Open Door

It seems that yoga has snuck up on me again.

I believe in yoga, really and truly I do.  It’s kept me upright and moving forward during some relentlessly stressful times, and helped me remember to breathe in and out all day long, and set me back upright once the dust settled.  Yoga has been on my mind all week.  The other day I wrote about the mantra, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything,” and it’s been tugging at me since then.  And yesterday Julia and I swapped soup for books, and Poser showed up in my mailbox.  I couldn’t put it down.  And, well, it’s the holidays.  Someone, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, but shall be referred to in this entry simply as “my mother,” has fired up the Holiday Emotions via telephone.  I don’t know about you, personally, but many of my favorite people agree: nobody can turn you into fractious thirteen year old in a conversation faster than your mother.  I get shrill when I talk about Holiday Emotions with my mother.  I do not want to be shrill, ever.  So this week, I decided holiday yoga was much cheaper than holiday therapy.  And I went.

That’s a little bit bigger than it sounds.  I used to do yoga all the time. My sister introduced me to hot yoga years ago, when I went to visit her in Portland.  She took me to her favorite class.  The temperature as 105 degrees, indoors.  I was dazed but upright as the teacher circled the room making minor adjustments.  He stopped at my mat, tilted my arms back just slightly, and whispered to me, “You’ll get even with her later.”  I laughed out loud.   The summer after my first semester of grad school, when I lived for two and a half blissful months in Chicago, there was a Bikram studio down the street from me.  I went four or five times a week.  When I started I was recovering from exhaustion, and also from knee surgery, and I couldn’t bend my knee far enough to sit cross-legged on the floor.  I was a different person by the end of the summer, downright human again.  I stayed with it when I came home, through the rest of grad school, through another knee surgery, through a 30 day hot yoga challenge.

And then I fell off the wagon.  I graduated, I traveled, I job hunted, and I started working.  My post-grad school budget was way tighter than my grad-school budget (I tip my hat here to the Department of Education and their usurious seven percent interest rate.)   I did sporadic Y yoga, but other than my favorite Saturday class, have not had the yoga experience I’m looking for there.  The last time I went, early in the summer, it was one of those calisthenic-type yoga classes, with something like 40 sun salutations in a row.  I left that class with back spasms that lasted for two months; for weeks it hurt to sit down, or stand up, or, worst of all, sneeze.  Every time I thought about doing yoga again, I would reflexively tense up.  Yoga should not seem dangerous.  But it seemed dangerous.

Well. Plenty of serious yoga people get snarky about hot yoga, claiming it’s for Type-A, adrenaline-junkie types.  I strenuously disagree.  Because the beautiful thing about hot yoga is the deliberation, the stillness, and the cultivation of control over every part of each pose.  It’s slow, and meditative, and difficult.  It feels like you’re literally wringing yourself out;  compression and release,  racing heartbeat and deep breathing.  I was hoping for some clearing out pre-holiday mental toxins today, and to ease the twinge in my  not-quite-right back, and to start limbering up my wonky knee again.

I got on the mat, and heard in my head, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”  It got louder as we moved past the breathing, and into the sweating, and straight to the part where it got hard.  “The way you do anything is the way you do everything,” was more insistent when we got to Awkward Pose, when my legs trembled and I was tentative about my fragile knee.  We built up some steam, and as is always the case when I’ve been away from hot yoga for awhile, I got dizzy.  There was ringing in my ears.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valor, and lay down on my mat for a pose while the queasiness passed. “THE WAY YOU DO ANYTHING IS THE WAY YOU DO EVERYTHING,” kept shouting itself at me as I faltered my way through the floor series, and flat-out bailed on Camel Pose.

Camel Pose, friends, is not that big a deal in a regular yoga class.  In hot yoga, given where I am physically at the end of class, Camel Pose is my Arch Nemesis.  I hate Camel Pose.  I’m kneeling, so I’m already hurting before it starts, even though I’ve folded my mat over four times; then there’s a backbend, which makes me all nervous, and then with the compression and heat comes a whole slew of unpleasant sensations.  Today the ringing in my ears came back before I’d even done a backbend.  I was queasy, and tense, and everything else Camel Pose does to me.  I half-assed it, or, depending on your perspective, sat with all the unpleasant feelings, trying to stay present and work through it without exerting myself hard enough to make it worse.

And so.  I reflected at several points that I was not giving it my all, was not wholly engaged, was, in fact, faltering. I spent some time beating myself up over the yoga/life comparison; I do not want to stumble through life giving anything less than my best effort, less than my full engagement.  But then I decided that, not having been to a class in months, faltering was ok.  Turns out, actually, that I haven’t lost any flexibility to speak of, but need to work on strength.  It’s one of those phases which isn’t about achieving, so much as taking stock, staying upright, testing the waters.  Faltering is part of the practice.  Faltering is about trying something, and wobbling and falling, and doing it again, and getting stronger. As is always the case with hot yoga, a few hours later, I feel just marvelous.  Nothing hurts.  I’m extremely chill.

And I’m back on the mat.

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