Crossing the Great Mind-Body Divide

yogaFor the first 28 years of my life, my body and I were polite acquaintances. We avoided each other if at all possible, like that neighbor you’re forced to smile and nod at when you accidentally make eye contact. So it was with me and the fleshy vessel struggling to lug me around. Exercise was obviously out of the question, with the sweating and panting and myriad other discomforts that accompany it—not to mention my resolute fear of people seeing how horribly uncoordinated I am.

That distaste for movement spiraled far beyond hating gym class or sheepishly avoiding the dance floor; it made me into an almost entirely sedentary human. I could sit at my desk or in front of the TV for hours without a second thought. I mean really, that’s just being efficient: why waste a movement when you don’t have to?

It was a bout with months-long, extreme insomnia that finally forced me to admit efficiency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I tried pills, I tried different pills, I tried Badger Balm and Sleepytime Tea, I tried yet more pills. Nothing worked. (I also tried vodka, tequila, bourbon and a wide array of domestic and imported beers. Those were considerably more fun, but still not helpful.) Finally, my doctor suggested yoga. I laughed in her face. “That’s not really my thing,” I said, eyeing the exit. She wrote me another prescription and left me there in my paper dress.

I had been living in Los Angeles for three years. The mere thought of yoga seemed very “L.A.” to me, as did the image of perfectly willowy women stretching and bending their way to even better bodies. I had felt intensely out of place since moving to California from my native Oklahoma, and the idea of wandering into a yoga studio seemed like walking into the heart of the beast: everything I wasn’t would be proudly on display there. I’d be like Snooki attending a Miss Manners seminar.

Still, I needed sleep. My job performance was starting to suffer, both from the insomnia and my ill-advised attempts to cure it. (See above, re: tequila.) I sat on the couch with my laptop—multi-tasking while barely lifting a finger—and on a whim typed in “yoga Burbank.” The first result that popped up in the search engine was Yoga Blend, a small studio just a few blocks up the street from my apartment that just happened to be offering a free intro to yoga workshop that weekend. Point taken, universe—message received, loud and clear.

Come Sunday, stepping through Yoga Blend’s storefront door was a little like clambering through a wardrobe into Narnia. Everything inside was completely foreign, but somehow tantalizing: soft sitar music coming from a stereo, the smell of deliciously relaxing essential oils wafting through the air, a beautiful painting of Ganesh hanging on the wall. I was a stranger in a strange land, but that was the point, I told myself. “Intro to yoga. You’re not supposed to know what’s going on.”

I removed my shoes, borrowed a mat and found an open spot on the floor. I suddenly wished I had done a better job shaving my legs. A few other brave souls filtered in, and we began. I smiled when I heard the Southern twang in the instructor Christy’s voice—she had moved here from Nashville and had just opened the studio the year before. I instantly felt a little more at home, despite myself. It helped that we hadn’t yet been asked to move.

First we learned about ujjayi pranayama, a deep breathing technique that felt like we were trying to imitate the sound of a seashell held to your ear. My lungs clearly didn’t know what to do with so much oxygen, after decades of sustained shallow breaths while maintaining a steady heartbeat to reruns of Friends. It was new and strange, but not in a bad way.

Next we began to do some light stretches. I was prepared to excuse myself and make a beeline for the door if necessary, shoes and car keys be damned. As I bent into a forward fold, I was surprised by how deep I was able to bend. Sure, my belly was in the way and my muscles were about as supple as the cracked vinyl on your grandma’s favorite lawn chair, but I was definitely folding forward. Okay, more like leaning forward. Christy advised us, “it’s not about reaching your forehead all the way to your knees; it’s about the intention.” And the intention felt good.

Moving through more poses, as we hit triangle I thought, “okay, now we’re doing yoga.” My brain was on overload trying to get all my limbs to do what they were supposed to: left arm up to the ceiling, right arm reaching to the floor, legs scissored straight but not locked—are they locked? And beyond form, there was the added pressure of trying not to fall over in a room full of strangers.

“Now go back to your ujjayi pranayama,” Christy’s gentle Tennessee twang told us. Oh, right. Breathe. I stood there in triangle pose, trying really hard to breathe in and out while blood flowed to places I’d been neglecting my entire life. My adversary and I were working together toward a common goal. Weird. I continued to mediate the détente between my brain and my body through warrior II, downward facing dog and my new best friend, child’s pose.

