Jackie Blackwell

Jackie Blackwell

I have a confession to make. I'm not your stereotypical yogi...

You're not going to see my image on the cover of Yoga Journal. My practice doesn't include a lot of those fancy poses that get you Instagram followers. Before yoga I wasn't a gymnast or a dancer (unless elementary school counts), I wasn't a fitness enthusiast either. I was a couch potato.

Oh, I used to start various exercise programs every third year or so, but they would quickly fizzle out. I was too busy. They hurt my back. These were my excuses. They weren't lies. It was true; I was busy and everything hurt my back. I had lived with some level of pain in my low back for as long as I could remember. I learned to live with that pain; it became such a normal part of my life that I didn't even look for ways to remedy it. Pain was just a part of my life, a piece of who I was.

Along with physical pain, depression and anxiety were a big part of my life; another piece of who I was. My life felt out of my control, but I could manage by planning for the worst case scenario. That way I was prepared. That way Life could bring whatever she willed and I would be ready, and to my way of thinking, she brought a lot of stress, a lot of uncertainty, and a lot of potential pitfalls that needed to be foreseen and planned for. Sometimes, despite my best future disaster preparedness, Life would overwhelm me and I would find myself balled into the corner of my mind, unable to break free from the spinning of my thoughts, the fear of everything falling apart, and the utter despair of feeling completely helpless in my own life.

This is where yoga found me - a 35 year old, anxiety ridden, pain filled, couch potato. It must have been the third year swing, because I bought a yoga DVD. I don't remember the thought process that preceded the the purchase, but I vividly remember the first time I pressed play. I set up a yoga mat at the foot of my bed and followed along the best I could. As I lay on my back for my first savasana, I was aware of an alien feeling: calm - not worried about my next task, not feeling guilty for lying peacefully on the floor. I felt like everything was ok. The next day I popped that DVD back into the machine and hit play. I've been playing ever since.

I fell in love with yoga because of the way it made me feel. I went looking for an exercise program, but what I found was a tool to deal with my sometimes crippling anxiety, my ever present worry, and my constant stream of self criticism. Yoga began to chip away my walls of self protection, walls that I had built myself though busyness, through sacrificing my own needs for those of others, through the labels I placed on myself - daughter, mother, wife, teacher - and through the judgements I placed on myself - not skinny enough, not smart enough, not healthy enough, just not good enough. But underneath all this, when my raw self was laid bare, I found someone I wasn't expecting. The woman I found was strong, and beautiful, and she was capable. I liked this woman. I wanted to see who she could become if she was dug out completely from all the bullshit that I had buried her under.

Since starting yoga I've heard the phrase - "yoga saved my life" - more times than I can count. If you're anything like me, you're tempted to roll your eyes and chalk that up to overblown hype. But here's the thing... yoga saved my life. It really did. I barely recognize the description of myself from 10 years ago. I am no longer that anxious, out of shape woman. I am no longer bracing for what Life will throw at me. Do I still have tendencies towards perfectionism and wanting to be over prepared? Of course! Does my mind still start to race and try to keep me up all night rehashing past conversations, reliving yesterday's situations, and worrying about tomorrow's upcoming ones? Of course! But that's no longer where I live. It's no longer who I am. Now when those old patterns start to rear their head, I can smile because I know how to put them to bed. I know how to recognize the stories that I tell myself and stop them before they take over and I'm no longer in control. I'm not hiding in the background because yoga gave me the confidence to step up, to speak up, to try new things, to take up new challenges

That confidence led me to new physical challenges as well. Not only did yoga make me stronger, not only did my body learn to take the shapes of the traditional yoga asanas, I also ran my first 5k, I competed in triathlons, I went into the gym and built muscles I'd never seen before. I had choices for the first time in my adult life. I could choose to be strong. I could choose to be happy. Pain and fear no longer held me back. I'm proud of those accomplishments, but the biggest gain was learning about my own body. I was becoming aware, awake, able to notice and to be present, not moving (or choosing) by rote, by what someone else told me I was supposed to do next, but by what my body was telling me.

I learned that pain wasn't something I had to live with after all, but I also learned that not every activity brought me lasting joy, and that not every activity was great for my body long term. I even learned that not every yoga pose is meant for me. Through listening to my body without judgement I learned to adjust my practice to fit my needs both physically and emotionally. Through yoga I've become physically strong and I am now more flexible than I have ever been. But most importantly I've learned when to pull back, when to push forward, when to focus on strength and when to focus on my breath. The breath? That's where all the magic happens! The breath digs down deep beneath the physical plane and awakens something deeper. 

10 years ago I was a mess, limited by the pain in my back and by the swirling anxiety in my mind. I believed the worst about myself and the world I lived in. Yoga changed all that. It opened my eyes, my mind, and my body. I started this transformation on a mat at the foot of my bed, and you can often still find me there. You'll also find me practicing in the studio. I love the energy that is created as a room full of people breathe and move together. But the big leaps in my journey happened when I began working with a mentor. Where I could get my questions answered. Where I could be held accountable for my practice, my learning, and my growth. Here was the mirror that showed me where my body should be in space, but wouldn't allow me to obsess over what I saw. Here was the mirror that showed me the root of my spiraling thought patterns, yet wouldn't allow me to wallow there. Here was the admonishment and the encouragement that pushed me to keep digging. This was where I really started to see that I had been playing small in all areas of my life and it was time to start playing big.

I was lucky to have stumbled upon an amazing teacher who took me under her wing, and so I now strive to create that same atmosphere for others, a safe haven, where you can ask, rant, work, learn, and grow. I hold up the mirror so you can see your potential, your true greatness, exposing the deep truth that you are more than you have allowed yourself to believe. I use yoga, primarily the physical poses, along with breath work, to help you break through barriers. Some of those barriers are physical: in my online classes and programs you will work hard; you will get sweaty; you will advance your knowledge of the body as you gain strength, flexibility and balance. Some of those barriers are mental: you will work on getting rid of your limiting beliefs; you will practice breathing slowly and intentionally in difficult places; you will teach your mind to self calm, to filter out what's unnecessary and focus on what's most relevant in the present moment. You will learn to play big on the mat and in life.

 What are you waiting for? Let's get started!

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