A Path Back to Center

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I found my way back to my own center. And my center is the source of emotional agility: if I feel my center, I can sway into sadness, doubt, and uncertainty, but with the knowledge that I will, for sure, sway back.

~ Elena Mihailenko

They say that a yoga journey starts with a teacher. For me, this was definitely the case.

Nine years ago, I saw a class with a teacher named Marina (quite a Russian name, I thought) listed on the schedule at my neighborhood studio (Rising Sun Yoga) with a 6:00 am class, which sounded impossible for a younger me. Nevertheless, I scraped myself out of bed, got into class, and right there and then – my yoga journey started.

Marina, of course, found a pain point in my soul immediately, pressed without reservations, and naturally, I cried.

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Now, I know that I simply experience way more feelings than others. And it is good and bad at the same time. But this realization came later, after being through light postpartum depression and also after realizing my mom’s anxiety issues. However, at that point in my life, I only started to touch on the edges of this realization.

Marina’s words came right inside the abundance of feelings, assured me that all of this is a kind of normal and that I will find peace with it.

With Marina’s guidance, I found my way back to my own center. And my center is the source of emotional agility: if I feel my center, I can sway into sadness, doubt, and uncertainty, but with the knowledge that I will, for sure, sway back.

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Until I was about 12 years old, I used to spend a bigger part of my summers at my grandma’s house, in the countryside, in Belarus. I came there with thoughts, doubts, triumphs, and disappointments of my pre-teen and teen life. After two weeks of being left alone with books, a hammock, going for a swim in the river, smelling flowers, eating ripe apples and pears, and doing nothing, I usually started to feel who I really was. All the social layers, worries, and doubts fell away, revealing me to myself. I loved that feeling and missed it during the hustle and bustle of the school year. So, when attending this first yoga class with Marina, I was able to reach this center within 75 minutes of class – I was shaken.

Yoga for me now, like it was in my first class, is a workout of MIND first, body second. So much has happened in my life, where yoga and our yoga community was the supporting infrastructure: I finished my MBA, I carried two babies (who attended Mind Body Flow Yoga all the way till the week of each of their deliveries), I walked and worked through disappointments, heartache, losing loved ones, changes in life – I bring all of this baggage to the mat and dissolve it there, or savor it.

If you see me in the studio, I bet you would never guess it is my 9th year on the mat, since I am not aiming for perfection of poses. I can do zero arms balances (except for emerging crow – regular and side) and my lines are not perfect. All of it is fine with me since my goal has always been coming back to my center.

I can’t say I reach my center in every class. It is WORK every time – it is swatting away thoughts that tug on my attention. Sometimes I am so pulled by a thought or reality that wants to sit with me, that I surrender. But the most magical times on the mat are those when I succeed in hollowing out, and my center stops being shy and comes out to spend time with me.

Another side of yoga for me is listening to my body and being honest about what I should or should not do in a particular class. My body is a tool for not making myself smaller than I can be, but also not to let my ego overrule. “You can endure ANYTHING for 6 seconds” was my pathway to a minute long plank. 🙂

I love being a part of Mind Body Flow Yoga. I take pride in having been a part of it long before it was Mind Body Flow Yoga. I’m looking forward to many, many more years together.

*If you have any medical concerns, talk with your doctor before practicing yoga.

Sun Salutation A is a series of postures that warms, strengthens, and aligns the entire body. It serves as an all-purpose yoga tool, kind of like a hammer that’s also a saw and a screwdriver if you can imagine such a thing. It is a staple at the beginning of practice to warm up. Watch Elena enter into this sequence from Mountain Pose (Tadasana). She will exit the sequence and land back in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) as well.

Here are a few steps to keep in mind, if you decide to try Sun Salutation A or if you have already started to experiment and play around with it:

  • To begin, bring yourself to the front edge of your mat in mountain pose (tadasana)with the hands in anjali mudra at your heart. This is traditionally where you might stop and set an intention for your practice if you choose to.
  • Bring the arms out to the sides and up to the ceiling to join your palms above your head in raised arms pose (urdhva hastasana). Lift your gaze to your thumbs and slide your shoulders away from your ears.
  • Release your arms to either side and forward bend over your legs (as if you were doing a swan dive into a swimming pool) to come into a forward bend (uttanasana). Alternatively, you can keep your palm together and pass them in front of your heart as you fold forward.
  • Place your fingertips in line with your toes. Flatten your palms if possible or tent your fingers. Place your hands on blocksif they don’t reach the floor when your legs are straight. You can also bend the knees a little if that makes you more comfortable.
  • Lift your head as you come to a flat back (ardha uttanasana), coming onto your fingertips or placing your hands on your shins, whichever allows you to get your back really flat.
  • Plant your palms and step or jump back to a plank position. In plank, make sure your shoulders are over your wrists and your butt is neither sticking up nor drooping down. A straight line from the crown of your head to your heels is what you are going for. Take an inhale here.

If you are a beginner:

Exhale. Lower to your knees, chest, and chin. Lower your chest and chin down to the floor, landing your shoulders right over your hands. Keep your butt high and your elbows hugging your ribs.

If you are more advanced:

Exhale. Shift your shoulders forward a few inches and lower down to four-limbed staff pose (chaturanga dandasana). Bringing the shoulders slightly in front of the wrists before lowering helps you get the alignment right in the final pose. If you are getting tired, lower to your knees since doing chaturanga incorrectly can injure your shoulders over time.

If you did knees, chest, and chin in the previous step:

Inhale. Come forward to a low cobra. Anchor your pelvis and the tops of your feet to the floor but try not to press into your hands as you come up into the backbend.

If you did chaturanga in the previous step:

Inhale. Roll over your toes (if possible) to come into an upward facing dog. Bend your elbows out to the sides at first in order to bring your shoulders down and away from your ears. Then straighten your arms. Make sure your legs are straight and your knees are lifted off the floor.

  • ExhalePush back to downward facing dog. You can come through hands and knees on the way if necessary.
  • Stay here a few breaths(or more) if you need to take a break. If you are going at a brisk pace, just stay one breath.
  • Step the right foot next to the right hand and then bring the left foot to join it in standing forward bend (uttansana). You may also choose to jump forward instead. To do this, bend the knees on an exhalation and jump your feet to meet your hands. Try to land with your toes in line with your fingertips.
  • Inhale up to a flat back and then exhale back to uttanasana.
  • Lift your arms out to the sides and up, reversing the swan dive to return to raised arms pose.
  • Come to stand in mountain pose with your hands in a prayer position at the heart.
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1 thought on “A Path Back to Center”

  1. Mabel Andrews

    Just reading this I felt I was with you on this Journey. It was Amazing…Praying that my schedule will allow me join a class.

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