Finding Comfort In A Downward Dog

By Christine Alvarez

I had never understood the meaning of the word ‘relax.’ My daily routine usually went a little something like this: Wake up, go to class, go to dance practice, study or do homework and go to sleep. Repeat. I had to constantly remind myself to make time to eat, and my free time consisted of checking things off of my never-ending to-do list. Every day was fast-paced and it felt like there were never enough hours in a day to get everything done. ‘Stress’ was my comfort and I didn’t know how to live without it.

Then I discovered yoga.

Christine Yoga Photo

As a senior picking out my last semester of classes, I wanted to have the easiest schedule. I only needed seven credits to graduate, which included my senior capstone course and two simple electives. I needed to take something else in order to be a part-time student so I chose to take a yoga elective. I found out about the class from a friend who had taken it the previous year and I figured, why not?

I missed the first day of class by accident (or due to senioritis, I don’t remember) and I walked into the second class feeling awkward and out of place. Almost everyone had professional yoga gear: Lululemon mats, Gaiam blocks and traditional Mexican yoga blankets. All I had was a cheap, $5 yoga mat. I wasn’t looking forward to the rest of the class but I sat down in a circle with the other students as the instructor re-introduced herself. I immediately felt a sense of calmness come over me as she continued to speak. She was the most laid-back person I had ever met and that’s when I knew that I had chosen the right class.

My instructor’s name is Melissa Montilla, Melissa has been the owner and director of Sanctuary Yoga in Gainesville since 2003. She found the studio when she and her friends wanted to create a space to practice yoga that was accessible to everyone. She also wanted to provide comfort to those who were looking for it. “I find great comfort in bringing comfort to others,” she told me when I spoke to her after class one afternoon. That’s exactly what she has helped me do.

Every class starts off with a small lecture where we discuss different poses and how they’re supposed to help our minds and bodies. We talk about what it means to relax and how that evens with our busy lives. Then our instructor leads us in practicing yoga or meditation for the remainder of class.

I have a whole new appreciation for yoga even after only a month and a half of classes. Because of it, and because of my amazing instructor, I’ve learned what it means to truly relax. Relaxing isn’t about laying on a couch watching Netlfix or scrolling through social media apps on your smartphone. It’s about closing your eyes and excluding yourself from the rest of the world for just 15 minutes. It’s also about realizing that there is way more to life than a to-do list. And just like that, the graduating senior with the fast-paced lifestyle learned to relax, one downward dog at a time.

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