At the end of the workshop, I signed up for a 10-class series. I figured if I paid up front, I’d be more inclined to go back and get my money’s worth. But the next morning, I could barely walk. It was humiliating and hilarious at the same time; I hadn’t even broken a sweat, how could I possibly be so stiff and sore? Apparently this was the price for stretching muscles you’d never stretched before.

Undeterred, I bought my own yoga mat and went back to the studio for a real class. I was nervous to lose the safety net of the word “intro,” as though the veteran yogis might sniff me out and chase me into the Burbank streets with their disapproving looks. But miraculously, I discovered my yoga mat to be like my very own pink, rectangular fortress of solitude when I needed it to be. It gave me the freedom to focus on what I was doing and not worry about anyone else. Bad balance? Awkward form? Boob sweat? None of it mattered as long as I was on my mat.

After a few classes, my insomnia began to relent. I was learning how to release stress and how to find a peaceful place in my head. And I was shocked to learn that my body had a role to play. I stopped taking the sleeping pills, but these magic movements were curing much more than my sleepless nights. My heart had never felt so full, like it might burst with unadulterated gratitude. And my body felt completely new to me, too, at what seemed to be a molecular level. It felt like my blood cells were plumped up and full of oxygen. That, or I was mainlining dopamine, no chocolate required. As the months went on, friends began to comment that I was a new person. But really I felt like yoga had helped me become a whole person.

I know there are others out there, marooned on the sofa, trapped inside bodies that feel like strangers to them. Christy at Yoga Blend changed my life in one afternoon—and I would love nothing more than pay that experience forward… even if it’s just to help a timid beginner close her eyes, open her heart, and truly see the world of potential around her.

2012 Yoga Scholarship Essay

By: Chana Shwadlenak

If you liked this article and want them to win a free yoga teacher training, then make sure to vote for her by leaving a comment (scroll all the way to the bottom), and sharing this article on Facebook or Twitter. Each comment, Facebook, and Twitter share counts as one vote and you can do all three!

Are you interested in becoming a yoga teacher? Then visit our Yoga School Directory to find the right teacher training. Or, visit our Yoga Retreats page to explore beautiful yoga vacations from around the world.

Join the Conversation

  1. Friend of Beans says:

    Good luck!

    • Joan Irvine says:

      Very well written and inspiring story. Think the Yoga gods will be missing out on a great instructure if they don’t give you a training scholarship. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you.
      Joan Irvine (Tobin’s mom)

  2. Tricia says:

    This is the kind of teacher I would want to learn Yoga from… One that knows where I’m coming from! :D Good Luck!

  3. Shaneni says:

    Chana is an amazing person and would make a kick ass yoga teacher! She also introduced me to yoga and Christy and Yoga Blend and I too feel that yoga has changed my life. Here’s to Chana making a difference in many others’ lives as well. Plus no one can make me laugh like that girl. :)

  4. Kelly says:

    I would definitely take your class.

  5. Cory says:

    A desire to share, through Yoga instruction, the path to gratitude and union is something to be fostered and encouraged. Chana’s desire to bring people to their mats makes me glad again to be a part of this community. Good Luck Chana, your mind is remarkable and I know you’ll be wonderful.

  6. Shamrock says:

    I’m thoroughly inspired by chana to get up and do something other than come home from a 8-12 hour work day and sit on the couch. the couch is as tired of me as I am it! Good luck chana! Thanks for the inspiration!!

  7. Molly says:

    Yet another reason why Chana is one of the most awesome people I know.

  8. Jessica Rick says:

    Thanks for sharing both your vulnerability and strength. Lovely essay.

  9. Jess Tait says:

    Excellent essay Madoo.

  10. Darin says:

    Inspirational essay. You rock.

  11. Kristi says:

    Beautiful essay and wishing you the best of luck!

  12. Amanda says:

    I loved reading your essay. It was truely inspiring. I hope you win because I would come take your class for sure!!!

  13. Carrie says:

    Well written- good luck!

  14. Lisa Klassen says:

    Fantastic! I would take a class from you anytime!

  15. Stephanie Dickinson says:

    Perfect! You’ve always been a wonderful writer, and I love the idea of you using your talent for verbal expression to help others find peace in their physical selves. I can imagine taking a class from you and I would love it! Good luck!

