My Mama introduced me to yoga when I was about 15 years old. Sometimes I would go to the Mo'ili'ili studio with her and practice. The studio was an open and airy room with lots of windows and hard wood flooring with a shelf of yoga mats, blocks, and straps. It may have also been a room where ballet and martial arts classes took place at other times. The island tradewinds would blow through the jealousy windows keeping the space nice and cool. We would attend classes taught by this tiny little spunky 70-something year old woman with crazy curly hair who was incredibly flexible and always making her students laugh. She was a typical local lady, mixed with all kinds of ethnicities that you couldnt tell what she was, and she had a deep dark golden tan from the Hawaiian sun. Sometimes my little brother would come to the classes too.
My mother was always so active and in such great shape before her health declined. She played a lot of golf, she would practice her swing at the park down the street, she went running in our neighborhood, she would lift weights at the gym, and she practiced yoga. Her and my little brother enjoyed golf together while I found an interest in her yoga practice. I remember the first class I attended with Mama, the teacher welcomed me into the class. She explained it was an advanced class and to take my time and do my best. I would look around me at the advanced students and mimick the postures to the best of my ability. The instructor would call out names for the asanas in sanskrit and I would try to figure out what positions matched those foreign words. Everyone in the class was quite experienced, including Mama. When the time came to do bridge poses everyone found a wall space and spent some time practicing this. This particular pose came easy to me as I use to do gymnastics. My mom was impressed with my bridge pose. She said that even for experienced yogis, this was very challenging. I remember feeling those words of encouragement inspire me. It made me feel confident in myself and my abilities-- that I could actually be good at this. I didn't know at the time how much of an impact this introduction to my yoga practice would be for me.
I found myself continuing to practice yoga more and more frequently as the years went by. By this time, much had changed. Mama was not active anymore, her health declined and as a result, all her physical and social activities came to a screeching halt. I think one of the things she missed the most was being physically active. I remember one day while driving through our neighborhood, she looked out the window and sighed a bit when we passed a person jogging. She expressed that she missed being able to do the things she use to be able to do.
Yoga became increasingly popular and I continued to practice when I eventually left the island. I left the island when Mama's health eventually stabilized. I left Hawaii to live and experience being on my own on "the mainland." I strongly believed that she was going to live a long life and refused to believe anything different. I left with the idea that if I stayed I was only reinforcing a belief that she wasn't going to continue to be okay. I wanted to get my life experience out of the way so that when one day in the far, far future when she needed me by her side-- I would be life experienced and well equipped to be there for her. I left Hawaii, the only home I ever knew, and moved to L.A. for several years before finally making it to The Bay Area-- a place her and I both loved.
My yoga practice continued to follow me. My practice became even more precious to me being away from home. It eased my feelings of being homesick, it centered me, and gave me a sense of peace while living in these big cities. It got me through a lot. The postures, the openings, the challenges, the struggles, the discomforts, the relief, and the breath-- all of it became so metaphorical to my life. As your teacher is telling you to find your breath and balance through the most uncomfortable positions, it suddenly hits you that your yoga practice is absolutely parallel to life itself. And so you clear your thoughts and you breathe through the discomfort. You know you'll get through it and then you smile a little. And by the time the class is finished and you are laying there in savasana and relishing in the endorphins your body is releasing. You find yourself feeling greater and more peaceful than before you got there.
For every session there's always an intention set. I come in with my baggage, with my incessant thoughts chattering away, with my fears, anxieties, worries about the future that has yet to happen, and I work through it. I find my balance, I find my breath, I find my stillness, and I connect with my gratitude. Often times I will quietly weep during my flow, those heart opening asanas make it impossible to hold anything in.
Every time that I step onto that 5' x 2' mat I connect to myself and I connect to my mother. I am reminded of her incredible love, her courage, and her strength. I am grateful to have my health because she taught me that my health is my greatest wealth and to never take it for granted. I feel her loving presence and I thank her for introducing me to this invaluable practice of self-love and connectedness.