My first yoga class was 4 years ago, in Boston. I hemmed, hawed and drug my feet there — to Back Bay Studio – with my sister.
Beginner’s Vinyasa was the most painful experience…um…ever. My toes were miles from my hands. My shoulders popped every chance they got. And my hips…oh god, how did you get so uneven? Is that even normal?
Breathe, my teacher said.
In. Out. And then in and out, again.
I wasn’t hooked, but I showed up routinely for the rest of the summer. You see, I knew it was good for me, and at the time I was more than willing to force myself through anything “good for me” [which is, ironically, not good for you at all].
For the next three years at Wake Forest, I tried out each of Winston-Salem’s studios, fighting with my body and my mat and my mind — thinking I was improving just because I could jam myself further into each pose.
Then I found Bonnie and Elliot at Village Yoga.
And they taught me to be kind and gentle with my body. They taught me to be patient. To release my shoulders, slide them down my back and stop furrowing my brow. To quit competing with the mats next to me.
And finally, what it meant to breathe.
Inhale. Exhale. In. Out. And then in and out again — with my joints and my mind and every fiber and tether of my being.
It’s been a constantly humbling journey. Today, I did nothing right in class. Nothing. I didn’t balance, I didn’t hold. I broke and found myself in child’s pose a lot…just, you know, breathing [and muttering unrepeatable curse words].
And I thought about all the things yoga has taught me…
1. Flexibility – it’s much more mental than physical.
If I had a dollar for every time someone told me they could never [omg NEVERRRRRR!] do yoga because they’re horribly un-flexible, I would probably have like, I don’t know, 314 dollars by now. But, as you practice, you realize it’s the mind that starts the fear cycle — it tenses you up, it freaks out about falling on your face, it thinks something valuable will snap if you go further. Calming the mind, with that ever-elusive breath, solves a myriad of problems [in class and otherwise].
2. Your lungs are your most sacred organ [organs? how does that work?]
You thought I’d say heart, didn’t you?
But consider the evidence: a.) if breathing is the most important skill for your practice, this makes sense, b.) you’d die without your lungs or your heart…so, why not choose lungs? and c.) the workings of the heart are totally outside our control [both its physical and emotional elements] but the workings of the lungs are totally within that control. In. Out. Expand. Contract. We do that. We’re in charge.
If there is one thing serious yogis share in common, it’s kindness. Most specifically, in regards to their own selves. They’re unlikely to make you, or themselves, feel inferior, small, or inconsequential. They won’t be mean to you — not to your face, not behind your back and definitely not on the internet or social media. They will take a deep breath [maybe a few more, if you're exceptionally agitating] and accept you. It feels nice.
4. Your body hates you. Really.
I know I just spent a lot of time telling you to love your body…but this is not a mutual thing. This is some serious unrequited love. You don’t realize it until you really start practicing…but, eventually, it dawns on you that your body is disgusted with you — with the junk you eat and the amount you drink and the very little that you sleep. So, to try to get on its good side, you start reversing such behavior. And you realize how supple and light and airy you’re feeling. And how much crap — emotional, habitual, and otherwise — you have. You unload. The bad stuff in your body. The bad stuff in your mind. The bad stuff in your heart. Gone.
5. Dust into Gold, kids.
You clever little minx, you noticed, didn’t you? That each of the aforementioned points shared a common thread — the miracle [WHOA a miracle!] of changing our bodies and selves in a positive way. That’s what’s happening in sorcery, when the shaman or wizard or whatever that dude in all the movies is that turns dust into gold does. The physical changes take a little longer to appear, but the mental changes arrive almost immediately. Your emotions, your presence, your dingy, tired soul — they all lighten. Loosen. Breathe.
And everyone notices.
And suddenly you find yourself crawling to your mat every chance you get.