As an international yoga teacher I field a variety of questions. Including inquiries ranging from the details of anatomy to the ideas of philosophy. I do my best to address each question as thoroughly as I can from the knowledge I have respectively. And while I do not claim to be an expert in the medical or metaphysical fields, there is one question I feel I can answer with complete certainty. “How long have you been practicing Yoga?”
It’s a question we are all familiar with and encounter at one point or another during the course of casual conversation. How long have you been a _______.? By now you may even have you elevator speech down. But as you deliver your canned response, what about that voice in the back of your head saying its not that simple? How can this seemingly one thing be separated from the experiences that came before it?
I will never forget the quote that put it perfectly into perspective for me. In an interview with Bob Marley, a reporter asked him how long had he been a Rasta. The question was directed to address the dichotomy of Bob’s reputable past as a Rude Boy and his then current stance as a devout Rastafarian. And as if answering from that same voice in the back of his head, his response was: “Well, I’ve been a Rasta from ever since. But it’s not how long you’ve been a Rasta; it’s how long it take you to grow. Because what you is-is what you is. From beginning to end…’cause even if you adopt things later, your own fate ah write out.” That was it! What we do, who we are now cannot be separated from the rest of our experience. Who we are doesn’t fit into a nice neat box, lawyer, doctor, artist, dancer. These are merely expressions of pieces and parts that have grown and developed within us over time. For me, the seeds of Yoga have been a part of my life long before I began a traditional practice.
It was an eighth grade English assignment where we were allowed to pick any book from the school library and do a report on it. Attracted by a classic image of a closed eyed, peaceful looking Siddhartha, I chose a book about the philosophy of Buddhism. What I was able to understand, I did so at the time through practical examples of my life. And what started as a book report has grown over the years into my spiritual practice. There is no clear line of distinguishing before and after. The same as someone doesn’t go to bed at night with no knowledge of cars and wake up the next morning a mechanic. Chances are there are early signs of interest relative to the field and years of ongoing development and refinement of their trade.
The fact is I began my physical practice in 2001. However, looking back through the different phases of my life, a large portion of my adolescence and young adulthood was consumed by competitive sports. I was talented and athletic so I excelled. But with all the success I enjoyed, it was never about the feeling of being better than anyone else. It was rather about the mastery of a craft through personal improvement. I found rhythm, focus, and absorption in pursuit of the perfection of a trade through self-development. Following my athletic days, prior to teaching Yoga, I found the same absorption in the detail-oriented work of carpentry. The focus I found while being a professional athlete, and the same concentration I cultivated in carpentry, are the same tools applied in any practice rooted in mindfulness. My Yoga practice is the expression of a lifetime of experiences and refined understanding that eventually brought me to my mat. My ongoing practice is ever changing and will no doubt evolve throughout my life.
If you are seeking a path to express your passion, perhaps look carefully at your past and observe the recurrent patterns that bring you joy and fulfillment. Perhaps what you are looking for has been a part of you all along. If you have found your calling, be supported knowing that it is an expression of pieces of yourself that you have grown and developed. So how long have I been practicing? Just as a biologist has long been drawn to nature, a musician has always had an ear for tone, I can look back and say I have always been a yogi. Just as if you look at your Dharma, the threads that weave together to make your story have been there from the beginning.