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From the archives -- Why I Practice Yoga

By Kathleen Yount

WED OCT 06, 2021

from the archives! Originally published in...uhhhh...maybe 2015??

Why I Practice Yoga

(and the roots of my road rage)

I found yoga the same day I found road rage.

I was 15, on a weekend road trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway with part of my family. Extended car trips—which were a big part of my childhood—can be little microcosms of a family dynamic. In this particular car, the dynamic was fairly bland on the surface, but underneath it was by turns stifling and a little scary. The adults in charge were navigating the undercurrents of mental illness, substance abuse, manipulation, and deceit, and I never knew when a mood swing would wash us out, or when some betrayal would suck us under. There we sat, my sister and I strapped into the backseat year after year; by age 15 I was old enough to feel the conflict of always treading on eggshells and the guilt of not speaking up for myself or my younger sister, but I was still too young and unskilled to do anything about it.

So many people know this sense of being stuck, feeling at a loss on how to address the circumstances around us. My own visceral sense of being trapped, without the power or opportunity to express myself or defend myself, is one of the main reasons I developed such potent road rage as an adult—and also why I am now vegan. But we’ll cover those things some other time. Today I want to tell you about the moment on the Blue Ridge Parkway that would ultimately lead me to practice and then teach yoga.

One of our stops on this weekend trek was a familiar trail. Not the most majestic in that area, but from my earliest memories it had always been a tradition for my family to walk this trail when we were driving the Parkway. On this day, the trail was closed due to bad weather.

From my back seat in the car I didn't think the weather looked too bad, just low-hung clouds covering the little summit. And in the backseat, I was tired of feeling trapped, my body, mind, and heart frozen. I was, at last, starting to feel angry—the emotion that ultimately saved me from repeating my family’s codependent cycles later in life. On this day, in a move that was quite out of character for me, I asked for permission to check out the trail on my own. Equally unlikely, I was granted it.

I made my way up the path and as I approached the usually mild summit, I realized I had been wrong—what appeared to be just a cloudy day at the parking lot below me was actually a serious windstorm once you got higher into the cloud cover. I walked to the little overlook at the summit, and I looked down—instead of the gentle valley spreading out below me, all I could see and hear were shrieking, billowing clouds. The wind at the cliff’s edge was blowing upward, so hard that I could lean into it without falling. It was like the wind was a person—or it was part of me. The usual paralysis and vertigo I feel when confronting heights of any degree wasn’t there; on this day, standing at this edge, leaning into the howling wind, I felt the power of this mountain storm as my own power; I spread my arms wide and screamed as loud as I possibly could.

My scream was taken upward by the wind—I knew my family in the parking lot below me wouldn't hear it. I felt free; I could really feel my own aliveness. It was an unfettered joy, a feeling that I had not known before—perhaps not ever in my life. This joy was so powerful that even after I was strapped back into the confinement of the family car, everyone angry and eggshelling after my overlong solo hike, the echo of this joy persisted. I rode along the Parkway in real peace for a while.

That feeling was what I would rediscover through yoga. It connected me to the power and joy and peace that was alive inside me, no matter what was going on around me. It took me another 10 years to feel it again, during one of my very first times practicing yoga—and it took me almost another 10 years to commit to making this connection a real part of my everyday life.

Do you know the feeling of being stuck, unsupported, lost, or disconnected from your own spirit and sense of power? What would it be like to find or reconnect to the joy of being alive?