• Christine Yan

How I Grew Up With Yoga

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

In elementary school, my classmates' parents would ask my parents if I did yoga or meditated. She is SO calm. Christine is as calm as a cucumber. I heard it all the time. In the agonizing moments before heading on stage for a piano competition, my hands would be clammy with cold sweat but I would still hear it. I can't believe she's so zen she doesn't get nervous!

Here I am, age 5, acting zen and all in Stockholm, Sweden.


Another one in Freiberg, Germany. Definitely did not know what tree pose was.


So when my mom started up a weekly Sunday-morning hot yoga habit, she took me one time when I was 14. I want to say this was the life-changing moment where I found yoga, or yoga found me, but nah. All I remember is being next to a sweaty, hairy, and heavily breathing regular. Every time the instructor cued a sun salutation, his arms would swing up and with that sweat droplets would swing off his hair and, well, onto my mat. Yum. And how could people breathe so slow and loud? My lung capacity is just not meant for this, I thought.


Fast forward a few months to high school. When deciding what clubs to join, my walk-home buddy and first yogi friend, Maria, piqued my interest in signing up for the yoga club with her. Twice a week after school, we would practice with a school teacher, Ms. Desfosses, who happened to be a certified yoga instructor on a glamorous basement floor. It was a gentle, accessible practice with gradual changes to up the challenge. Just a few practices in, I was hooked. Sometimes we wouldn't even get to practice after being distracted with conversations about healthy muffins, the importance of sleep, or how yoga helps manage stress, yet I would still walk away feeling a little bit better. At the end of the day though, I did yoga to keep up my flexibility and gain subtle strength - it was almost purely physical at this time.

As I joined more sports teams and other clubs throughout the years, I would slack off from yoga since naturally, the yoga club was the least intimidating to skip. I wasn't aware of it immediately, but soon my body began sending me signals that something was off. Sometimes it was my painful calve cramps coming back (which originally started with chronic shin splints, cheers to being ill-prepared for running). Sometimes it was my debilitating lower back pain that often sent me to the nurse's office to lie down with a heat pack. But crucially it was my mental health. Not being aware of it, I would often wait too long for my stress to manifest in other ways: becoming extremely short-tempered toward my loved ones, inflammation amounting to reccuring medical issues like styes, shortness of breath, and phases of anxiety-induced insomnia. Hello sleep deprivation! While I noticed the correlation, I definitely didn't acknowledge the causation. I brushed it off because I thought I was born calm. I don't get stressed, I'm as calm as a cucumber...


Now I'm not saying these were all caused by skipping yoga. These were just symptoms of underlying issues that yoga helped alleviate. I truly thought I was healthy and happy because I drank kale smoothies, ate salads, played sports, and was high functioning at school. Come university, my habit of brushing off my mental and physical health got worse. In first year, I essentially did zero yoga living in residence and prioritized everything but myself. I was in bed for over a week in January from pneumonia, and after that had a reoccurring aggressive cough for months with no doctor able to say what was wrong. That summer, the cough got so bad I went through months of treatment with a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner who prescribed me a bunch of what looked like witch-medicine to cook in a pot. The subsided, but my emotional problems did not. Without going in detail, it was probably the lowest point of my life.


I went to the gym every day with my mom that summer, including a few yoga classes a week. My favourite yoga class was a 75-minute hot power class with Kelly Trimm, an alignment focused warrior that frankly made me feel like a beginner all over again. It felt awful yet humbling during the 75 minutes of sweat and shaking in long holds, as I forcefully breathed my way to savasana. Getting up after these classes was the most refreshing feeling ever. While I knew I was reaching to yoga as a physical exercise that inevitably made me feel better because of the plain scientific benefits, I finally felt the deeper magic of yoga during one of these classes. One Monday night, something happened that triggered what would become my worst panic attack. Starting Tuesday morning, each breath I took for the next 48 hours felt so restricted I thought I was going to faint. Heart palpitations going off, dizzy, seeing stars. Keeping up with my numbing habit, I pretended everything was okay and kept going to work and the gym without talking about it. Thursday night's yoga class with Kelly came around and I dreaded it, maybe because I knew these classes were opening something up. This was such a hard practice as I struggled through every pose; I just wanted to collapse. Sweat droplets rolling down my face began merging themselves with tears of frustration, but I was so focused I didn't know what I was feeling. It was a blur of 75 minutes, but all I know is that after class, it took me over an hour to even remember what happened Monday night, and what I felt like in the last 48 hours. I was breathing again, fully. I felt light.

So that's why I do yoga, I thought to myself. I had let something go.

This moment inspired me to take my practice deeper over the next few years as I began my home practice, which allowed me to actually keep a consistent habit. I also started exposing myself to the emotional and spiritual side of yoga by listening to Rachel Brathen's podcasts. I had always followed her on Instagram for the aesthetics but never felt particularly drawn to her story until then. Something about her voice, but more importantly her words, often so raw, felt relevant to everything I had compressed and shoved away throughout my life. Without talking, I felt heard. In my process of catching up with every episode, I began, very slightly, being comfortable with vulnerability. To acknowledging and admitting I wasn't okay. While I felt like I was getting to know Rachel more with every episode, I was indirectly getting to know myself too, finally.


My love for yoga grew as I was growing up all over again, this time as my whole self rather than the version I thought I knew, shaped by perceptions of what others expected me to be. This is what I mean when I say I grew up with yoga. This process really started when I was 20, and I'm still very much in the depths of it right now.

Since high school I wanted to become a yoga instructor. I told Maria during walks home I wanted to teach on a beach in Australia and own a cute organic cafe. I thought I'd be good because I was flexible and zen, and could do most poses. I'm glad I waited until 2019, after I graduated university. Those last few years of my life allowed me to understand myself and the practice in ways I could not have learned earlier. Because of how close I felt with Rachel's story from the podcast, I also knew the teacher I chose to train with could make or break my experience. I took the leap of faith, ignoring every little voice in my head reminding me of the barriers of time, money and objection from family and friends, and signed up. The 200 hours, 23 days I spent in Aruba at this teacher training was in itself a whole journey, which I've summed up briefly here.

The beautiful space where it all happened - Island Yoga, Aruba.


Today, I've been practicing yoga for nine years now, yet I'm still a beginner in many ways. This is my practice, this is my journey, and I'm learning every day. About myself and what yoga is and what it means. And that is the core purpose I strive to share in my teaching - to guide others to finding their own practice, their own journey, and their own meaning of yoga.

Thank you for reading (some of) my story. Much love,

Christine

Please feel free to visit the main Yoga page on my website for more information about my approach and the offerings I share.

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