By Courtney Conover – I had no idea that when I popped a VHS recording of Rodney Yee’s Yoga for Energy into my VCR back in 1998 that, over the course of several years, the gift of yoga would far exceed my wildest expectations and transform my life.
Some background on me: I’m a local gal. I was raised in Westland, attended Wayne-Westland Community Schools, and graduated from John Glenn High School in 1995. After earning a bachelor of arts degree in Communications from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, my career took me from coast to coast—literally: I was a television reporter for a CBS affiliate in South Carolina and, as a narrator and model for both Honda and Jaguar, I’ve worked countless auto shows, including San Jose, Detroit, Boston, and numerous cities in between. I eventually found my way back home—even proudly serving the residents of Westland as Deputy Mayor from 2007 until 2009.
And through all the aforementioned fast-paced professions, here’s what had remained a constant: Though generally optimistic, I was a worrier and control freak by nature. That’s just who I was. As a child, I remember my mother pulling back the covers when waking me up in the morning and jokingly inquiring whether she would find me or a huge wart in my place.
To this day, I credit my yoga practice with giving me the tools necessary to handle all the stress I endured back then. Although I’d be dog tired at the end of the day, I’d unroll my yoga mat in my tiny apartment—or whatever hotel I was staying at during an auto show—and breathe, stretch, and move for as little as 10 minutes, or as long as an hour. It wasn’t always much…but it was something. And it helped. Immensely.
You see, far too often, yoga is characterized as solely a physical practice, something reserved for bodies that are young, thin, and bendy, and I’m here to tell you that that is not the full picture. Our breath is far more important than our flexibility. The very definition of the Sanskrit word yoga is to unite (or “yoke”) the mind and body in harmony. And our breath is the key.
Contrary to what we may have come to believe, yoga isn’t about twisting like a pretzel, or looking good in our workout pants – or our bathing suit, for that matter. The purpose of yoga is to quiet our mind and ultimately find peace and awareness within ourselves.
Let me put it another way: Failing to honor—meaning, focus on—our breath during yoga is like eating pasta with our fingers. Sure, we can do it. But wouldn’t the entire experience be more pleasant with utensils?
I finally realized this in my tenth year of practicing yoga—better late than never, right?—and I decided I wanted to teach yoga to help guide others on their own yoga journey. So, in 2011 I earned my RYT-200 teaching certification from Sattva Yoga Center, a Yoga Alliance registered school, in Dearborn, Michigan. And I am humbled and grateful to have since taught in a variety of locales including Taylor Yoga in Taylor, Detroit’s Ford Field, Marriott Hotel in Romulus, Wayne Memorial High School, and Detroit Lions Academy in Detroit, just to name a few.
And here’s the most important place I’ve taught: home.
Five months after becoming certified to teach yoga, my husband, Scott, and I welcomed our firstborn, our son Scotty, and then exactly two years later, I gave birth to our daughter, Kennedy. Yes, both kids own their own yoga mats and are pretty adept at certain yoga poses. But before I encouraged them to move on the mat, I made a point to emphasize the importance of harnessing the power of their breath first, so that when they are nervous, scared, or uncertain during real-life situations, their breath can help restore a sense of calm.
That, too, is yoga.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t include my husband in this scenario. Those who know my husband also know that he’s hard to miss because he’s 6’7” and 295 pounds. He’s also a former NFL offensive lineman who played six seasons for the Detroit Lions and spent his entire career blocking for Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders.
And Scott’s got the aches and pains to prove it: I always tell people that you don’t collide with 300-pound men for a living and come out unscathed. Every morning, Scott gets out of bed with his three sidekicks, Snap, Crackle, and Pop!
Thankfully, Scott’s simple yoga practice, which is comprised of the most basic yoga postures, has helped him maintain range of motion within the areas of his body that have sustained substantial injury.
We all have our own bag of “stuff”—ailments, physical challenges, and even insecurities—and while yoga can’t erase these hurdles, it can help us cope better. Yoga gives us the ability to surrender.
My approach to yoga instruction is simple: Just show up on your mat, breathe, and accept your body for what it can do today. That’s it.
I invite you to join me: I’m excited to have recently joined the staff of Hype Athletics here in Wayne where I’m teaching yoga on Mondays at 10 a.m. and Fridays at 9:30 a.m. Whether you’re a senior who hopes to attain a better sense of balance, a banged up former football player, or a person who can barely touch his or her toes, yoga is for everyone—literally, every body—and I would love to see you in class.
My ultimate goal is to help you unlock your full potential while simultaneously encouraging you to proceed at your own pace.
Come breathe and move with me.
See you on the mat.