My Yoga Journey by Frani Assaf
I grew up on a farm in a very small town in Iowa. Family was/is very important and I always felt supported in all my ventures. My older siblings were 14, 12, and 10 years older than me, so I was very fortunate to learn very important life lessons by watching my sisters and brother go through them. My oldest sister Lisa was like my second mom and we had/have a very special connection growing up...she has always been my biggest fan.
I discovered yoga while in college at Iowa State University. After 14 years of dance and sports, I realized all the stretching I was doing was actually yoga. I started by reading a couple books and manuals and had a home practice for 2 years before ever taking a class at a studio. My first class was when I moved to Seattle...it was in a church basement with rotating instructors trained in Bikram, Ashtanga, Kundalini, Qi Gong. The main teacher, Dr. Bill Mitchell, was one of the founders of Bastyr University and taught the most important aspect of yoga was not necessarily the poses, but the mental and spiritual clarity one received while in the postures.
After trying various styles of yoga, I took my first Bikram class in 2000. I was working in corporate Public Relations and was always on deadline and living under lots of stress. After my first couple of classes, I had less anxiety and a calmer state of mind. The physical results were huge - I was stronger, more flexible and down a dress size - but the mental results were what kept me coming back to class. After practicing consistently for 6 months, I knew I wanted to share this yoga with the world. In 2003, I moved to LA for 9 weeks of training to become a certified teacher.
Becoming a teacher has been the most rewarding decision I have ever made. When I was little, I wanted to be an environmentalist and save the world. I did earn a degree in Environmental Studies (I am obsessive with my recycling and composting:), but I found that I wanted to save the world on a personal level, by teaching my students that they are beautiful, their bodies are capable of doing amazing things and that it is important improve, while still loving yourself for where you are right now.
Lisa has been one of my greatest teachers. She has always led with love and compassion and it shows when you walk into her studio. Her students love her tremendously because she opens her heart and shares herself in her classes. In a world focused on creating a certain aesthetic via social media, Lisa and her Karma Yoga studio is truly authentic. No gimmicks, just real yoga and real community.
I try to be like Lisa in my life; not just while teaching, but while parenting as well. Lisa is the mother of 4 boys, which practically makes her a saint, and has more patience than Job. When I feel anger or frustration, Lisa comes to mind. When I struggle with an issue with my studio or a student, she is who I reach out to first. Lisa gives thoughtful advice and is incredibly knowledgable on all forms of yoga and philosophy.
Considering we live over a 1000 miles away, we don't get to practice together often, but I hear her words when I struggle with a pose. Lisa's words remind me to be compassionate with myself and that the pose isn't as important as how I feel while I'm in it. Being present and sitting with those feelings are the hardest lessons learned in yoga, but have greatly improved my relationships with my family and friends.
When a student comes to me with an issue or obstacle, I advise them to slow down and breathe through the discomfort. Avoiding an issue or a pose or a relationship only hinders self-growth and does not solve the problem. Meditate upon what you really need in your life to deal with this issue and know that though it may be uncomfortable, it's not forever. And then face it head on.