I Am A New Yogi
Hello, my name is Gertrude and I’m very excited to be a guest writer for Finding Isvara! I feel privileged to be a part of this blog and excited to collaborate with Nikki, Carolyn and Courtney. I am somewhat new to yoga and especially to Ashtanga. I have practiced yoga on and off since I was fourteen, but never with much dedication. At the beginning of this summer I began taking classes regularly with Nikki and fell in love with Ashtanga. For my first blog post I’d like to tell you a bit about myself!
I grew up in a quaint village in rural Vermont bursting with small town characters. My childhood was idyllic. I grew up in the house my parents built when they were married. Each day was spent playing in the woods and meadows that surrounded our house with my little brother. We had several generations of cats and chickens, some of which survived the ravenous coyote mother and her pups longer than others. A farmer pastured his cows in our meadows and I took my responsibility of keeping my little brother away from the electric fences very seriously! My parents are both artistic and considered creative expression the most valuable part of our education.
When I was thirteen I fell head over heels in love with ballet. I will never forget the feeling I had when I saw my first ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. Though I only saw it on DVD, I felt an enormous rush in my chest during the Rose Adagio in the first act. I had never seen anything I was more drawn to. Never had I wanted anything so badly as to be able to dance like the Royal Ballet dancers in the video. Soon after watching the video, I dived headlong into ballet classes with a passion. I loved the feeling of really moving my body, of having such exquisite control over every muscle, of learning how to make every movement and position look effortless, but most of all I loved how beautiful it was. I was hypnotized by the spell of ballet.
To further my passion I attended The Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Torrington, CT, a boarding school for classical ballet. It was an experience, to say the least. I was thrown into the harsh reality of the ballet world. There were some good aspects of the school like the friendships I made, the training I received, and the rapid growth of maturity, but there were a lot of terrible aspects too. The students were left on their own to flounder through all the insecurity, hopelessness and body dysmorphia that ballet engenders. In the school there was either the extreme of no rules at all, or, when the staff felt a student had overstepped the boundaries, sudden ballet marshal law where they treated us like criminals. All in all, I value the experience for what it was. I couldn’t have had the good without the bad and it certainly shaped me to be the person I am today. Most of all, it instilled in me a love of physical movement. Around this time I began practicing yoga. It was a special occasion activity I did with my mom. I enjoyed the yoga classes I took, but at that point in my life it wasn't something I wanted to do every day.
I decided to stop dancing when high school was over. It was a hard decision because ballet was my whole existence and I loved it. However, I wasn’t as good a dancer as I wanted to be and I knew I would never have the kind of life I wanted in the ballet world. I floundered after quitting and was afraid to try anything new for fear of failing again. Though I was quite lost I knew with certainty that the ballet chapter of my life was over.
I decided to move to New York City, where I took writing and acting classes. In my spare time I designed and sewed dresses, which is something I have loved doing since I was little. A year passed and I fell in love with my boyfriend and moved back home to Woodstock, VT. At the encouragement of my friends and family, I started selling the dresses I made on a small scale to my friends. I loved doing this because I felt like it gave me direction in a time when I felt utterly directionless. In retrospect, I think the loss of ballet hit me harder than I realized. I had to create a new identity for myself, and it was uncomfortable and slow going.
Four years later, I am still in Woodstock with my boyfriend and our dog Banjo—I want to say ‘puppy’ but he’s not really a baby anymore! For the past four winters we have traveled to California so my boyfriend, a professional cyclist, can train in a warmer climate. Each year has been an adventure, from our first time literally driving off into the sunset with no plan of where we were going to live, to deciding that flying is really better than driving across the country in the dead of winter and having a place to stay lined up actually does make it much less stressful!
In place of ballet I started running. Running is always a love/hate relationship for me, but is rewarding nonetheless. I have always loved yoga, though, as I said, I didn’t practice regularly until recently. In Santa Cruz, CA, where we lived for three winters, I practiced Vinyasa yoga, but there was always something I didn’t love about it. One class I found myself in Warrior Two, my hip flexor cramped from holding the position for so long, waiting with gritted teeth for the teacher to tell us what to do next. In that moment I hated yoga. I didn’t like that I didn’t know what was coming next.
At the beginning of this summer I began attending Nikki’s Ashtanga classes. At first I was dreadfully sore because my upper body wasn’t strong and I had to remind myself that I wanted to get stronger and therefore I should really go to yoga! But about halfway through the summer I started to gain strength and that’s when yoga became fun. After I learned the sequence I loved going to class! I loved that I could work on each pose in depth because I knew when it came in relation to all the others. I loved that I could relax and not be on tinder hooks waiting for the teacher to reveal what new pose we were going to attempt next, like in a Vinyasa class. Ashtanga also appealed to me because of its athleticism coupled with the repetition and ritual of each class which is reminiscent of ballet.
Today, I am a newcomer to Ashtanga. I am working on my headstand. I can only balance with my legs curled in a little ball for ten breaths, so I know I have a long way to go. Compared to what I could do only a month ago, though, I am feeling hopeful that I’ll be able to straighten my legs eventually! Optimism is always good, right?!
Thank you for reading!