Walnut Creek. Look for her on the schedule, or pop into a class and hope she's assisting!