Written by Abby Kaplan, Black Swan Yoga 200hr YTT graduate
“You’ll start to feel whole again when you energetically reclaim the parts of yourself you’d entrusted to them,” my friend Morgan, a skilled yoga instructor and insightful human, suggested to me at the start of 2019. I’d ended the previous year with a traumatic and drawn-out breakup that had left me feeling exhausted by my unrelenting brain chatter and grasping aimlessly for my sense of self. My therapist had described my current state as “situational depression,” and I was waking up with night sweats at 3 am like clockwork, experiencing insomnia for the first time in my life. I was barely eating and felt weak in every sense of the word.
Cue Black Swan Yoga Austin’s 2019 30 Days of Yoga Challenge. I’d dabbled in yoga over the last year or so and was becoming increasingly more interested, as an hour of focusing on breath and movement was a welcome change from the nonstop narratives circling in my mind. I had a new membership to Black Swan and, by that time, was attending class about 4 or 5 times a week. I made a deal with my therapist that if I committed to a consistent cardio-ish exercise regimen, I could skip the pharmaceuticals, which had triggered an internal tremor within the first week of giving them a go. The meds had failed to kick in during that time but had succeeded in freaking me out.*
The theme of the 2019 January Challenge was “Own the Day, Own Your Life,” centered on the book by Aubrey Marcus, Founder & CEO of Onnit. I would practice 30 times in January – a combination of vinyasa, chill, beginner, and hot Onnit classes – and slowly find my way back to myself on my mat. While the book offers plenty of specific, actionable advice, to me, the takeaway from the challenge was that every day is an opportunity to do things differently – and a little bit better – than the one before.
“Practicing suffering only makes you good at suffering.” – Guiding Strala
Even when you “own the day,” each one won’t always be an improvement over the last. Instead, by slowly incorporating positive changes (even if you have a low day, week, or month), you’ll see major progress over time when you put one foot in front of the other with intention. The challenge ended with a celebration at the Westgate location, including an energetic flow with Jennifer, a lively discussion with Mateo, and a raffle with plenty of fun prizes for participants.
Once I set my heart and my mind to something, whether that’s obsessively replaying the downfall of a romantic relationship or channeling my focused energy toward a positive new habit like yoga, I tend to go all-in. Last year, that meant my 30 Days of Yoga Challenge kickstarted my ongoing daily practice and deepened my dedication to yoga. I practiced over 300 times in 2019 and brought my mat along with me when I traveled.
Beyond being my lighthouse as I navigated rough waters, Black Swan Yoga also worked as a catalyst for my newfound devotion to self-care. Through integrating yoga into my daily routine, I began to make space for other activities that lift me up and that I now do specifically to support myself. Things like preparing and plating creative meals, thoughtfully arranging my million throw pillows on my bed, or building fires in my chiminea to make s’mores had been endeavors I’d only taken on around partners or friends. The more I allocated hours on my mat, the more I was gradually able to spend the rest of my time productively – and even joyously. These days, I light more scented candles and incense and dance around my house and stretch my toes and pick flowers from my garden just for myself.** But, it took me a while to get there.
“In truth yoga doesn’t take time – it gives time.” – Ganga White
Despite my ingrained yoga practice, I still spent a lot of 2019 running away from myself. I traveled more than monthly, visiting friends and family, and attending some inspiring music festivals over long weekends, all things I loved. But, notably, I made sure I was always doing “something awesome” at any milestone moments I may have otherwise been back in my feels about my breakup. Notwithstanding the mixed motivations that kept me on the move, I am immensely grateful for the wonderful experiences I had. I even attended the first international Black Swan Yoga retreat in Costa Rica last November! Sometimes, when you try hard enough to prove to yourself that you’re happy, you can catch a glimpse of it – and, when you do, take hold.
2020 has been the yin to my 2019 yang. As a planner, a doer, and a person with anxiety, I had never been too comfortable being at home alone with nothing in particular to do. I was still making myself busy by the time things began to shut down in March. I was recently home from San Francisco, where I’d seen Bridgid play violin with the band Guster. I showed no signs of stopping – until the city released a shelter-in-place ordinance, and learning to be still with myself became required work.
I flowed my way into 2020 with Patsy and JJ’s DJed New Year’s Eve class with my Costa Rica retreat crew. And, unsurprisingly, I signed up for the January 30-Day Challenge. This year’s meetups included a vision board workshop with Elyse and Kiana, as well as different interpretations of “Finding Discipline” with Bridgid and Noel. During the closing celebration at the Anderson studio, I won a gift card to Picnik and sparked a friendship with a fellow yogi who is now part of my inner circle. I set intentions to get closer to nature, communicate authentically, create meaningful work, slow down, breathe deeply, and feel and respond – rather than react. Little did I know just how much the year would force me to truly take things slow, whether I liked it or not!
A few months in, I began to appreciate the perspective I had gained. Without the constant feeling of FOMO, I started tapping into some FOMI (fear of missing IN). What was I giving up in the times I chose to turn outward instead of inward, filling my calendar but not aligning to my deeper needs? What else could I learn by sitting attuned to just one more breath?
Through online classes earlier this year, and now in-person flows, Black Swan has been my anchor throughout 2020 – and sometimes my only human interaction on a slow day. I’ve just graduated from yoga teacher training and am looking forward to the 2021 January Challenge. I am physically stronger than I’ve probably ever been before, and my emotional resilience and patience with my internal process is ever-expanding.
“Yoga is a powerful vehicle for change. As you build strength you start to believe in your own potential.” – Tiffany Cruikshank
Whether you’re going through it in your own life right now or simply feeling the weight of the collective trauma of the year, I hope you’ll consider joining me on your mat for 30 classes in January. My practice has been the best gift I’ve ever given myself (which says a lot because I am a notoriously excellent gift-giver). I’d love to see you there. And, I’d love for you to really see yourself there, too. Namaste 🙏 – Abby
*Antidepressants may be necessary and super helpful for some people, and my experience is in no way indicative of the general population nor a condemnation of using prescription drugs to treat mental health conditions. ✌
**And, some days, I don’t make my bed or brush my hair, and I eat ice cream for dinner, but it’s about balance, y’all. ☯️