Over the past five years, the question I’ve been asked the most (second only to “How many tattoos do you have?”) has been, “Have you ever tried yoga?”
The question was coming at me from so many directions that I couldn’t help but think that someone was trying to tell me something. The more synchronistic it became, the more annoyed I got.
I was sleeved. I listen to 60s garage rock. I do wardrobe, bartend part-time and drive a vintage falcon. What would make you think I’ve tried yoga?
The months leading up to the beginning of my yoga practice were grim to say the least. I had moved back to Los Angeles from Atlanta after a divorce. I couldn’t find steady work, even with eight years experience in one field and 15 years in the other. My cat was staying in the home of a woman I barely knew and didn’t particularly trust, and I was staying on a friend’s couch. I was more than thrilled to be a smoker and my favorite food group was cheese. (The latter still applies.)
My transitional phase had become a transitional rut, and I had doubts about my decision to come back to Los Angeles. I was convinced that I had made a huge mistake and that bartending in the dirty south until mustaches went back out of style was my destiny. There was something missing in me—a desire to change—and I was becoming desperate.
What I’ve not mentioned is that the couch I was staying on belonged to my best friend, who happened to be a yoga instructor. More synchronicity?
I clearly had the time for a new hobby. I also should drop that that I’m a perfectionist to a fault. Ironic, yet true and it kept me from trying new things: yoga, for example.
I had to be perfect out of the gate. I was confident in many areas of my life, but anything that could be considered sport-ish? Not so much in that area. I think it’s because I had always been shy, thin, and got more grief growing up than I care to admit. I typically stayed away from rigorous exercise. Yoga wasn’t rigorous exercise. It was then that I wondered why I had been so resistant. It was only stretching. Right?
(I will also tell you that I had a “borderline new age disorder,” which to me was a fate worse than death. It meant that I liked candles and I could meditate for 20 seconds. But you wouldn’t catch me dead near incense. I would have lit someone on fire if I had caught a scent of patchouli on them. I was convinced that yoga was done by people who wore tie dye and thought black should never be worn outside of a funeral.)
As it turns out, yoga isn’t just for hippies, nor is it for lightweights.
It’s been two years since I begrudgingly began my yoga practice in my best friend’s living room. My life has been slowly changing from the inside out, although you’d expect a physical act to do the reverse. My body tone and shape has changed completely none the less.
I cried my first few times on the mat. Getting into my body, and into my breath, brought me to tears. To hide my embarrassment of having a feeling, I immediately snapped at my teacher…which I suspect is more inappropriate than zen appropriate.
I wasn’t about to paint an upside down cross on my yoga mat, but you understand. I was forewarned that it might kick up feelings, and still I kept going, breaking through the fear of not being perfect and doing it anyway. Like many, I am so easily frustrated and hard on myself, but there is no room for judgment on the mat, as my teacher tells me.
Laugh at myself when I’m screaming The Ramones out of my car window?
Judge my horrifying and quite frankly, humiliating decision of my first tattoo being a tramp stamp?
That should be judged twice just on principal alone.
Clearly I’m not perfect at yoga or at life…it’s called being human…but the days that I can challenge myself and hold poses that used to seem not only impossible but terrifying, have been incredible. There have since been some struggles and some unrelated injuries but I keep trying.
I try to remind myself constantly that it is only yoga, only movements (movements on so many levels for me, not just physical), and allow myself the room to grow, to continue to become stronger, to learn about myself, and I’ve found it infiltrating other areas of my world.
It’s shown me that I can still learn, even when I don’t want to, that I am still teachable, even though I give my teacher shit, and that I can achieve things that may not seem within reach. It’s taught me that yoga isn’t specific to Berkeley or Krishnas with no shoes.
Most importantly, it has taught me that when I can clear my mind and be present, I am able to get out of my own way. In that state everything is possible.