  16. Carla says:

    You will be the best teacher! Your essay is so inspiring. Namaste

  17. Taryn says:

    Chana deserves to win this scholarship! As much as I love my yoga teacher I would lover her more. Good luck!

  18. Linnea says:

    One’s first steps into a yoga studio are the hardest. Having Chana’s Oklahoma hospitality welcome a new student would definitely help ease the nerves of walking into class.

  19. Jeanna says:

    More people in this world need to know the awesomeness that is Chana. She’d be an amazing teacher!

  20. Connie Moore says:

    Chana has a gift to share with the world and she expresses this beautifully through her words. Chana will be a wonderful addition to the yoga world of instructors. Please choose her for the scholarship!

  21. Anne says:

    Awesome, Chana!! you deserve the scholarship!

  22. Anne says:

    Loved this essay and it actually inspires me to go to yoga with you. I’ve always wanted to try it but I’m as flexible as a rod of steel so I’ve avoided it. Reading about your experience has changed my mind so maybe I’ll give it a try! Thanks for sharing and I hope you win- you deserve it.

  23. Debbie Grace says:

    Wonderful essay. Funny, and from the heart. You will make an awesome instructor!

  24. sheree says:

    Go Foo Fighters and Chana!

  25. Amy says:

    I vote for Chana!

  26. Susan says:

    Excellent essay! Chana would make an excellent instructor!

  27. Megan Bauer says:

    Loved this! Touching and inspirational. Good luck, Chana!

  28. Angela Wittman says:

    Excellent essay; go Chana!

  29. Ben says:

    The good news- you’re my dream yoga teacher.
    The bad news- Now you have a vote from @byrdturgler.

  30. Justine Morgan says:

    Inspiration for those who don’t think they can’t do it. Thanks!

  31. meg maclaren says:

    You have inspired me already. I’d like to find a yoga teacher like you in NC.

  32. Carla Shannon says:

    Fantastic, Chana! You just might have inspired me to put aside my fear and doubt and try yoga!

  33. Carmen says:

    Beautifully shared! Chana will make you proud and represent like no other! Namaste. :0)

  34. Maggie says:

    Madoo, I’d take a class from you any day of the week. When are you planning to get your tail over here to Japan? Maybe we can have a ta-ta yoga class this summer?

  35. Michelle says:

    Amazing, Chana! You are so good at all that you do – good luck with this latest endeavor! :-)

  36. Christine says:

    How encouraging! Chana would be a wonderful instructor.

  37. Edina says:

    Good luck!

  38. Dena says:

    I’m inspired! I’ve had nudges to take yoga classes for a couple of years now from friends, but this essay has pushed me over the edge. Thanks Chana!

  39. beccadove says:

    Ohmmmmm namaste and all that jazz.

  40. Cortney says:

    You. Amaze. Me.
    Every day.
    I never thought I’d say this, but this actually makes me want to join Twitter so I can tweet, re-tweet & re-re-tweet-tweet to get you your votes. And you better believe I’ll be at Christy’s next intro session — nothing is getting my way this time!

  41. Diana says:

    Great essay! As a yoga teacher, I love to hear how others found a home on their mat!

  42. Melissa says:

    Congratulations Chana and good luck!

  43. Megan says:

    Chana- You made me want to do some yoga! Very proud of you!

  44. Sarah says:

    Nicely done, Chana! Could you come teach in Baltimore? I’d love to take a class from you!

  45. Sarah says:

    Good Luck Chana! I discovered yoga in grad school and loved it! unfortunately I’ve let myself be pulled away from it. Your essay reminds me of my first few classes. I hope you win this scholarship!

  46. Amy says:

    Great essay! Good luck!

  47. Alice B. says:

    Chana, thanks for sharing! I enjoyed your essay, because I’m following in your footsteps a bit. I’m ready to suck it up and give my mind and body what they need :-)

  48. Kate B. says:

    I have a similar story with swimming, which I took up after being diagnosed with Type II diabetes. When I started, my friends asked me what strokes I did, and I answered, “I’m not drowning as I go from one end of the pool to the other.” I have stamina and strength for the first time in my life. In fact, I should probably try yoga again. There’s a studio only a couple of miles from my house…

  49. Clara says:

    Go, Chana! I had my first-ever yoga class at our alma mater, at 8am. Almost a decade later, I’m still uncoordinated, but I LOVE IT! You’ll make a wonderful teacher :)

  50. Dale says:

    Good luck! Sounds like you will make a great instructor!

