Testimonial of Bobbie Soper for Svastha Wellness & Peaceful Poses & The Fit Pit
I was first exposed to Yoga the way most westerners are, through exercise. I was never athletic — I was the kid always picked last, and often asked to just sit out (for mine and everyone else’s safety.) I had a gym teacher that liked work-out videos and that was my first taste of asana. Finally! Something I COULD do that wouldn’t result in a pulled muscle, stitches or a concussion. It is funny to think that some cringe-worthy exercise video from the 1990’s would plant a seed that would ultimately define everything in my life. The universe does have an interesting sense of humor.
Fast forward several years to when The Biggest Loser was a new television show — I too wanted to shed a few unwanted pounds — about 30 of them — left over from my first pregnancy. I found an exercise DVD put out by one of the trainers from the TV show that utilized yoga postures to lose weight — while slimming and toning. After all, what 20 something woman doesn’t want to be slim and tone? I worked out to that DVD every day for a year. I lost weight and gained more strength and flexibility that I had ever had in my life. I shudder now, to think of how it was all presented, how it is another example of cultural misappropriation… and yet, that was another step towards my destiny, and it gave me a love and respect for a form of “exercise” that I wanted to know more about. It was during those days the dream was born to study and learn how to teach yoga. I wanted to share it with everyone. The seed that had been planted, down deep in my soul, had begun to germinate. It would just take a while to grow.
More years passed, I had another child, and the weight of my life buried me. Thinking back, those were dark times. I was deep into the use of drugs, struggling to take care of my kids and often wondering how we would pay rent AND buy food. Every day was a struggle and I often contemplated suicide. I kept hanging on, hoping for better days and through it all, I kept going back to the asana exercises. They made me feel good about who I was and gave me a deep feeling of peace and relaxation unlike anything else. Turns out, the soil I had originally planted the seed in was just too toxic to allow it to grow. I know it was there though, all that time, influencing my energy, waiting for the right conditions to emerge.
Then it happened. The sun began to shine and the scrawny seedling struggling for life began to grow again. I’d quit using drugs (a miraculous intervention,) found religion, lost it, divorced, remarried, and carved out a new career with grit and determination (after being a housewife for 10+ years.) Almost twenty-three years had come and gone since my exposure to yoga and the trip that adjusted the trajectory of my life.
To celebrate my new marriage, my husband and I agreed that we should take a trip where we would learn something new and grow together. As a longtime lover of yoga (the asana aspect — I was still pretty ignorant of the other limbs) I suggested a yoga retreat — in Cambodia. Their website has great reviews, it was a tropical destination, and they said it was good for beginners. It took some convincing, but my husband reluctantly agreed (remind me to recommend him for sainthood.) At that point in time, February of 2020 — when the pandemic began to grip the world — I was pretty sure of myself and my direction. There I stood: a successful career in hand, newly married, and for the first time in my life, I enjoyed security and stability. And still… my spirit longed for something more. I hoped that delving deeper into Yoga — something I had dreamed of for years — would help point me in the right direction.
I still remember the question I was asked that first day we arrived… “If there was only one thing in your life that you could change to make it better, what would it be?” My answer… to learn to love myself. We were only there for two weeks, yet my eyes were opened. Yoga was not just a trendy exercise. It was UNION, a way of living. A way of BEING. And maybe, just maybe, a way for me to understand and accept who I really was. I was all-in after that — and upon returning home, while the entire world was shutting down — I researched and booked a 200-hour teacher training through SOYA. When asked why I chose that particular program it came down to three simple things. One, the website and all the information provided there — I could see this was the real deal and not some plastic promise. Two, immersion — I wanted to study in depth without the distraction of the outside world, and I wanted to be with other people, which was becoming increasingly difficult due to the pandemic. Three, there was a teacher training only a short drive away. Living in the upper-middle part of the lower peninsula in Michigan, there were not many options for Yoga teacher training in person. I didn’t know it then, but again, the universe was watching out for me.
