"The yoga mat is a good place to turn when talk therapy and antidepressants aren't enough." ~Amy Weintraub
I think I’ve mentioned that I love yoga and that I go to yoga all of the time and it’s all yoga, yoga, yoga. And now you’re probably like, “WE GET IT. YOU DO YOGA.” I love it. It makes me happy. While others are convinced that Bikram will kill them, I’m doing pranayama breathing like a boss, in the front row. Do I feel like I’m going to die? You betcha! But after a year of regular practice I am able to shrug off the feeling of my imminent death and planning my funeral because, let’s face it, I probably won’t die.
Now that I've gotten all cocky about my non-dying let me tell you about Wednesday.
Wednesday evening when I was late to yoga and ended up right next to the heater. Which, ok. Fine. That was my fault and it’s happened before and it just requires deeper breaths. There was a girl next to me who I think I had seen before but I didn’t give it much thought because while I was struggling with keeping myself upright in standing head to leg pose she was fine. A few moments later I found that breathing wasn’t really helping. I mean it was helping in that I was still alive but I was incredibly overwhelmed by the heat and the sweat and when Favorite Yoga Teacher gleefully shouted that it should “...feel like someone is strangling you”. I nodded because yup! I feel like I’m being strangled! Mission accomplished!
So, there I am, ready to pass out and thinking that this is it and that my parents were going to have to clean out my house and that I probably shouldn’t have put off changing the cat’s litter and whatever will they think of all of those wine bottles?! That is until the girl next to me. The one who had been fine just moments before turns to me and says, “I’m going to pass out”. And I’m like, wait. You can’t pass out because I was going to pass out and we both cannot pass out. She asks how many poses are left and I tell her that there is camel and rabbit and then a few twists and then breathing. That’s all. But she’s just staring at me, wide eyed and I am convinced that this chick is going to die. Which is sad but I really REALLY wanted to die, too.
Long story short: Neither of us died. Though after re-reading that entire story I’m assuming that now you’re thinking, “WE GET IT. YOU THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO DIE”.
On Friday, I attended Favorite Yoga Teacher’s birthday party and relayed this story to her to which she replied with a gentle head pat and kudos for being a good yogi. Moments later I was teeter-tottering into Tuladandasana while she fake yelled at me in her Bikram voice. Then we giggled over beers and she complimented me on my form.
Here’s the thing - I don’t *need* head pats or but like most people I enjoy being told that I am doing well in the moments when I feel that I failing spectacularly. Yoga is especially difficult for me: I never feel that I look great. I am certainly not the thinnest or most flexible in the room but I try like hell. I return day after day into that 105 degree room with it’s 40% humidity with girls who are donning bikinis while I want to cover up all of the parts of me that jiggle. I go back again and again because of Favorite Yoga Teacher. I haven’t been able to adequately describe the past two years except that it has brought up every part of myself that I absolutely dislike. I have found myself at the edge with my anxiety and wonder if I’m going to fall into the abyss of panic. Of course I have fallen a number of times but something about doing all of the yoga all of the time has moved me from constant WOE! to Alright. Ok. You won’t die. You’ll feel like it but you won’t. It’s all balance; yoga and going from massive anxiety to feeling like myself again and Favorite Yoga Teacher has been a huge part of that. She sees me at my sweatiest and most vulnerable with my cleavage and belly hanging out. I like her because when I’m feeling particularly terrible and uninterested in being in that room she doesn’t tell me what I’m doing wrong but always, always, what I’ve done right. The simplest thing for which I am so grateful.
Happy Birthday, Bethany. I’m happy to have met you and I am even happier that I haven’t died yet.
"I would like for people to realize that yoga is not about touching your toes. ~Gary Kraftsow"
1. Decide to go to your first yoga class ever. Buy a mat, buy cute clothes that cover your ever expanding ass but show off your boobs because at least the weight is going somewhere besides your hips.
2. Attend your first yoga class.
3. Spend the entire hour hating everything including the yoga teacher you just met for the very first time. Hate your body, your belly, your inability to find downdog a “resting position” because EFF THAT NOISE.
4. Try again because it probably was just the teacher or the space.
5. Realize that you still really hate yoga but because everyone else is doing it then you should be doing it too, right? Right.
6. Make four more attempts. Realize four more times that you hate everything about yoga. While everyone parrots back “Namaste” to the teacher, you resist the urge to throw up your middle finger.
7. Another realization: you are an angry, bitter person. But that’s just you. Own it and be the brat that everyone is loathe to talk to. That’s totally going to get you far in life. (No, no. NO.)
9. Wait a year to try it because remember, you HATE yoga.
10. Step on the scale and take note that you are at your highest weight ever. You are miserable and sad and nothing is working. Your doctor prescribes more medication which works in its own chemical laden way but is that only helps with the brain what about the rest of the body? You look at yourself in the mirror and that only makes everything worse.
11. Yoga? Sure. Fine. Let’s try this thing again.
12. Go to your first hot yoga class. It’s 80 degrees and you manage not to die. Pat yourself on the back.
13. Attend a few more classes taught by the owner of the studio. Admit to yourself that her soothing voice and excellent taste in music makes you feel better. She says that yoga is meant to be done at your own speed so focus on yourself and not on what others are doing. Remember that last part. You don’t know it yet but it will come in handy.
14. Your initial trial period ends and you keep going anyway. Notice how you manage to live through multiple flows involving multiple downdogs and planks. Once again pat yourself on the back for not dying and note how much easier it is to reach your back.