  51. blythe says:

    I need to get back on my mat! Thanks for the nudge . . .

  52. Kristen says:

    Wonderful essay! I hope you win the scholarship!

  53. Taffy says:

    I vote for this one. It’s incredibly honest and compelling.

  54. A.J. says:

    Go, Chana!

  55. Amber Tait says:

    Great Story! Good Luck!!!!!

  56. Randy says:

    Thanks for for being so candid in telling your story. Nice job!

  57. Scott says:

    I don’t always think about taking yoga, but when I do, I think about taking yoga from Chana.

    Awesome essay, good luck!

  58. Cindy says:

    Such a fantastic essay! I can relate on so many levels!!!

  59. Leslie says:

    Well written and inspirational essay! Go Chana!

  60. Marshall says:

    Inspirational! And respirational! Great work.

  61. Michelle Madrid says:

    This essay was very inspiring, not only because I’m a woman and can relate, but also because I have once felt that wonderful feeling that comes when doing yoga. It’s almost magical because it’s hard to replicate that moment of release. Thank you Chana for sharing this moments experience with everyone.

  62. Jesse Palacio says:

    Very Inspiring!

  63. Shahnti says:

    I’d take Yoga from this teacher! Sign me up!!!!!

  64. Kimberlee says:

    Awesome! I’m here in NYC cheering you on! xo

  65. laura says:

    Way to go, Chana! I hope you win! And your dog is delicious!

  66. Jenifer Jensen says:

    Yoga is life changing. Best of luck! I hope you win the scholarship Chana-ma-doo! :) Love you.

  67. Jenifer Jensen says:

    I hope you get it! Best of luck! :) (I apologize if this is duplicate – I didn’t have my cookies on. )

  68. Brad says:

    From a former OK dweller, I am proud of you. So LA, but proud.

  69. Alex Madrid says:

    That is so awesome! Damnit, I ned to get my mat out. It’s been way too long.

  70. Beans Madrid says:

    Nice picture, mom. I wonder who that handsome boy is posing with you?

  71. Joe Trizza says:

    You go girl!!!!! I love you Chana!!!!

  72. Sam says:

    Great of luck!

  73. Mellodee says:

    I would love to take a class from this woman. She seems to know where I’m coming from and how to make me comfortable. Please win so I can take your class!!

  74. bart says:

    Well said. We need more people like this.

  75. Vicki says:

    I loved this article. Chana, you are am amazing writer. Now I actually want to take my purple mat and actually use it for yoga instead of as a sleeping pad for when I sleep on someone’s floor or when I go camping.

  76. Edawg says:

    Fantastic essay! Really think you’d make an excellent teacher!

  77. carrie says:

    Yoga to the people.

  78. Food Fiend says:

    may the force be with you!

  79. Chris says:

    Looking good, old buddy!

  80. Geoff Holder says:

    I hope you get this!

  81. David Holder says:

    Awesome!

  82. Tobin says:

    The essay is very inspiring – I think you would make a fantastic instructor.

  83. Jenny says:

    So well written and so funny. And so wonderful, too! So happy for you, Chana.

  84. Matt M says:

    I can totally relate to this story, other than the willingness to teach. Good luck Chana!

  85. Eric says:

    Brilliant essay. This should be no contest.

  86. Annie says:

    Now I want to take yoga…

  87. andi helfant-frye says:

    I have been thinking for quite some time about taking a yoga class and as Chana said “Point taken, universe—message received, loud and clear”
    I’m calling tomorrow !!!! Thanks for the push. Great essay

  88. Stephanie says:

    Chana, you’re an inspiration. I hope to take a yoga class from you someday soon. There definitely needs to be more real people like you teaching them. :)

  89. Mike says:

    Sounds like you’d make a pretty understanding instructor!

  90. Perrin says:

    Teachers of all stripes need to read this essay. Chana personally experienced the enormous benefits of yoga, and there appears to be no doubt that her experience and personality would resonate deeply with students. She tells a great story in her writing. I’m sure she would make any yoga experience as enjoyable and rewarding.

  91. Shelby M. says:

    Im so poud of you Chana! Glad Yoga has found you and helped make your heart, body & soul feel better. I love Yoga as well and know the benefits and peace we get by taking just that one hour for ourselves. You’d be great at teaching it to others.

