No one told me about the savasana assist before my first yoga class.
No one said, “So, at the end, when you finally get to lie down in a veritable ocean of your own sweat, the yoga instructor will come around and press on your chest. It’s cool though, don’t sweat it…Oops, too late, haha.”
Apparently my imaginary friend makes terrible jokes. I apologize. I had no idea.
Anyway, so I wasn’t expecting her hands on my body, pressing me back into myself. And I certainly couldn’t have foreseen my reaction, which was to begin to cry as she walked away.
She touched me, brought me to my body, and then she left. I was bereft.
About three years later I’ve become accustomed to the savasana assist. I still welcome it, but it surprises me more when instructors don’t give it than when they do. As a new yoga instructor, it’s something I struggle with—when to touch, when to leave be—how to generate the confidence to do for my students what that first instructor did for me.
And what was it that she really did?
That touch, that first pressing down, began an unfurling that continues now. It opened space within so that I could begin to actually see myself—so that I could start the process of self-acceptance.
As a teenager I was a cutter. I never felt I belonged anywhere. It’s been something of a revolution for me to say to myself, “You have the right to be here.” Before, I heard myself saying something like, “Simply existing causes more suffering, so why stay alive?”
When I became angry at anyone or thing, I directed that anger, instead, at myself. I turned it inward. It was performed on my body by a double-sided razor that cut neat little rows into my skin.
The immensity of difference between those lines cut into my arms, my thighs, my belly, and the firm and gentle pressure of my yoga instructor’s hands on me is striking. It seems to me that they are so opposite as to be nearly the same. Self-destruction transformed to tangling and untangling, burgeoning and flowering self-love.
If not love, then acceptance—or perhaps both. I don’t know, it’s not like we ever arrive, right? We continuously progress towards…something. More love. More compassion. And for me, the revolutionary concept of compassion for myself—forgiveness for myself.
This reformed cutter turned yoga instructor did not choose an easy road. Or the road that claimed me was not easy. Did I choose or was it bestowed? I would argue it was there and I was walking and this is what happened: I fell in love with my best friend’s boyfriend.
Not easy to reconcile, or to understand, even. Through becoming still, through practicing yoga, my life revealed itself; I was acting a role with my then-husband. I had decided for the both of us that there was a way I had to be, and being stubborn, rigid, I clung to that until yoga loosened my grasp, broke my heart, and confronted me with truth.
We got divorced and my ex-husband ended up with my ex-best friend. In just a couple of days I’m marrying the man with whom I fell in love.
The drama was messy, hurtful and stupid. I’ve always wanted to take care of people, and to be the person causing trauma was antithetical to me. It still is. It made me want to die.
But yoga saved me. My yoga teachers’ nonjudgmental hands on me, their breath and their patience with me, their encouragement, and that first moment when I truly felt myself in my own body. When I started to see my body as a part of me – that it was not, as I might have thought before, an ugly necessity; rather, it was a piece of my whole heart.
For most of my life I’ve thought to myself in the second person. You should be nicer. When are you going to clean the bathroom? Why are you so stupid? And recently I’ve made a change to the first person plural. As Walt Whitman said, “we contain multitudes.” For me, this phrase is a warm hand on my breastbone.
I’m not only the me who, as a teenager, stared into the mirror repeating, “I hate you, you ugly fucking bitch.” I’m also, as Watts said, “that vast thing you see far, far off with great telescopes.” I’m many I’s and none—spaces between breath—the decision to live with compassion. I’m a blinking cursor—we are that blinking cursor, and we are surrender. We lie back down. We will let you speak. We will listen.
And we’ll continue to wait for the wisdom to know when to touch and when to refrain.
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Editor: Jane Henderling
Photo: elephant journal archives
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