I think a lot about how and when yoga enters into someone’s life; I wonder why some people do yoga and some don’t and I am curious about where people practice.
I think about exposure, interest and access, because yoga was so helpful for me when it came into my life. I decided to share how yoga took root and continued to grow as I grew over the years, as a way to bring others into this conversation I have with myself.
I was born in the spring of 1975, to parents who lived on a commune near the University of Waterloo, where my dad attended classes. Being hippies was all the rage and so my parents jumped aboard the groovy train, like most of the students on campus during that time.
As a baby, people playing music, dancing and practicing yoga surrounded me inside and outside our home.
My family eventually moved to Toronto, to establish a new life for our family. As I grew and started to try to fit into the world of the 1980’s, I was quick to reject anything that seemed too hippie-ish, as to distinguish myself from my parents.
Yoga came back into my life when I was 15 years old—I was rummaging through my parents record collection and found wedged in between my dad’s Neil Young and Bob Dylan albums an old yoga book, that looked as though it had been stuck for the past decade amongst the old vinyl records. My only memory of yoga was seeing a guy with long hair in overalls standing on his head in some field near our home. Curiously, I flipped through the book, laughing at the hilarious clothes and hair of the yoga models. I was about to put it back when a heading on relaxation caught my attention.
The one simple instruction that stuck with me was to breathe slowly in and out through my nose as a way to calm the mind.
About six months later, I found myself sitting at my desk trying to focus on my English final. Tests stressed me out which made it hard to stay focused. As I re-read the first question, I remembered the yoga book, about calming breaths.
I quietly took a breath in my nose and let it out…nothing happened. Then, I took another and another. I was so busy focusing of breathing that I forgot to worry. I was able to read the question again and get started on my test. After that day I forgot about yoga again, until my first year of university.
In that first year, I struggled to keep up with all the work assignments; I did not sleep well and became super stressed during midterm exams. My roommate heard the school offered free yoga in the evenings and asked if I wanted to go. I remembered the brief moment that yoga helped in high school so I decided to finally check out a class.
I felt a little awkward, because I didn’t know what I was doing in that first class. After the class, I miraculously slept through the entire night…and I was finally hooked on yoga!
The summer after I graduated, I got a job as a canoe guide for kids and teens in Algonquin Park. On Friday nights, the camp hosted hobby nights, where the campers got to do an activity of their choice. They were looking for different activities to offer when they asked if anyone knew yoga. Since I had practiced the most out of the staff, I was volunteered to teach.
Once again, I found myself staring at another old book with funny dated pictures, that I found in the camp library on Hatha yoga. The following Friday night, I taught my first yoga class to four 11 year old girls. It was pretty funny to see us attempt to balance on an uneven dock, with the mosquitoes chomping at our ankles.
The next week, I left on a two-week canoe trip with nine fifteen year old girls. I planned a demanding route, which meant we paddled and portaged for hours each day. By nightfall we passed out in our tents as soon as dinner was over. By day five, our bodies were feeling to effects of hours of paddling and portaging. On the morning of day six, I decided to loosen my body with a few sun salutations. A few girls came out of their tents to see what was going on.
By the end of that week, all of the girls were practicing with me in the mornings. Without instruction, they started following my movements and asking questions about yoga. Besides our bodies loosening up, I noticed us operating as a more connected unit.
Once again, I was thankful for the way yoga came back into my life at the exact right moment.
I have come a long way from the days when I thought yoga was a practice done by hippies living outside of conventional society. I am thankful that my yoga practice fills me with questions and curiosities about myself. I love that this practice is flexible enough to fit all ages, ethnicities and sizes and want to share in the experience with others as they make their own way down their own yogic path.
Ultimately, I am amazed that each time I roll up my mat at the end of a practice I feel different from when I walked into the room. Spread the word…
Written by Elisse Peltz
Elisse Peltz was introduced to yoga in high school, when she stumbled upon a yoga instruction manual in her parent’s library. Her experiences since then have only deepened her belief that yoga has the ability to strengthen, rejuvenate and heal the human spirit. In 2004, she became a certified instructor at Yoga People in New York. Elisse has since completed a Restorative Teacher Training at Yogaspace in Toronto, the teacher training at Octopus Garden and she became a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Practitioner.
Elisse provides psychotherapeutic counselling for children, youth, adults and families where she combines her passion for yoga with traditional psychotherapeutic techniques. She has taught at Twist Yoga, Octopus Garden and Yogaspace studios as well as schools, boardrooms, weight loss clinics and in people’s basements to encourage accessibility for all types of people. Elisse has had many amazing teachers who have guided her along the way. Currently, her most influential teacher is her two-year-old son, Izzy.