  92. Linda says:

    I too am inspired to give yoga a try! – Blythe’s mom

  93. Nicki says:

    I love your story Chana! You deserve the scholarship and much more!

  94. Sheila Josephberg says:

    What a wonderful essay…funny and inspiring. I’m so happy for you

  95. Jess H. says:

    What an amazing essay. This chick a) kicks ass and b) has a down to earth quality that I feel makes the best yoga teachers. If she doesn’t deserve a scholarship I’m not sure who does.

  96. Michelle says:

    Chana is Amazing, would take yoga from here anytime anyplace!

  97. Dave Anderson says:

    AWESOME essay, Chana!!! You rock!

  98. Jason Berlin says:

    I too love the yogz!!! Good luck – you deserve this chance!

  99. Leslie says:

    Go, Chana, Go!! You totally deserve to win this!

  100. Susan F. says:

    There’s no doubt in my mind that Chana would make an excellent yoga teacher. Good luck!

  101. Linda says:

    Namaste, Chana!

  102. John Berkson says:

    The article by Miss Chana inspires in an unparalleled and unique way… like a satisfying helping of apple & cinnamon oatmeal mixed with maple & brown sugar. I’m warm all over.

  103. Nikki Boyer says:

    Chana is full of insight as well as an amazing sense of self… and humor!

  104. Jessica Tait says:

    Chana would be a great teacher!

  105. laura says:

    way to go, chana!

  106. Emily Garman says:

    Great read, Chana. This exact same thing happened to me when I tried yoga. I did it for two years and never felt better. I had had lower back pain since an accident when I was 18; I’d tried every pain pill, every physical therapy, every chiropractor and more. No relief until I tried yoga. I think it does “make sense” to our bodies in a deep, spiritual way. The best thing about yoga, though, I think is that you can practice it in a spiritual way or not-whatever you choose. I have to say, I remember you as a pretty tightly wound, serious, extremely intimidating classmate…so I imagine yoga WOULD do wonders for you! :) (I say this because it takes one to know one) If you ever move back to Oklahoma, we’ll have to find a class together. Namaste!

  107. robin radin says:

    Lovely article, Chana! You deserve to win!

  108. Donovan says:

    word!!!!

  109. beccadove says:

    The cats wanted to vote for you, too!

  110. Paige Cauthron says:

    Good luck, Chana, you bad*ss.

  111. Quin halpin says:

    I’m so glad I got to read that, Chana! Best of luck!

  112. Annie says:

    Love it! Best of luck xo

  113. Mike B. says:

    Your writing is impeccable and entertaining, as always. I almost want to give yoga a try myself after reading your story. Best of luck with all of it: the teaching, the self improvement and attaining your goals. I hope it all comes together and carries you forward into 2012 on a wave of success and well-being.

  114. Rosanna Tavarez says:

    yes!! come to the light side! so awesome Chana:)
    xo
    Rosanna

  115. Darnella Blackwood says:

    Good luck, Chana. Make the most of your journey.

  116. Rafael says:

    Chana is the kind of person who lives by attraction not promotion. Spend any time with her and you want to learn how to get her spirit. That alone would make me want to take her class.

  117. Namaste says:

    Hope you win!

  118. Tv Food and Drink says:

    Change is rarely easy or fun in the short run, but it tends to deliver more and more satisfaction as time goes on. Good luck to you! – GG

  119. armen says:

    Well written. Good luck!

  120. Marc says:

    Namaste. I’m not sure what that word means, but I’m pretty sure it’s encapsulated here. :)

  121. Greg Solo says:

    Inspiring. Chana has always kicked ass in my eyes. I miss you and wish you the best of everything.

  122. Ken says:

    This was an incredible and inspiring essay. Best of luck (and I love the picture of you & Beans).

  123. Lacy says:

    This essay makes me want to do yoga, something I have NEVER thought about doing. I appreciate the honesty and humor and feel like this person gets what many of us feel as newcomers. She should most def be teaching a class.

  124. Elisabeth Andersen says:

    Engaging story that really drew me in to read more. Made me re-think my decision NOT to take the free yoga class I could be taking with my local athletic club membership. Hope you win — you’d be great!

  125. Trish says:

    If Chana doesn’t receive this scholarship it will be a crying shame. I am a dedicated yogi and the thought of taking a class taught by Chana is so exciting. She is always joyous and would bring that to a roomful of students every day. I’m sure of it.

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