Due to the ever-increasing fear of the pandemic, it happened that all the other students that signed up for that training either cancelled or opted for doing it online. I remember the first time I talked to Terri on the phone. She called to introduce herself and explain what was going on with the other students. I totally thought she was going to cancel the immersion. But to my surprise, and excitement, she didn’t! She said she and her assistant teacher, Chloe, were still willing to do it with just me in attendance. I have to say, that made me feel so special, to have that time and opportunity to study with them. They cared so much about what they had to share and teach that they didn’t do the “smart” thing and put me in another class or online. They carved out three weeks of their life for me. Terri opened her home and her heart. I don’t know that I can ever adequately thank her for that. I just hope that the life I live will be a testament to the love both Terri and Chloe have shown me. It still makes me cry every time I think about how much they invested in me.
The training was more than I could have dreamed. The course SOYA put together was far more than I ever imagined. The richness of the materials, the study of philosophy and traditions — they caught my soul. I knew it then as I know it now. This is what I was meant to do, to be. It hasn’t been easy, or comfortable. What it has been, is worth it. No small part of that is due to the courage of the teachers I have met along the way. Those who have become Yoga and live life to the beat of their own drums, encouraging others to start their own band — to sing their own song… for when we do that, in Yoga, we make the most glorious symphony.
Along the way this journey has helped me to really learn to love myself. Not just for who I can be, who I have been, or for the thin veneer that the rest of the world sees… but for who I am in the dark. The me that enjoys coffee and quiet. The woman who could spend countless hours creating — be it planting in the garden, painting, crafting, sewing, or just cleaning. The girl that plays in mud puddles and dances in the rain. I love my restless energy and the quiet I am capable of. I love the extremes and the mood swings, my inexhaustible drive and ambition, and the days when I am too tired to walk. Last night, as I stood in the kitchen getting the coffee ready for the next day, I felt this huge wave of happiness roll through me. Nothing but living life, my life to be exact, had made me feel this way. It took my breath away. Now mind you, I still struggle. I don’t eat exactly right, I don’t exercise and practice near enough, and I still have relationship troubles. I still have anxiety attacks that leave me shaking, I get depressed, and I cry, I get angry — and I yell — then feel really bad, I laugh at the wrong moments and make irreverent jokes… I am a hot mess somedays… but I find that every “negative” is really just another signpost on the road I travel, there to help me understand who I really am. That is a lesson of Yoga — how to love both the beauty of the lotus and the mud from which it springs.
Now I am beginning another adventure, embarking into the world to use and live what I have learned. The most recent catalyst happened last November, with an ovarian torsion and emergency surgery. During the two weeks of downtime another question was posed, this time from my boss: “You are unhappy here and have been for some time. You have to figure out how to fix that and do it.” So, I spent those two weeks of immobility asking myself questions; “What am I going to do now? Where will I go from here?” “What exactly does it mean to be happy?” The answers weren’t ones I liked, but they rang true. It was time to quit my job and live my practice. To live YOGA. To help others plant their own seeds, that over time would grow, bloom and transform their lives.
For now, I am content to enjoy this time of transition. I enjoy the hours of quiet that have long been absent in my life. They have allowed the space for neglected relationships to be cultivated again, and space for me to be me. Just recently I enjoyed taking three days to craft something beautiful, humming quietly to the music playing in the background, content to paint each flower petal and wait for glue to dry. No rush, no fuss, just making messes and taking one small step at a time to create something out of seeming chaos. To me that is also Yoga. I have come to savor all flavor, for there is always sweetness underneath the sour. I have found what things matter most to me, I found my treasure, and I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. I look forward to sharing Yoga with everyone I meet… Telling my story and listening as they tell me theirs. Connection and contentment. Loneliness and restlessness. They are in truth the same coin, and my dearest hope is that I spend them wisely.