The Greatest Gift I Ever Received: My Yoga Practice

Continuing with our guest blog posts, this one is from our newest instructor, Claire Staszak. She has been attending classes here since we opened and we recently added her to the schedule on Thursday mornings at 10am. 

Her post is especially relevant as we enter into the 'gift-giving' season and it's a good reminder that sometimes the best gifts we can give our loved ones and ourselves are not tangible 'things', but are experiences that help to create happiness, memories and meaning in our lives.  

The Greatest Gift I Ever Received: My Yoga Practice

By Claire Hurwitz Staszak

I was recently at a daylong retreat that involved art and yoga. As the morning began, each participant introduced him or herself. The retreat leader asked us to share with everyone a brief story about the greatest gift we had ever received. Pretty deep question for 10am! But as everyone started sharing his or her stories it quickly dawned on me that the greatest gift I was ever given was my first yoga teacher training. My mom paid for my training as a gift, because as mother’s intuition is usually right, she knew I really needed it at that point in my life’s journey.


I had just moved back home to Chicago from San Francisco after my idealistic first year out of college and jump into the real world had gone drastically wrong. A terrible breakup and the crumbling of my future as I had always imagined it had sent me into my first real battle with depression. At the time, I was living in an intentional community and working for Habitat for Humanity—and even with my wonderful roommates and lovely co-workers, I was still barely making it through each day. I couldn’t eat and each day as a forced down my oatmeal and cried into my tea I felt like I was losing a little piece of myself. I felt like a failure, lost and not lovable. Moving back home was the best option for me to get back on my feet.

San Francisco introduced me more fully to yoga and I knew I felt good when I was practicing. Ana Forrest was holding a teacher training back in the Chicago area. Mom said, “Come home and I’ll help you pay for the teacher training. You’re going to be okay.” The training really changed my life. I spent 6 weeks waking up at 4am to arrive at my mat at 6am and practice until 6pm, 7 days a week! It was a transformational experience. Ana Forrest created a safe space for people to be themselves and part of a larger community. I felt like I had a purpose again. I met other wonderful, struggling people like myself and learned that everyone has hardships and problems. It is how we choose to overcome these issues that defines us and keeps us strong. 

Today, I know that it is my yoga practice that keeps my grounded and in-touch with my deeper self in a world that is frankly too busy, crazy and depressing. It is my yoga practice that makes me emanate with gratitude for all the beauty in the world and the amazing people who come to the mat for their own reasons. It is my yoga practice that shows me how to be a better teacher by honoring my limitations, my fears, my hopes, my accomplishments, and myself. I am forever grateful to my mom and dad for their support during that first teacher training. I am grateful for the yogic path that lights my way would have been harder to find without them. 

As the materialism of the season swirls around us…take a second to pause and consider the greatest gift you have been given. What is it? What has it meant to your life, to the person you are today? Can you thank the person or people involved? I encourage you to meditate with thoughts of gratitude in your heart, and send loving kindness from the center of your being to that person. Gifts of the season are all around us and taking your yoga practice off your mat and into the world is surely the greatest gift we yogis can share. 

Happy Holidays!