I can remember the first time I walked into the studio. I was way too early, as in the first one there - *face palm*. That’s my social anxiety with new places and people flaring up. I picked a corner in the back of the room and unrolled my mat, sitting quietly and praying other people would show up soon. My friend Becca had invited me to join the class, bribing me with the fact that since it was next to a brewery we got a beer with our class price. But WHERE WAS SHE?!? I shifted on my mat awkwardly when the instructor Tracey showed up a few moments later, then stood up and approached her, wiping the nervous sweat off my palms when she chirped out a happy greeting. I still remember the huge grin on her face and the smile lines around her kind eyes as she welcomed me to her class. I was instantly at ease and found myself reflecting that same big smile back at her.
Thankfully, before I had time to doubt my sudden lack of fear, Becca shows up. We sat and chatted as the room begin to fill up. Around 20 or so people filled the space around us. I glanced around as I stretched out and reached for my toes. Mostly younger women and a few men, all looking like they knew what they were doing. Fit. Skinny. 'Damn, thats a pretty mat’ I thought enviously as a young woman took the place beside me. Lululemon tights. Prana mat. Pro pedicure. She looked like she had just stepped out of Shape magazine. Embarrassed by my own TJMaxx clearance sale yoga mat, soft mid-section, and old leggings, I picked at my chipped toenail polish. Tracey called the class to start, so I turned my attention to my breath.
Yoga is my safe space. With a stressful job and mild, undiscussed anxiety, I need it to function. And here, I found myself in a new neighborhood, with fewer friends, during a wild part of my life with a lot of important changes. My social skills have changed from grade school, when I was chastised for being the social butterfly. The playground is way bigger and scarier for an adult. So, my step into this new world would be in a familiar place. My practice.
As we began to move through our salutations my awareness of my neighbors began to fade. Instead of as individuals, I began to notice the sounds of our breath syncing. Bodies morphed into little energy fields, moving to their own beat. We flowed, inhaled, exhaled, and sweat together. Settling into savasana, I rooted myself to the ground and felt the energy of the souls around me. Even with my eyes closed I felt the connection, tears waiting for a break in my mental armor. After I opened my eyes, I glanced around and saw a new group of faces. Instead of seeing height, or size, or the clothes on their back, I noticed mothers, teachers, the guy who took my order at the coffee shop, someone from the bar, artists, cyclists, and smiling strangers. This is the feeling we were all chasing. The opening of self, even surrounded by doubts and unfamiliar people. Our practice brought us to an equal level, where we celebrated our differences and bonded over our universal search for balance. I remember smiling over at Becca and saying “Yes.”
Two years later, I find myself getting to class first on purpose. Monday yoga at Alliance is a very popular class now, to the point of running out of spaces. Staking out my same spot in the back of the room, I rise to my feet quickly now when Tracey or her Rigazzi Wellness business partner Veronica walk in, arms outreached to embrace them. I had only seen Tracey a few days before, but she’s always one of those people I genuinely can’t wait to see again. The number of drinks we’ve shared after class has stretched into uncountable territory. Weekday hangouts at trivia, puppy dates, and bike rides with this group are now part of my weekly schedule. Tracey jokes with Becca and I frequently about being “groupies” and we laugh knowing it’s not far from the truth (I’m still in favor of making shirts). We are all part of a dedicated tribe, and rarely miss a Monday class. And that tribe keeps growing, outside the walls of the brewery. I love my back row, where we share the giggles, sometimes mutter curse words with a ragged breath (not always quiet, sorry not sorry), and grasp out at our neighbor with our eyes closed as we run out of stretching room.
Since I started surrounding myself with these amazing people, I have hit my lowest low and then bounced back to a high I never knew existed. I love my shape, push myself out of my comfort zone, and have raised the bar for what I want to achieve professionally, as well as individually — my physical and mental health, as well as acceptance of my past. And it’s because of my tribe. I would have never found them without yoga or the inclusive nature of our practice. In all the years I’ve gone to my mat, I never found a home like I have with our Ragazzi family. If you are looking for your tribe, come meet us. But come early, because mat space fills fast…