Finding Yoga by Jenna Marceau

My name is Jenna, and I grew up in Golden, Colorado. I am a 25-year-old woman currently living in Boulder, Colorado with the love of my life, my cat Jazz,and my boyfriend Luke too. I am a social worker, and while not at work you'll find me on a trail, at the bookstore, at a brewery, or most likely, at a yoga studio. Yoga is my passion and I’m honored to get to share how this unexpected, fruitful practice has become a part of me.

I found my passion for yoga by accident. The first time I did it, I was visiting a couple of college friends in Ventura, California. They wanted to go to a yoga class at a studio they'd become regulars at, so I reluctantly agreed to join them. At first it seemed cool and being there made me feel cool too. The studio space was beautiful, and so were the people in it. As soon as class started though, all I could think was: "what the fuck is THIS?". The teacher sang to us, instructed us to breathe on her terms, and she told us to move in ways that made every muscle in my body feel loudly and uncomfortably acknowledged. I was so mad at my friends for bringing me there and making me do what I started to think of as "stupid ass yoga". Truly, I hated everything that was going on. I felt so relieved when the teacher told us we could lay down, and I was even happier when my friends and I left to treat ourselves to Thai food.

Initially, that yoga class did nothing but annoy me and totally confirm that my friends in California had become full-on hippies. After I returned home to Colorado however, I found myself thinking often about my experience in that class. Yes, it had been physically challenging, but there was something else about it too that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I was stuck on my original question about yoga: "what the fuck is THIS?", and eventually I was drawn to a studio close to me in Denver to find out more. After my first class there, and my second class ever, I was fully hooked. The yoga magic got me, and it got me good. I started a weekly practice, which became a daily practice, and ultimately led to me completing my teacher training and teaching in Boulder, Colorado. More specifically, I've been practicing vinyasa and power yoga for about 3 years, and I've been teaching for almost 1 year. Now I can't imagine my life without yoga, and yeah, I guess I've forgiven my friends for taking me to that first class.

Once I got over my distaste, yoga became my passion because it made me feel AMAZING, and it improved my sense of self. I had tried other ways of being in my body, including running and going to the gym to "lift" (mostly feeling weird and trying to stay out of other people’s way), but they never clicked for me. Before yoga, my movement practices were solely about exercise because "it's good for you" or whatever, and if I'm being honest, they were about vanity too. While working out, I would think about the calories I was burning and how good I wanted to look in a bikini, which is EXHAUSTING. As a young American woman, I think it's really normal to feel this way. I was never taught how to get to know my body and how to listen to my intuition. Quite the opposite, in fact. As a female, I was taught to torture my body so that it would look a certain way. I also received the messaging that the way I feel and think doesn't really matter (hence, the hot bod so I can stand there and look pretty).

Once I found yoga, all of that changed for me. Movement became about being with myself - mind, body, breath, and soul. The exercise is a bonus, but it's not what keeps me coming back. What keeps me coming to my mat is the exhilarating feeling of my heart beat rising in my chest and syncing with the sounds of my inhales and exhales. Yoga has given me space to be in my body and experience how INCREDIBLE it is, regardless of it's culturally informed "imperfections". Learning to love and respect my body is a dynamic process with good days and bad, but when I'm upside down or twisting, every part of me recognizes the complete miracle that my body is. Yoga has taught me to honor my body as my home and love it for all it allows me to experience. I also come back to my mat for the space yoga provides me to process my thoughts and feelings, and to listen to my inner longings. Yoga gives me private moments to be with my inner self, who I’ve learned is wise, kind, and grounded. While doing yoga, I get the chance to spend time with that part of myself, and from that I have learned to better use my voice, my instincts, my compassion, and my grit. The greatest gift from yoga has been the sense of safety I've cultivated in my body, with my thoughts, with my spirit, and with the rhythm of my breath. I’m so thankful for all yoga has given me so far, and I’m excited to welcome more of it’s teachings as I continue to pursue it.

The next step in my yoga practice is to learn about racism and colonization in yoga. As a white woman in America, I think yoga as I know it is curated for people like me at the high cost of others, specifically BIPOC and LQBTQIA people, and people with disabilities. It's a fact that the reason I was able to access yoga so easily is because I am a white, able-bodied, heterosexual, middle class, educated woman. Yoga studios have always felt safe for me because there were other people who look like me everywhere - not only in class, but in leadership and in advertising. I had zero obstacles to accessing yoga, and that's not the case for people without my privilege.

It’s time to take a good, hard look at how and why I practice the way I do, and I think this will be the hardest part about my yoga journey so far. I'm really scared of saying and doing the wrong things as I engage with this process, but it’s time to uncenter my white feelings, and let discomfort be a mirror for how I participate in unjust systems. I have ugly stuff to look at and I’m already seeing that I have been racist and colonial in my yoga practice (are 99% of my yoga teachers, students, and friends white? Yeah. Am I guilty of performative activism without actually changing what I do? Yeah. Are the places I practice and teach colonized places? Yeah. Am I informed on the cultural context of yoga? Not really. Do I participate in capitalistic yoga and the appropriation of yoga? Yeah.).

Though I'm really comfortable in my yoga practice because everything about how yoga is right now in America benefits me and people like me, I think it's harmful and I need to learn why and what I can do about it. Silence and complacency are privileges I’ve hidden within and it's not ok for me to stay safe in non-action while others without privilege are hurt by it. I've begun reading about racism and colonization in yoga and I'll share some of what I'm looking at for anyone who wants to learn with me:

Decolonizingyoga.com or susannabarkataki.com.

Also follow on Instagram: @davidia.turner, @ramaarae, @jordan.e.smiley. (For anyone with other resources, please share!)

I never expected to fall for yoga, but it’s taking me on a journey that fills me up and challenges me to be better - for myself and for others. My hope is that everyone has something in their life that makes them feel the way yoga makes me feel. For those who are just starting to feel passionate about something, my advice is to invite playfulness into it. I think sometimes passion is met with so much intensity that it becomes: "I love this so much that I need to be perfect at it or I am failing". Perfection is not only impossible, it's SO boring because it's not authentic. Passion is not about perfection, it's about seeing yourself in something greater than you, and pursuing it with curiosity. Passion is about committing to something with the ups and downs and all the spaces in between.  Embrace your passion for all that it is, when it gets really hard, as one of my yoga teachers says: "It's just yoga" (shout out, Heather Ardis!). That sentiment can be applied to most things, so keep it in mind and have fun as you dive in to whatever lights you up.

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