15. Notice that there is now a Bikram class being offered and so you read up on the popular method of yoga. You mostly do the reading so that you can tell people that while Bikram yoga is hot yoga, not all hot yoga is Bikram yoga. Make sure you say this in a really condescending manner because despite the yoga you can still be kind of a jerk. But it’s true.
16. Go to Bikram. HOLY DEAR JESUS LORD IN HEAVEN IT IS HOT. What fresh hell is this? It’s so hot that the second you walk into the room every inch of your body begins to sweat. It’s 105 degrees with 40% humidity. During the first breathing exercise where all you do is practice breathing you notice that your upper lip, shoulders and back are already sweating. As you move through the first four postures a pool of sweat starts to form at your feet because IT IS HOT. SO HOT. As you get to the end of the standing series to the floor series you are thankful that it’s already over. How wonderful! And you’re not dead (yet). Oh but wait there’s more? Yes. There is more. There is an entire series on the floor. This isn’t some lovely savasana where you can close your eyes and get your om on. No, it’s a savasana where you are expected to work. EFF IT ALL. Silently curse the teacher (or guide). You hate her with a passion. Somewhere in the middle of the floor series a panic starts to set because you need to get the hell out of this hell. Somehow you endure. You don’t die (you will spend a lot of time thinking that this is how you’re going to die. Right here on this yoga mat. Don’t worry. You won’t).
17. Sign up for another Bikram class. There are poses that leave you miserable and bring up aches and pains you didn’t know existed. Though your teacher/guide tells you not to pay attention to what others are doing you cannot help but notice how others can be in standing bow pose and not topple over. Meanwhile you can barely get your right ankle into your hand without falling into a heap. When you arrive at bow pose on the floor? Yeah right. You can only get to one ankle. You spend the entire minute wriggling to reach your other foot and then there is some sort of lifting mechanism. Yeah. Fucking. Right.
18. This is where things get interesting: You can’t stop going to yoga. You want to resist and go back to your evening ritual of making it to the bar before $2 draft beers ends and yet you plan your life around evening yoga classes. You’re still embarrassed by your inability to stand upright and be like everyone else but and yet you go back over and over and over again because it feels so damn good.
19. Tell your friends about hot yoga and Bikram. Talk about it endlessly. Your friends look at you like you’re insane because three to four times a week you willingly stand in 80 to 105 degree heat for fun.
20. Yup. You are now having fun. You are enjoying yourself. You love every sweaty minute of it. You leave each class happy that you’ve not only managed to escape death once again but bit by bit, vertebrae by vertebrae you are feeling yourself getting stronger and able to dig deep and reach further. Remember how before you couldn’t reach your other foot in bow pose during the floor series? Remember when doing a downdog was a new form of torture? Remember when your butt didn’t reach your heels? Yeah. Now you can reach.
21. Have the following conversation with friends and family:
You: “I LOVE HOT YOGA! OMG!!!11!!!”
Your friends/family: “You're nuts. That's how people DIE”
You: “JOIN ME!!!111!!!”
Your friends/family: “Girl. Bye”
22. One day a random co-worker notices something...different. She can’t quite put her finger on it but comments on your appearance and general demeanor to another co-worker. She notes that you seem kinder and nicer. While that change is apparent you still struggle at the being nice all of the time/namaste/be chill thing because you are still human. But the approach is different. Remember back in those early days when your yoga teacher said to pay attention to what you’re doing on your own mat and not on whatever else is going on in the room and what others are doing/aren’t doing? You bring what you’ve learned while on your mat to your life off of the mat. You find yourself smiling because you have stopped worrying about what other people are doing. It’s not that you don’t care it’s just that you have to focus on you because that is the only thing you are able to change.
23. Fast forward several months: You now have a favorite yoga teacher who you talk about all. the damn. time. You have a favorite spot in the room. You have a ritual. You can balance for a minute and when it’s a balmy 87 degrees outside you don’t mind because no one is screaming “BODY DOWN, LEG UP” at you while you teeter forward onto one leg in a balancing stick pose that is supposed to be good for the heart but again with the feeling like death because you’re planning your funeral as you pull your body apart (or as Favorite Yoga Teacher says, “PULL YOUR BODY APART”)
24. “Take what you need and leave the rest” is another Favorite Yoga Teacher gem. One day you’re in your Bikram class and the panic that you haven’t felt in months starts to set. Your body tenses up as the heat gets heavy. You breathe deeper on your mat but seriously, this is it. This is the time that you’re going to die in yoga. All of those other incidences were just practice. This is not a drill. As much as you want to run out of the room forever, you focus on the ceiling and remember “take what you need and leave the rest”. You decide to take a break during the next few poses and that’s OK.
25. Favorite Yoga Teacher tells you that you’re looking good in a certain pose. You scrunch up your face because that’s one that you hate the most and brings on the aches and pains. She tells you how strong you look as you become compact and balance. You thank her and remember another gem: “It’s always when you are ready to get out of the room or the pose when your practice really begins”. It’s always darkest before you see the light, it’s always when you want to give up that you find that you should push forward, it’s always at the end of the post when you pile on the cliches. All of this is true. You realize that yoga has changed everything for the better. You still have those imperfections and sometimes you want to bow down and namaste someone while kicking them in the baby maker. You are still you after all. But you are a different, stronger, more balanced person than you were 52 weeks ago.
You take what you need, you focus on yourself and the rest? The rest is always there for another day.