I am having an affair with my yoga instructor.
It started about five years ago. I was new to town and a little shy at first. As I lay on my mat listening to her soothing voice encouraging me to breathe, to let go of the stresses of my day, all I heard at first was white noise.
The tightness in my chest was what brought me to her but I didn’t really see what all the hoopla was about. Sure, she was pretty funky and limber like a ballerina but I didn’t appreciate that she would become an indispensable part of my life.
Yoga to me was like any other athletic pursuit, you learned the tools, practiced, and then you were “good” at it. What I didn’t understand was this wasn’t about me. It was about surrender.
Like having sex for the first time, it can be tentative and cautious, an act of trust. Allowing someone to enter your brain, and your soul, all safe and secure behind our ever-present armour.
There I was swathed in my brand new Lulu, as she put me through my paces, corrected my postures, and during savasana…yes, she touched me.
As I lay on my mat, she came around the room. Since I’m not a touchy person, this made me nervous. She straightened my shoulders and allowed me to fully contact the ground. One with the universe…and all that mindfulness stuff that makes no sense at first. All I wanted was to breathe.
Slowly, I became more comfortable coming to the studio. I looked forward to it. The daily ritual of stretching and strengthening became my daily vitamin.
Eventually, I was “good” at it.
Eventually, we spoke.
“How can I breathe?” I asked her one day after class. She tilted her head and said, “I hope you are breathing”. I laughed self-consciously. “I mean, I want to breathe, really breathe, so I don’t have this tightness here.” And I pointed to my chest.
Deep inside was this pit of angst, a tight ball of anxiety and tension that had started a few years before. As my marriage and my life crumbled away, when I woke in the morning the painful wound was always there. On a beautiful sunny morning it would be my wake up call.
As I battled through life with my ex-husband, the physical, emotional and metaphysical damage was absolute. I don’t even know when it first started. But I was ready to let it go. She made some suggestions to help monitor my breathing during practice. But until we’re ready for it, yoga, and the all-important breath, can’t be simulated. Like drinking the Kool-aid—You have to believe.
One particularly grueling day when everything went wrong—work was in tatters, my kids were acting out at school, and my divorce was in high gear—I lay on my mat, hoping to exorcise my demons for at least 60 blissful minutes.
We flowed and we star-fished, rock-starred and pigeoned. A dance of bodies, fluid and rhythmic, the energy building in the room.
There are some days when the practice feels alive. This was one of those days. As we settled into our last comforting child’s pose and our final stretch, it was then that I felt the trickle of tears leak out. My mind circled through the reasons, the painful memories, the screw-ups, the emotional baggage. But rather than lock it up and slam the door, it was at that moment that I took the deepest of breaths. …And I let it go.
As the tears fell to my mat, I was grateful for the privacy of the gentle light and the sweet moment of freedom I felt as my heart and my mind slowed. Everything would be okay.
Since that day, I can breathe. Not every day, but most days. Like an old beau, I still love her for showing me the way.
But it had to start with me.
When yoga is part of your daily life, it ebbs and flows. Some days are great, exciting and uplifting, like being in love. Other days, it’s an effort to twist your body into a pretzel and concentrate on the moment.
Resentment can build when your neighbor coughs, interrupting your attempts at relaxation. The girls chatting before class when you’re trying to connect with your breath can make your blood boil and your shoulders cramp.
But we’re all there for the same purpose in varying degrees. We’re all humans sloughing off our daily tasks, our enemies, our demons. Like climbing a mountain, it’s a constant challenge to focus on the small steps ahead. Sometimes we lose our way but on those precious days that we reach the peak and find the moment, there is an infinite reward. It’s the breath moving through our body into our soul, giving us life and love for hopefully one more day.
And our love affair? It continues.
But it’s a healthier love that I share with others now. Some days I choose a funky flow with LB so I can sweat and dance. Other days it’s Cian for some slow and steady yin to help me sleep. It’s all good.
And the breath? It’s almost always there for me. Because now I have the keys to the dungeon.
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Assistant Editor: Karissa Kneeland/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: elephant archives