My yoga journey began in a very unconventional way… as a punishment.
During the beginning of my senior year of high school I attended a party that served alcohol. Clearly a representation of pre-prefrontal cortex maturity . My dad found out and told me to go to bed and we’d talk in the morning. I didn’t sleep very well that night, but then I also thought since my dad was a yoga teacher and meditation practitioner that he may just say, "Luke don’t do it again." Boy was I wrong. In the morning he told me I had to turn myself in to my coach because I broke the team rules of conduct and did not follow through with my agreement with my coach and fellow teammates. It didn’t matter to him that a lot of my teammates were at the party and the parents of some of them bought the beer and collected keys from anyone who didn’t have a designated driver. He and my mom were “new” to this rural Wisconsin culture and couldn’t possibly understand the parenting required in “these parts of the woods.” I pleaded and pleaded for him to change his mind, because playing high school sports was really important to me. He wouldn’t budge. So not knowing where this may go, I told him I would do anything to not have to turn myself in. “Ok. I have a proposal,” he said. “Every morning before school for the remainder of the season meditate with me for 20 minutes. If you miss a day you will have to turn yourself in.” I took that deal as fast as I could, but little did I know what I was up against.
The first few days to be honest were torture on all levels. Physically sitting on the floor on a meditation cushion in a cross-legged position was extremely uncomfortable. As an athlete back then they didn’t teach flexibility. My hamstrings and quads were strong, but tight. My back hurt because all the strength I had developed from lifting weights and running sprints around the field or on the courts did not apparently do a great job of strengthening the deep muscles of my back that were required to sit in an erect position. Hmm… it made me wonder how I could be so strong and so weak at the same time. Mentally, 20 minutes seemed like an eternity. My mind was ripping and running every which way. Holding a train of thought or a focus on my breath as I was taught by my dad was laughable. Could my mind be any busier, noisier, and more disorganized? Psychologically, I fidgeted from anxiety of some nonsensical FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly checked the clock from a case of utter boredom because at that moment I was so uncomfortable, I’d rather escape than tap in.
As the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into the middle of October—thank goodness football season is short—things got better, meaning less like torture. I started to enjoy the quiet I was feeling after the practice was done and sitting still was becoming something I could actually do for short periods of time. I didn’t miss a day and didn’t have to turn myself in. This was a total success because it was the only reason I took on this “punishment.” However, the balancing, nurturing, and healing inherent in yoga practice had created some other grooves…
Fast forward 1 year. I was sitting in my dorm room at Marquette University and ruminating about how stressed I was about my upcoming midterm exams. My anxiety was really messing with me. Then out of nowhere (or so I thought then ) I remembered how I felt after the meditation I had done with my dad. AND I remembered him sliding my meditation cushion under my bed. “This is here just in case,” he said as he pushed it way in the back. I grabbed it and sat down. Those 20 minutes were some of the most enjoyable I experienced. I saw my anxiety fall away and my mind catch the thread of peace and contentment that was somehow locked inside, waiting for a moment of quietude to come out and bless “my space” again.