Here's what I know for sure. My middle sister Bea introduced me to yoga when I was 10 or 11 and I liked it. I don't remember how often we practiced or what we did. We moved out of the house I grew up in when I was twelve and I have a very specific yoga memory from that home so it must have been when I was 11.
Finding a comfortable place to practice was a problem. We lived in a split level, so our den and my sister's bedrooms were on a concrete slab with linoleum tiling. Those locations were not ideal for practice. I preferred the upstairs living room which had wood floors covered with a thin rug. The main problem there, was that it was the center of activity in the house so everyone could watch me practice and my Mom, in particular, could try to discourage me. I know I tried to use the space when she was not around or busy in another room and I learned to be real quiet.
One day in particular stands out from that period. It was after my father had moved out and Mom was openly dating Tony, the man who would become my stepfather. He was a quiet guy who encouraged anything athletic that I would do. One day, while Mom was upstairs putting her face on, I hung out with Tony in the living room. At some point I told him I thought I could stand on my head for an hour. He thought it was impossible. So I set out to prove him wrong, right in the middle of the floor there. When my Mom saw this, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes into my attempt she flipped. She told me to come down right away saying that what I was doing was dangerous. But I now had an ally and once he explained what we were up to, I was miraculously allowed to continue. This was perhaps the first bonding experience I had with Tony. His protection meant a lot to me. My yoga now had a sponsor who could keep my Mom from stopping me.
I'm not sure how much yoga I was doing between ages 11 and 13 but it was enough that I gravitated to a yoga class the first chance I got, when I was 13. I know I was 13 because the memory includes my first girlfriend who I had in the eighth grade.
Each summer from the time I was seven or eight years old, I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks which were a few hundred miles north of our home in lower Westchester County, NY. It was a cool place run by teachers from the New York City area and staffed by college students from around the country and the world. There were lots of activities that were organized by bunk and also elective activities each day. During these elective periods I worked on the camp newspaper, learned how to row, canoe and sail, got my junior and senior life saving certificates and became a fairly accurate archer. When Sparrow Densmore began offering yoga at Camp Manitoba I was encouraged to develop my practice.
Sparrow showed us a lot of cool postures in the middle of a grassy field. It accustomed me to practicing outside which I love to this day. She also introduced this little group of young yogis to esoteric practices like pranayama, self massage and guided relaxations. Here began my somewhat ambiguous relationship to yogic metaphysical ideas. One posture she showed us she assured us that her teacher had said, doing it for 1/2 an hour each day could replace 3 hours of sleep. I wasn't sure I bought all of it, but I liked the class and the teacher and I was eager to try everything. I learned a lot of headstand variations that I was proud to show off for Mom and Tony, over my Mom's objections, of course, when they came to visit on parents weekend. There was much in the class that influenced my later practice as I was first developing my yoga repertoire.
Perhaps the most significant thing that happened though was on the metaphysical side. One beautiful sunny day a group of 5 or 6 of us were assembled in a circle on the grass. Sparrow lead us in a self hug. Crossing our arms in front of ourselves and reaching our right hands around our left sides and left hands around the right we were told to enjoy the warmth of self connection and nurturing with our eyes closed. In the midst of this practice I was transported. It was as if I was suddenly back home with Denise, my girlfriend, who I'd left behind for camp. I felt very much like I was in her arms and kissing her in the woods near where we lived. It was powerful, delightful and astonishing to me. Many, many years later I began slowing down enough to reach such states on a regular basis, but this early experience showed me there was something more to yoga than just being bendy and it informed my desire to keep practicing.
This was a delicious time that included the early shoots of my yoga practice, which I continued to nurture after that summer. But there were other much darker things going on with me as well. The next blog post in this story arc will detail my shadow life which eventually lead to me to a decision to quit yoga entirely.