Well, I’m not going to lie and say I practice yoga every day. At one point this summer, I went almost 10 days without it. I have developed little release valves during daily activities so I can avoid dedicating myself to an entire practice. You know, like saying I don’t need exercise because I walk so much at work. Technically it’s true… but there’s so much more to taking a walk than the number of steps.
I will do vrksasana before I brush my teeth because that’s the pose I still like to see in a mirror. Or I’ll practice tadasana while the shower warms up. I have figured out how to get into virasana while sitting in my car, for when I have to wait for things. I do some version of uttanasana whenever I have to lean over to get something (or fill up a watering can). All these little reminders that I still feel connected to my yoga. Recently, I have even managed to get myself to a class once a week for more than two weeks in a row. Go me.
But for some reason, I can’t do more than tadasana when I stand on a mat at home. It’s like the exertion to ground myself saps my ambition to do anything more. I know there are plenty of aphorisms and encouragements about how just doing that is good for me. It just doesn’t feel good for me. Part of me is still attached to this idea that exercise should make me sweat. It should make me exhausted in way that lets me know I went above and beyond. No pain, no gain, right?
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard for me to keep with a rigorous yoga practice? If you do yoga regularly enough your muscles don’t get as sore and you are able to complete poses with less strain. It seems to get easier from the outside. Of course, that’s when you have to explore your internal struggles and that’s not something you can safely “do while you work”.
You have to deal with willpower and determination. Your full attention is called for and not everyone can narrow down to one focus that easily. You have to confront your ego and find out what you really think of yourself. It makes me see how shallow I am on a frequent basis. That’s not something I’m used to confronting. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. But no pain, no gain, right? I believe this is my obstacle to practicing alone. I don’t have any source of comparison to see if I’m doing it right. I don’t have someone watching me and giving me approval when I do things well.
This is why I had to find a studio without mirrors. When I first did yoga I was a 17-year old high school senior. I had a gym membership with Gold’s Gym that I paid way too much for (but that’s another story). My time there was very educational and supportive so when they offered new yoga class I said to myself, “I’m pretty flexible, so I’d be good at that.” If you can identify the irony in that statement, keep it to yourself. It’s one of those initiation moments that flexible people should learn on their own.
I was of course good at yoga in high school. You show me a reasonably fit, overachieving high school senior girl that isn’t good at mimicking yoga shapes. I could easily bend and contort myself into any variety of crazy-looking pose. I knew I was doing it right because the guys exercising in the gym behind me were very supportive. Of the busty teenage girl in skin tight clothing bending over repeatedly in front of fish-tank style windows. Yeah, they offered all kinds of “encouragement”. You see, it was the late nineties – teenagers didn’t dress the same way. It just wasn’t okay to have a skirt more than 4 inches above the knee.
Anyway, the teacher I had back in high school was fresh off teaching celebrities in LA. She wanted to help spread yoga to less progressive cities. Or maybe she followed a boyfriend out here. Who knows? But I was lucky to get her as a teacher. A short-haired blonde goddess in spandex that took the time to teach vinyasa yoga to a dozen or so dedicated noobs. She taught me so much more back then than I ever realized. And no, I’m not using this as some euphemism for latent lesbianism. This woman had a way of talking about energy movement that kindled my awareness on a very primal level. A transformative experience that only lasted about 6 months, I went to Philly for college and immediately changed into someone else.
It was about 8 years before I wandered back down this path of holistic health care. Back in Memphis, I went to a yoga class somewhere and came away utterly defeated. Why did I not love watching myself in the mirror anymore? Why did I have so much trouble repeating the performance of high-school-me? Why did I not have the same glow and lightness I found in my first yoga classes. Floundering in that quandary, I kept on moving past yoga. Obviously is wasn’t for me.
My flirtation with yoga continued for another few years until I happened upon an Iyengar yoga studio. I wasn’t looking for that style specifically. It was mere proximity to my house that drew me in. But you know what they say – location, location, location. Needless to say, my experience there started a whole new chapter of transformation in my life. The lack of mirrors was a surprising comfort. Classes taught in an essentially didactic format, no flowy music or vaguely existential phrases. The other yoga students were very sincere and welcoming. It was one of the first places where people got to know me as just me. Not someone’s child or sister or wife. Just me. More importantly, they continued to get to know me even after my shyness wore off and I started talking way too much!
There was a key part of that studio that challenged me in a good way. The teacher did not ever tell me when I was doing it right. By and large, I was virtually ignored during classes for the first few sessions. This seemed okay at first. I was shy, she didn’t know me. I was very rusty, so obviously I wasn’t at me peak potential. After a few weeks, she would start to give me comments. All the yoga teachers do it. They float among the students and offer offhand bits of praise like bread before pigeons. Sure it sometimes felt insincere, but that’s just part of the airy-fairy yoga way of doing things. Constant encouragement. Gentle corrections. Eventually this teacher would notice how great I am at this and let everyone know it by commenting.
I’m pretty sure it was over 2 months before I finally got up the courage to ask her a question. That’s the first time she took notice of me during a class. She patiently explained part of the instructions in reference to my question. Not only answering me but also creating a teaching moment for everyone in the room. It was so thoughtfully delivered I couldn’t help but feel relieved. This teacher had been watching, probably the whole time. She just doesn’t pander to new students with insincere compliments or personalized observations. Instead the class is about listening to instructions and developing self-awareness.
It was that spark of connection that prompted me to attend a weekend workshop and the teacher, Karin O’Bannon I met there confirmed everything I believed yoga could do for me. She was a truly inspirational woman that I am grateful to have met. The first day of that workshop I went to a whole new place and calmly tried to be as insignificant as possible. When asked I even admitted, “I’m terrified of new things.” The knowing smile and simple nod from the concerned party was a perfect response to that. By the end of that weekend I had started to prepare for headstand, something I would be too scared to attempt in full for months to come. Bu favorite take away was Karin demonstrating how to safely fall from a balancing headstand. As close to skydiving as you can get from solid land.
Anyway, since then I have had many ups and downs in my life. I would have lost yoga so many times over if it wasn’t for the compassionate, loyal friendships I have developed via Evergreen Yoga Center. This past year I feel like I’ve finally broken out of some old ruts and I know yoga will be part of my life permanently. I am continually roping in my ego and taming into a useful tool that I hopefully will stop cutting myself with. I am even getting over some of my commitment issues and creating a solid foundation for life as an adult. Mostly I need to buckle down into a regular schedule and just put in my daily 15 minutes. Either that or I have to start going back to yoga boot camp. Biweekly early morning yoga shots tend to whip me into shape pretty quick!