I first began practicing yoga when I was 15 as a way to get out of my head and into my body and to connect with myself and the present moment. Throughout my years of practicing and then teaching, my reasons for getting to my mat—and what I got from my practice—had shifted. The past year, which has been exceptionally challenging for people around the world, has illuminated the ways in which my practice was no longer serving me, and helped me get back to the roots of what yoga had once meant to me.
Our pandemic year has forced all of us to adjust to a new way of living, myself included. Before COVID-19 hit the U.S., my life was pretty fast-paced. Between school, work, and self care, I rarely took time to slow down and think about my intentions behind my routines.
One of my daily rituals was a sweaty and vigorous vinyasa class, and it was very important to me. Nearly every day, without giving it much thought, I attended class at my local studio. I hardly paused to check in with myself about what would best serve my body on that day before heading to class. It was like I was on autopilot, and yoga was just one more thing to check off my to-do list.
I considered my daily asana to be a healthy habit. Many days, I left class feeling refreshed and energized. But COVID-19 has forced me to gain some new perspective on my pre-pandemic life, and the ways my intention behind my practice had shifted. I realize now that I had been imposing unreasonable pressure on myself. As a yoga teacher, I felt like I had to push myself to advance in my practice in order to maintain my credibility. I felt pressure for my body to perform in a certain way, and felt like a failure when it didn’t.
Advancing my practice to achieve more challenging postures and obtain a deeper level of flexibility had become the force driving me to my mat each day. I looked at each class as an opportunity, not to connect with myself or find that much-desired stillness, but to become one step closer to having the flexibility and strength that I thought I should have. My practice had started to take away more energy than it was giving—and I was moving so quickly, I didn’t even notice.
The closure of yoga studios forced me to re-evaluate the intention behind my practice. In the early days of lockdown, I tried to keep up with my advanced daily asana, but found the transition from practicing in a packed studio with my friends by my side to alone in my apartment guided by a person behind a computer screen to be nearly impossible. I kept trying, and grew increasingly frustrated at my inability to practice in the way I had before the pandemic. Eventually, I stopped practicing all together.
This sudden shift was incredibly uncomfortable at first. For years, I had identified so deeply with my yoga practice that when I stopped, I felt like I had lost a piece of myself. At first, I felt shame and frustration every time I saw my mat rolled up in the corner of my room. But as time went on, I began to question the meaning behind my practice and why I felt that my practice had to look a certain way in order for me to feel like an adequate yogi and teacher. Eventually, I started to realize that being healthy, mentally and physically, had nothing to do with how long and challenging my daily yoga practice was.
I realize now that my hiatus from my asana practice was necessary for me to rethink how yoga fit into my life. As time went on, I started to redevelop a sense of compassion and gentleness for myself and my body. After several months of no asana at all, I began to feel called to come back to my practice. When I decided to get on my mat again, I adjusted my practice so that it felt easy. I slowed down to tune in to how I wanted to feel and how I could give my body what it needed in each moment. Instead of feeling like my new way of practicing wasn’t enough, I began to shed the ideas of what I thought yoga needed to look like and embrace the ease.
While the past year has been challenging and uncomfortable in many ways, it has also allowed me the space to reshape my yoga practice in a way that best serves my body, mind, and spirit. It’s no longer about what my body can achieve—it’s about feeling good, finding stillness, and taking care of myself. It is slow, intentional, and loving. A lot of days, my practice doesn’t involve asana at all. Instead, it consists of a morning meditation, my feet against the earth, or a slow walk in the sunshine.
And you know what? Even though I practice a lot less asana now, the principles of yoga are more ingrained in my life than ever before. It’s this deeper practice that has helped me find peace amongst the chaos. For me, yoga is now purely a practice of connecting deeply with myself and the present moment—which is exactly what I was seeking when I first set foot on the mat years ago, and what I hope carries me through this next phase of my practice.
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