All the recent criticism about yoga being a dangerous pastime is true.
I’ve been doing yoga for almost a decade and I’ve injured my neck twice. I’ve had wrist pain and shoulder pain. I had a knee injury that lasted for almost six months from attempting to meditate in lotus pose, a pose that came so easily to the other members of my meditation group. The Buddhist mediation guide I was reading told me to use a mantra to move past the pain.
My mantra was: I know I’ll never walk again. I know I’ll never walk again. I know I’ll never walk again.
I waited for my knees to snap and one day, and in spite of all that positive thinking, one of them did. I stumbled out of class as gracefully as I could. I talked to one of my classmates about a hummus recipe all the way to the car. The minute I closed my car door, I screamed until I lost my voice completely.
But this isn’t the most dangerous part of yoga. This is par for the course in the beginning if you push too hard, and if you’re smart you learn your boundaries pre-paralyzation. A good instructor can also prevent this by correcting your form before you develop bad habits. This will keep you safe. Almost.
Here’s the thing: the most dangerous part of yoga is all this open heart stuff. It’s all this encouragement to give and receive love. Love your brother, your sister, yourself, the world, your enemies, frenemies, and that neighborhood dog that barks all bloody night. Love Rick Santorum, even. (The latter is black belt level love and, as far as I’m concerned, not achievable by ordinary human beings.)
Hip openers hurt, but heart openers can kill you if you aren’t careful. Case in point: my ex-boyfriend. I met him when I was trying to work on a personality quirk that prior boyfriends had often referred to as “frigid bitch.” I was guarded and distrustful, and I mocked these poor fellows every time they tried to get close to me.
I was fine with it, but one of my closest friends told me that I could never really be a yogi with this attitude. Sure, my warriors looked good, but my heart was beginning to resemble a dumpster on day fourteen of a garbage strike in July. Men could smell it on me and kept their distance.
I did camel pose until I heard my chest crack, and worked through fear to stay in wheel for five breaths. In the midst of this I met this boy. I was a cynical thirty-three year old woman. He was twenty.
So, by boy I do mean boy.
This is why I didn’t feel any need to protect myself around him. He was this undetectable virus that made his way through my bloodstream. I felt fine. I didn’t have a fever or a sudden hankering for Meg Ryan movies. But I started wondering where he was and what he was thinking. I started wondering if his parents would like me and when I would meet them. This fantasy often ended when I imagined his mother slapping me and calling me a cradle-robber.
Had I told his parents that I was going through a spiritual journey that led me to their son, I think they would have told me to go choke myself on a mala. My friends certainly did. My mother name-checked Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (this was pre-overdose and considered, then, a positive thing). She also said it might be nice if I kept it to myself.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but…
I wish he’d been a thirty-four year old man with a decent career and a nostalgia for rotary phones, but he wasn’t. I was terrified of men I thought could be potential mates because I’d had such a rough past with the opposite sex. It started at birth, really. I’d been practicing shutting them out my entire life.
What I wanted even more than my comfortable isolation was a fulfilled spiritual life. I believed that I could move through the pain of the past into something that resembled ease. In order to get there I had to confront my black heart and get some blood pumping in there. Damnit.
This boy did that. I didn’t want to be seen in public with him, but he did that. I told him things that I’ve never told another man, and I let him tell me things that I had never wanted to hear. I got teary one morning because he was curled up next to my dog. Both of them snored in unison. I thought it was the most precious thing I’d ever seen.
Precious. Is using this word the grammatical equivalent of a snapped spinal chord? Yes.
However, it was precious as hell.
Spoiler alert, dreamers and romantics. This relationship didn’t end well. For all the cozy moments in bed, a hundred sleepless nights with tears and over-the-counter PM followed. It was his fault; he was too young. It was my fault; I was too old. It was painful and absolutely unsolvable.
When it ended I cried. I cried at home, in my car, on the phone with friends, on the treadmill at the gym. I cried so hard in a movie theatre that the guy behind me told me to “take it outside.” The movie was a comedy, but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t process any external noise because my heart was so effing loud.
I cried in yoga and nobody told me to stop. Sometimes in savasana I would open my eyes and look at the the people next to me and they would be crying, too.
Love is hard for everyone. If it wasn’t we wouldn’t have to “practice” it. There wouldn’t be heart-openers or therapy or happy hours. I don’t even have to point to the divorce rate. Just look at your Facebook feed on Valentine’s Day and count how many people use the words “nauseating” or “suicidal.”
My knee has long since healed from the lotus injury, and I can now comfortably meditate for up to an hour. My heart, however, still smarts.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul
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