My first experience with yoga occurred in 2006 shortly after moving to Florida from northern Virginia. Moving out of state was a particularly difficult decision to make, but I bought my first house, packed my belongings, and ventured 1,000 miles away from everything I’d ever known. I felt scared, excited, and incredibly independent.

As someone who has never been particularly enthusiastic about exercising, sports, or physical activities (I was always picked last in gym class and played hooky when the physical activities were particularly challenging), I kept hearing about this trend called yoga. I figured it would be a great way to try something new and hopefully attain a smoking hot body. Instead, I found a whole lot more.

In the sleepy town of Ocala there wasn’t much to choose from, but I was lucky to find a little studio called NUYU Yoga. I picked out the easiest sounding class, and walked in, shaking in my skin. I was intimidated by what was sure to be a room filled with beautiful, lanky women exhibiting perfect aesthetic postures.

To my surprise I found regular people of all ages, shapes, and sizes, beautiful and perfect in their differences. My yoga teacher, Lynda Geril, was warm and kind, and I instantly felt safe and comfortable with her. She walked me into the studio and directed me to the mats and props, which immediately sent up red flags. Blocks and straps were surely some sort of torture devices that would force me into unnatural positions and leave me crippled on the way out.

But looks can be quite deceiving. It turned out that the props were there to help me (who knew?!). With the guidance of my teacher, the postures were surprisingly attainable and adaptable for my body. The anxiety I walked in with disappeared with each exhalation, and before I knew it, class was over. I had survived! As I walked toward my car, I felt this strange feeling: contentment. My body and mind felt amazing, and I was immediately hooked.

I attended four to five classes per week of various levels of yoga, Pilates, and Yogalates. Around the same time that I made the decision to move to North Port in 2009, Lynda Geril announced she would be closing her studio to spend more time with family. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I will forever be grateful for her warmth, humor, and kindness, and for introducing me to a lifelong friend: yoga.

Fast-forward to 2011. After attending many yoga and Pilates classes at studios near North Port, I thought I would never again find the magic I had in Ocala. Sure, many studios and gyms have great merit, but I felt like Goldilocks searching from class to class and teacher to teacher to find one that was “just right.”

I had all but given up when I received an email about something called “The Yoga Month Challenge.” I had already taken a few classes in 2010 at The Yoga Sanctuary’s old building, and while I loved the classes, Punta Gorda was too far for me to drive. But when the Yoga Month Challenge popped up, and I saw that it was a benefit for The Peace River Wildlife Center, I felt a spark of fire that I hadn’t in years. I immediately signed up and pre-registered for all 20 of my classes. With the enthusiasm and support of the wonderful teachers and students at TYS, I actually did it! And that accomplishment felt amazing. I was excited to keep attending classes and had finally found the “magic” I was looking for.

When I first took yoga classes back in Ocala, we practiced in a studio that was covered in mirrors, focusing on the physical aspects of asana and some light breathing. So all I really understood was how a pose was supposed to look from the outside. In a society that focuses so heavily on the outer layers, this seemed perfectly normal to me. It would be years before revelations would begin to surface about why I felt so good on the inside. The idea of chakra or dosha balancing was years ahead of me, but the benefits were there the whole time.

Practicing at The Yoga Sanctuary, I felt challenged in different way: “How in the world could I create a Triangle pose without being able to see myself?” I thought at first. But with the guidance of our teachers, and lots of gentle adjustments, I found my Triangle pose, and felt it the way it was intended—from the inside out. Another piece of my yoga journey clicked into place.