I Am A Yoga Girl - Tianna Faye Soto

I was a senior in college, about to graduate with a near-perfect GPA and an extensive list of achievements and accolades. As the first in my family to get a college degree, I had been determined to work as hard as possible and make every minute of my undergraduate experience count.

To that end, I had spent the past four years pulling all-nighters in the library, running from commitment to commitment, barely taking notice of my physical, mental, or emotional state. Exhaustion and burnout led me to feel empty, disconnected, and frustrated. Bouts of anxiety and depression had reared their ugly heads, and it felt as if the noise of responsibilities and expectations had drowned out my creativity and intuition.

One difficult night, as I cried on the floor of my bedroom wondering what could possibly lift my spirits, I opened my laptop and stumbled upon a yoga video. To this day I don’t know why I felt compelled to open it, but it was then my practice began. I set the intention to complete a 30-day yoga journey on YouTube to jumpstart my home practice. Looking back, I had no idea that this would turn into a tremendously deep spiritual, psychological, and physical journey for me in the years to come. When the 30 days ended, I was determined to hold onto this feeling; this sense of heightened awareness, purpose, and confidence that I had consciously worked to cultivate on my mat.

The effects of my practice arrived slow and steadily. Soon, I was breathing before reacting. I began listening to my body -- truly listening -- and responding with patience and love. Rather than getting frustrated and attempting to control everything in my path, I was beginning to loosen my grip. I was crying less, my body felt physically lighter, and I felt a unique comfort knowing I could carve out sacred time each day with my yoga mat. Friends and family noticed a difference in my posture, my way of being, and I knew something mysterious and magical was happening. This was what yoga was about; carrying the lessons from your mat into the world.

After graduating from college, I knew yoga was something I had to continue practicing. I was blessed to complete a dreamy 200-hour teacher training in Asheville, North Carolina where I met the most mindful, intelligent, and kind instructors and peers. Every class, I was elated to soak up ancient knowledge that had been passed through many generations and cultures, all so that my classmates and I could study the gems of yoga and embody them in our practices. I observed the humility of master teachers, learned from the unique insights of my classmates, found patience as I learned new areas of asana, and felt deeply fulfilled in a way that was beautifully different and new.

After completing teacher training in October 2016, I went on to teach kids yoga and grow my personal practice. The spiritual transformation that I experienced post-college enabled me to envision a greater path for myself than I had ever imagined possible. Following teacher training, I re-enrolled in classes, only this time in graduate school at Columbia University’s Spirituality Mind Body Institute, a place where I was privileged enough to study and play within the fields I love most; psychology and yoga. Rather than pulling all-nighters and crying in the library, I was designing curricula, conducting spirit-mind-body research, and helping fellow peers connect with their inner dialogues in a way I could not when I was in undergrad. My yoga practice was transforming from a hobby into a new way of life, a wildly exciting way of being. Yoga was constantly there for me, showing me that I was on the right path, even if I didn’t know where I was heading.

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There is something transcendent about this practice; the way it begs you to show up for yourself with all of your fears, tears and spirit. The way it asks you to be present for every moment, the ups and the downs, the moments where you just want to fly into crow pose but your wrists are saying “not today!” The moments when you don’t feel like traveling to the studio, but you do anyway. When you’re being hard on yourself, yoga asks you to be gentle with yourself. When you want to give up, yoga says “I love you, keep going.”

Thanks to yoga, I have fallen back in love with myself, and I will always remember to keep going. I am a yoga girl, and I can’t imagine it any other way.