I'm pretty sure I was 19 or 20. I'd been home months ago for summer or some holiday break, and completely randomly, a Gaiam catalog came to my parents house. It contained the usual: bamboo bath mats and bed sheets, silk pajamas, compost buckets, personal massagers. It also had yoga mats.
Some part of my brain said, "Oh yeah--yoga. You'd been interested in that, right Jess? What is that, anyway?" Rather than ordering from the catalog, I went to some big-box store and bought a cheap purple mat and yoga workout on VHS tape (remember those?), featuring Suzanne Deason in a blue unitard. I took it home and played with it a little while, and then took it back to school and forgot about it for a while.
That fall I moved into The Foster-Walker Complex. A dorm on Northwestern's South Campus, it's a giant dorm of singles and quads, monolithic and unattractive, where fun went to die. My room was a closet, just big enough for a closet and XL Twin bed, a small desk and a chest of drawers. But there was a narrow strip of carpet just wide enough for me to spread out that mat.
I was really unhappy that year. I know now that I was in the grip of depression that almost took me out. At the time, I thought it was just typical college stress. I spent a lot of time lying in bed watching PBS Kids and reruns of Friends and The Simpsons on TV. And somehow, every now and then, I moved aside my text books and dirty laundry, unrolled that purple mat, and did an hour's worth of yoga.
This isn't a story of how yoga saved my life. I mean, I'm sure it did, but frankly I owe as much to a good therapist and an antidepressant as I do to that occasional dalliance with yoga. But I remember that every time I took an hour and dragged myself out of bed, after an hour of lunging and Warrior II and Cobra and Downward Dog--all of which at the time felt bloody impossible--that I felt a little better. I was sweating and breathing deeply; I felt stronger and brighter. Even if it only lasted for an hour, it brought me a little joy and made me feel more at home in my body.
That's all anyone is looking for, right? Just the chance to feel a little more at home in their body. I see it now when I look around Intro classes and at rooms full of advanced practitioners. I see it when I practice beside yogis more accomplished than me, and beside yogis that are just beginning. Beneath our hope to lose weight or build strength or flexibility, or to nail some challenging posture, is just a simple desire to be more at home in your body. Some days the practice feels like a gift, some days it feels like a challenge.
It's one of the things that brings me back to my mat. Every day.