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The True Essence of Yoga

When I began attending yoga classes in 1998 I, like so many others, did so as a way to relieve stress. My high stress levels tended to cause migraines and, unfortunately, I was experiencing them regularly. In my quest to find a natural way to ease the tension, I registered for my first yoga class.

My first yoga teacher was a man who was well versed in different yoga traditions, religions and culture. Through him, I received an introduction to yoga that expanded far beyond stretching and learning a few poses. Often, the entire class consisted of conversations on yogic philosophy or comparing the similarities among different religions. He taught pranayama techniques and many times we spent the entire 60 minutes listening to our breath cycles.

Back then, I only thought of yoga as a series of physical poses. Sitting through any class that didn’t include movement felt like a waste of time and money. But there was something about the teacher and his teaching method that I resonated with deeply, so I kept going. Little did I know then that I was learning the true essence of yoga. During these weekly classes, I learned that yoga was so much more than just the physical movements and that yoga poses were just the tip of the iceberg. I was intrigued by the variety of sensations I felt every time we practiced pranayama, sometimes feeling calm and relaxed and other times feeling like my body was lifted off of the ground. What I remember most was how willingly my teacher shared his vast knowledge, always piquing our interests and feeding our curiosities.

I have no idea whether or not my teacher had fancy-sounding certifications, or how long he studied before he began teaching. No one showed up for class in expensive leggings; yoga props weren’t provided. You didn’t hear any discussion about the type of yoga mat someone was using or how much it cost.  We gathered in a high school classroom with desks and chairs moved aside to make space for the 10 to 15 people who regularly attended. And you know what? None of that mattered. We bonded through yoga.

Through yoga, I was able to manage stress by learning to tune in to my body and notice the triggers that led to my headaches. Using pranayama, I eliminated the need for migraine medication. In the process, I gained life-long tools that help me shift away from the outside world and tune into my inner world.

Truth be told, I never thought I would be a yoga teacher.  I wanted to keep my yoga for myself so that it wouldn’t become “work.”  Eventually, though, I realized that every time I left yoga class, I felt better than I did when I walked in.  I wanted to do that for others.

The old saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Sometimes the teacher is someone you don’t expect. And sometimes the teacher is you.

• • •

Stacee Johnson currently teaches at StaCentered Yoga in the Baltimore-Washington area. Her approach combines breath, movement and Sound Meditation with a goal of helping her students have a powerful and transformative practice. Find her on Facebook (@StaCentered, @StaCenteredYoga) and Instagram (@StaCentered) or at www.StaCenteredYoga.com.

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