From screw you to I am you.
Recently I stepped into a yoga space only to find that smack next to my preferred mat spot there was a beautiful, long-legged young woman in a crop top and booty shorts doing cirque du soleil stretches. Great.
For a moment, I felt pissed. Did I want to spend my precious practice time comparing myself to yogini perfection? Sure, I know it’s all about watching my breath and maintaining my dristi (gaze), but I’m still f*cking human. I watched as these thoughts roughly tumbled about, and caught myself.
“Do the opposite of this inclination to separate yourself,” said something inside of me. Perhaps it was my teacher Kelly Morris shouting from somewhere inside my brain or heart or jealous gut. “Open yourself to the sh*t that bothers you,” continued the voice. “Take an interest in your suffering,” as my teacher Lesley Desaulniers once said, quoting Sharon Salzberg. Damn it. Yogis don’t get days off. So I plunked my mat down next to Miss Perfect Butt in Booty Shorts with Cirque du Soleil Flexibility sitting next to me.
With the first few vinyasas I noticed, notwithstanding my breath, dristi and bandhas (internal locks) focus, that perfect yogini was actually a beginner. A physically blessed, probable dancer gliding through the practice, but a beginner at asana (yoga posture) practice nonetheless. So I doubled my efforts to focus on my ujayyi breath—that’s the best way I know to serve anyone practicing around me—and the intention behind my practice. It worked.
I can imagine how this class could have played out differently. I can see the other “Choose Your Own Adventure” version where I suffer through the entire class feeling badly about myself and then travel home with a pissed narrative circling my brain on repeat like that Gotye song. “Damn perfect girl with her perfect body has to get in my head and f**k up my practice. Does everyone have to remind me how far I still have to go to becoming a sweet, wise enlightened yogi?”
But the choice I had made at the beginning of class to set an intention had consequences and they played out like this:
As soon as I opened to this yogini I saw myself in her. I used to be a dancer. I once went to a yoga class as a beginner (never to a beginner class, mind you, I was too badass for that) and flung my turnout and ballet alignment through the poses like man, I totally got this yoga sh*t. This girl was me. And please, forgive me for getting all “sh*t yogis say” cliché-dropping here but I really, truly loved her in that moment, in spite of her perfect ass and ability to make samakonasana (same angle pose, a.k.a. a middle split) look like a pose so comfortable you could sleep in it.
When class ended she turned to me and asked where I had learned to do some of the more advanced variations she had seen me doing during practice. We got to talking about yoga a bit, and I had the opportunity to encourage her to take some basics classes. I also found out that she was interested in learning more about yoga and maybe teaching it because she couldn’t see herself, a dancer, going into a desk job.
Wow. Hadn’t I uttered the exact same words more than once?
It was like meeting a younger version of me. I Am You, I thought, recalling my journey after quitting dance in my late teens, then moving on through college and law school and mostly miserable lawyerhood into teaching yoga and motherhood. We talked some more. Hey, I discovered that I actually liked this girl.
Rather than feeling tight, jealous, pissed thoughts as I made my way home after class, I ambled home feeling giddy with wonder and amazement and love for everything I have been taught—even though I still stumble along with what I’ve been taught, well, all the time—because that feeling of I-Am-You-ness, as opposed to You-Annoy-Me-Screw-You-ness, that’s just everything.
Editor: Ryan Pinkard