From Exercise to Conscious Living: One Yogini’s Journey – by Shannon Towle
The first time I heard about yoga, I was around 16 years old. A friend of mine had begun attending classes at a small local studio, and the thing that stuck out to me the most was when she told me how she’d often fall asleep in savasana. Young me, thinking that yoga was some kind of exercise (or at least stretching) class, was admittedly pretty skeptical. Maybe even condescending. I thought that any “class” that one paid to attend and then fell asleep in surely couldn’t be worth the money.
It would be two more years before I finally gave yoga a try myself. My college offered free “power yoga” classes on campus, and I began attending with a couple of friends. The way I saw it, it was an interesting and new way to exercise and keep my body active. After having been an intense athlete my entire life, I felt a little lost and untethered with no regular physical activity in college. From literally my first class with my beautiful teacher Suzy, I was hooked. For the next four years of college, I attended power yoga classes religiously. I loved the physicality, the breathwork, the feeling of losing myself to the flow of class, the sound of my teacher’s voice during savasana and how she would come around and anoint each of us with essential oil. I especially loved how she would distribute small cards with various mantras based on each class’ intention. It was an entirely new experience for me to bring this kind of awareness to my body and movement, and connect with my breath in this way. After graduating, I bounced between practicing regularly and “falling off the wagon,” so to speak. When living in South America for a year and a half, I began a rigorous self-practice, in which I began exploring more advanced asana. I was always pleased and proud of my body’s strength, my ability to perform arm balances and develop my musculature. At this point, I didn’t realize how much bigger the world of yoga was beyond my slim understanding of its physical
It wasn’t until the lockdowns of this year, 2020, when I began to truly develop my understanding of the deeper, more subtle practices of yoga. I had always said that meditation “wasn’t for me,” that yoga was my meditation. What I didn’t understand is that yoga encompasses everything
– from single-pointed meditative practices, to dynamic meditation, to breathwork and its effect on the body and nervous system, to asana and how its practice heightens our understanding of ourselves and the world around us. Most importantly, I didn’t understand that yoga’s aim is to illustrate our interconnectedness – how I do not exist except as I relate to everything else in the world.
When I began self-studying and diving more deeply into my self-practice, incorporating pranayama, guided meditation, and more structured asana practice, my yoga practice blossomed. I cannot say yet that I feel entirely centered, but I am becoming aware of the spaces in me that need more attention, more work, and more love. Yoga has gone from being an enjoyable physical practice, which I appreciate because of how strong and flexible it makes me, to a tool through which I can understand my existence in this world, and which enables me to have a more positive impact on the world through its teachings. I know that this will be a lifelong practice, and I am so humbled and grateful to every guru who has helped me on this path so far, and those who are yet to come. I can only hope that I will be able to serve as a guiding light to help others find the same joy in yoga.