Sunday, August 29, 2010

So You Think You are not Changing the World?
My Journey Into Yoga
Part 1: The Beginning

It was 1986. I was an exercise-obsessed 16-year old working at the front desk of a New York City fitness studio in exchange for unlimited classes. My mother and I used to go to classes together in an over keen attempt to stay thin, fit, and healthy.

On the day they added a yoga class to the schedule, my mom took notice right away, and asked me if I wanted to go with her to see what yoga was all about. At the time we both knew yoga to be totally far-out, and WAY fringe, but I was open to anything and agreed to try.

The teacher’s name was Oonaja Malagon, and she was not at all like the other fitness teachers at the studio. To me, she was super cosmic, mystical looking, and way mellow. I was intrigued. Back then in the 80’s, most yoga was all “flow n’ glo,” meaning you would be instructed to come into something like warrior 1 pose, hold it (flow), and then immediately drop into child’s pose (glow) to rest from the “effort”.

At the end of the practice, Oonaja lead us through a guided body scan for savasana. I was lying next to my mom on a towel (this was before sticky mats!) and drifting off to the soothing sound of her voice, as she meticulously encouraged us to relax each part of the body. “Relax your jaw…relax your neck….relax your shoulders…relax your solar plexus, relax your abdomen….”

And then…

“Relax your genitals…”

I woke up.

And more, “Relax your anus…”

Oh my God.

I opened my eyes and turned to look at my mom. I mean I was 16, so in my head I was doing the Beavis and Butthead thing: “She said anus, heh heh heh…”. And my mom was holding back laughter. We got such a kick out of it after class, (and to this day actually) having never heard anything like that in our fitness classes before!

Needless to say, we loved Oonaja, and loved yoga, and I kept going to Oonaja’s classes, eating up all the asanas, the self-inquiry, and mostly the feeling of engaging in a connection to something bigger than myself, which was helping me make sense of who I was in the world.

One day Oonaja disappeared and I have never seen her since. Thanks to social media and google, however I just friended her on Facebook and plan to message her with some long overdue appreciation.

It’s funny how many of us think we do not make a difference in the world with the small things we do each day…or that the seemingly fleeting interactions we experience have much merit. Yet, there is no question that both my mother, who urged me to join her that day, and Oonaja, who was my very first yoga teacher, helped to set me on a life long path, a path that as a teacher myself, is now planting seeds in others lives, for generations to come.

No matter what you do, your very existence is changing the world.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this story…

I’d love to hear your thoughts and stories of your own "yoga firsts" so please leave a comment below.

About Amy Ippoliti

An author, teacher, leader, do-gooder, and entrepreneur, Amy enjoys bridging the gap between ancient yoga wisdom and our modern lives. She has been studying yoga since 1986, and became one of the first certified Anusara Yoga teachers in 2000 after being to drawn to Anusara yoga for the artistic, heart and community centered teachings. Amy apprenticed closely for many years with Anusara founder John Friend on his national tours, and currently chairs the Anusara Yoga Curriculum Committee. Amy is widely recognized for her down-to-earth teaching approach, lucid instruction, and for assisting her students in achieving personal breakthroughs on and off the mat.

This story is also posted at Elephant Journal.


votil said...

Amy I loved reading your article!! Thanks for opening this discussion!

My story is similar... except that it happened to me at a much much much... older age!
Despites the fact that I came across Indian philosophy and myths when I was 16, and did 2 years of Iyengar as a grad student, I wasn't really practicing. Until one day, at the wellness center of the U. of Miami, after one hour of hard core step aerobics, 1/2 hour or running on the treadmill and another 1/2 on the step, I went to....stretch and relax in Jordan's class...And the rest is history! :-)


Mary Lynn said...

just got up and read your very funny account....I can just see you there, snickering with your mother. I have benefited from that yogic moment, as have so many others.

It brought me back to my first that is. It was fall 1969 and there were many peace rallies going on at the University of Florida and all over the U.S. supporting the end of the Vietnam war. I was 21 and loved every moment of the new world I found myself in. People who immediately connected to the truth of "Make Love not War". One of the main purposes of our protests on campus was to eliminate the requirement of freshman boys to take ROTC and to eliminate the draft. Every freshman boy had to spend a trimester in uniform marching on the ROTC drill field so when drafted they had the opportunity to be an officer. Privilege promotes power.

Anyway, one day it was passed by word of mouth that there would be a yoga class on the ROTC field to start 1/2 hour before the scheduled freshman drill time. I had heard of yoga at that time but never seen or done it. Bring a towel is all that was said. So we show up with our towel and it was a site to behold. There were over a thousand kids with towels covering the ROTC field in the early morning. No room for marching. Someone was on a microphone at one end, whom I never saw, and started expounding on the love available through yoga. She started to direct us through asana and basicly I just did what the person next to me was doing. But by Savasana there was a transformation on that field. The love was palpable and life on that field would never be the same. Choice was uncovered and opened and that was the last trimester ROTC was ever mandatory at UF. I saw, felt, and lived the power of community, my first kula. I never knew my first teacher, although I would love to know who that brave woman was, but she too set me on a path. I did yoga off and on through my 20's and 30's in many places that I rested and lived. I thought my body needed it to balance my life as a potter. Then at 40 I began a conscious practice. For 15 years I practiced with a beautiful group of like minded women, our teacher is Christina Carlton who is a wonderful teacher. We called it Ha Ha yoga as we desperately needed the laugh. We also referred to our group as the 'Loose Women". This was 1988. We were all dealing with the changes life brings and yoga and kula brought us support and love.
At 55, at the guidance of a great friend, I walked into Garden of the Heart and discovered Anusara and the magnificent Betsey Downing. The gift has been immeasurable. Yoga now opens my heart to changes as it did that very first time. All the unlimited possibilities of the moment. I am fortunate enough to teach yoga at 62. I can only hope at this age I will be someone's first time. Yoga of course !!! And the beat goes on....... Namaste' Mary Lynn

Amy said...

WOW, thank you both so much for these comments.

Mary Lynn - I was brought to tears reading your story, and got the Loma Harshana (happy hair) all over. What an exquisitely powerful story.

I love how you described the yoga transforming the field into LOVE.

Just beautiful...

Hope to see you soon!

MamaVee said...

This is strange that this is your most recent post. I just saw your piece in yoga journal and noticed your name. I think you were my yoga first. ( did you teach at crunch NYC around 1998-1999?)

If I am correct. Let me thank YOU. 12 years later I am still doing yoga ( I did end up with a accidental break due to kids lack of time and using all free time to train for a triathlon) but now I'm back in full force and it feels good. I still remember the classes at crunch and some poses are rooted from what I learned then.

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