When I was in my late 20s and living in Northern California, I used to go to yoga classes.
For the most part, I went because it was just what people did who lived there—it was part of the life style (and I suspect, very much still is).
But more than really liking yoga at the time, I liked the idea of liking yoga; I am North East born and bred and I wanted to fit in with that cool-earthy-spiritual West Coast vibe.
In reality though, while in yoga class, I would mostly be bored, looking at what other people in the class were doing or looking at the clock to see how much time was left.
Fast forward twenty years and I’ve spent far more time running laps around the sun than I have spent doing sun salutations.
Yet, this past winter, I found myself again at the door of a yoga studio.
This time I’m didn’t go back to yoga class to be fashionable—this time, I went back because something told me I needed to. I had been living a sort of rudderless life; it looked well enough from the outside, but on the inside I was feeling pretty lost.
My first day at yoga was a metaphor for how my life had been going. There were two yoga classes happening at the same time and I couldn’t figure out which one to go to—I walked between the two studios back and forth unable to decide.
I kept thinking one of the teachers would be hurt if I didn’t pick their class (mind you, I didn’t know either of the instructors at the time, nor did they know me). I was also trying to figure out which class was harder so I could take the easier class, not trusting myself or my body to make it through the whole thing.
The instructor who checked me in watched me with a straight face as I walked up and down the stairs between the two studios. Finally I said to him, “I’ll just take your class.” He shrugged his shoulders and said simply, “Okay.”
Those first classes weren’t easy. I felt self-conscious, out of shape and old. I struggled from one asana to the next, often stumbling to nearly falling down more than a few times each class.
My breath was out of control; I breathed rapidly in and out of my nose and mouth in short shallow breathes that were as jagged and haphazard as I often felt on the inside.
My muscles hurt after class, often for days, as they awoke from years of atrophy.
Despite all of that, I kept coming back.
In fact, I made a commitment to myself to be on the mat at least three times a week for the next year to see what would open up in my mind, body and spirit.
Gradually, I learned I could control my breath. Gradually, I learned I could breathe through my nose without panicking. And gradually, I learned that I could slow my breath down to sooth myself and that I was in control of my breath—it wasn’t in control of me.
I began to trust myself through a rhythm that was my own.
Not surprisingly, I also reconnected with my body in all of its physicality, a connection I had lost long ago. Though I had previously heard zany ideas like honoring the body as the home where the spirit dwells, that was not my experience of being in my body, or even of having a body. For years, I hadn’t given much thought to my body except when I wanted to use it to gratify emotional or pleasure needs.
Despite this, by showing up at the mat time and again I was nurturing, honoring and healing my body.
Even more than that, I saw a new purpose for having a body. My body was no longer to be used for the purpose of temporary need gratification. I came to know my body as having a higher purpose, even a holy purpose.
I came to know my body as a channel through which I could do my soul’s work in the world.
Around this time, in class I stopped dreading the asanas that challenge me; I began to enjoying the flow from one space of the practice to the next and I began inviting the challenge in, enjoying the play with the edge of my balance, flexibility and strength. Stumbling over myself stopped being reason for embarrassment or a feeling of failure but became a reason for openly laughing at myself in delight and humor.
Off the mat, I was changing too.
I noticed that as I strengthened the boundaries within my body, there was new clarity in my emotional boundaries with others as well. In a disagreement with someone, I found myself able to stand in my position, not rigidly or with anger, but with clarity and purpose.
Likewise, I saw where to back off the edge of my opinions and judgments and when to release and surrender control. I even began to laugh more easily at the everyday blunders that inevitably disrupt the balance of life.
Just as I learned the rhythm of my body on the mat, I began to flow in that same rhythm off the mat. I started the revolutionary practice of going to bed when I was tired and paradoxically waking earlier and more easily than I ever had. I began noticing what foods worked for my body and which ones didn’t and eating to match those preferences, rather than the foods I thought I wanted.
When feeling lonely or sad, I nurtured myself lovingly but simply: with a cup of tea, a good book, calling a friend or just going to bed. Those feelings stopped being something that needed to be fixed or changed or that required a lot of emoting or drama. They became only temporary discomforts, and as such, their power over me became less and less.
Even more striking, I began to feel in my core that my life has a purpose and that my spirit dwells in this body for a reason.
I began to see that this body has certain talents and this mind has certain capabilities and those were given to me for the sole purpose (or even the soul’s purpose) of doing good in the world.
Right now I have no idea how those talents and capabilities will be expressed across the span of my life and I really don’t need to know. That is part of the delight and mystery that my life has become; no longer is my life rudderless, but is rather purposefully unfolding one step at a time.
Right now, these abilities are being expressed in writing to you and I write to you to say that no matter where you are, all is not lost. No matter where you are, you are not without a rudder.
This suffering we hold onto we think is so unique to us—and it is that very illusion that keeps us apart from each other and that keeps us apart from love and from truth.
It is the very illusion that maintains this pandemic experience of aloneness, an aloneness that ironically exists in a world full of people that seek little more than knowing they belong.
So I write to you to say, that five months ago I started a yoga practice for me, but now I practice for you.; I practice for you so that I can hear the message that I am supposed to tell you.
Today that message is that we really we are one and that we never walk this path alone.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise