March 31, 2014

Part of the Practice (or The Time I Became Naked in Yoga). ~ Susan McCulley


“… I began to understand that all of life is practice:  writing, driving, hiking, brushing teeth, packing lunch boxes, making beds, cooking dinner, making love, walking dogs, even sleeping.  We are always practicing.  Only practicing.” ~ Dani Shapiro

It didn’t take long for me to see what was going to happen. Just a few postures into a hot yoga class with Kirk, and it was clear. I knew what was coming. And it wasn’t good.

That’s part of the practice today.

This is what I say to myself when I am distracted or distressed by something when I’m practicing yoga. What upsets me is usually something earth-shattering like my favorite spot in the second row is taken.

That’s part of the practice today.

I use this as a reminder that whatever is happening, I can choose to be with it instead of fight against it. I say this to myself when the room is crowded or it feels too hot or not hot enough or the teacher skips the second set of Cobra. I say it to myself when I have a headache or my knee feels funny or I’m wobbly in Eagle. I say it to myself when the person next to me is noisy with her water or fidgety between postures or is wearing patchouli oil.

Yeah, I say it to myself a lot.

That’s part of the practice today.

As it turns out, I really sweat in a humid room heated to 107 degrees. I don’t glow or glisten. It flows off of me and if you listen and you can hear it dripdripdripping on my sopping towel.

It also turns out that although I’ve been a movement teacher for fourteen years, and I spend my days in rooms full of mirrors and people, I am self-conscious about my body. I am healthy and strong and I love to move. I’m grateful for my body. But some part of me is sure that there is something wrong with how it looks. Especially my belly and breasts. Like a fossil of old hurts, the embarrassment and shame remains.

I sweat. I’m self-conscious.

These two things are part of my practice every day.

So, when I go to yoga, I give my outfit deliberate consideration. To be covered, but not too covered, usually means capris and a sleeveless shirt that completely covers my tummy. I think about this. I plan. What can I wear that will distract me the least from my practice? The shirt that rides up over my soft stomach? The top that pooches my boobs up?

They are distractions and I do everything I can to avoid them.

This particular day in Kirk’s class, I was wearing the cutest yoga shirt. A close-fitting, white, sleeveless tee that had a cartoon woman doing downward dog next to a stretching cartoon cat with the words “dog” and “cat” written under them. Trust me on this, it was cute and adorable. With the high neck to keep the boobs in and the long cut to keep the belly covered, I felt cute and adorable in it.

I’d never worn it to hot yoga before, but I’d worn it to other yoga classes. Evidently, however, in other yoga classes I had either (a) worn a bra with my cutie patootie shirt or (b) I didn’t sweat like a wooly mammoth in those classes.

For as I leaned into Half Moon pressing my hips to the left and my hands to the right, sweat seeped through my cute yoga shirt. As the sweat soaked in, the collar became utterly translucent.

That’s part of the practice today.

The Super Distraction.  The Mother of All Distractions.  The Distraction to End All Distractions.

My mind scrambled at the prospect of baring my most sensitive parts under fluorescent lights in a yogic wet t-shirt contest. Posture by posture, I watched the sweat spread down my chest, steadily inching toward the tops of my breasts. I was torn between wanting to be Zen about it and wanting to run from the studio. I started calculating: the first part of class are standing postures. Maybe the sweaty tide wouldn’t engulf me until we got to the floor. Maybe I could pretend it wasn’t happening and then hide on the floor.

That’s part of the practice today.

The sweat stream meandered around my torso, somehow avoiding my nipples. But like the Wicked Witch of the West’s hourglass, the wet sections in my armpits were slowly meeting with the one down the center of my chest. “Not much longer for you, my pretty!” (insert cackly witch laugh).

Then something shifted in my panicking mind. I remembered

That’s part of the practice today.

I realized how self-centered my anxiety was: who had time to look around at everybody’s outfit?  And even if they did, who cares that a 49-year-old yogini is showing a little nipple and paunch? I realized how funny both the slow creeping sweat was and also all the clambering I was doing in my head. Yes, it was embarrassing, but it didn’t matter.

That’s part of the practice today.

Finally, in Triangle as I let my top rib fan open, the streams of sweat all converged. I reached my arms apart and dropped my hips while wearing a completely transparent shirt with the cartoon woman and cartoon cat like a tattoo on each breast.

As I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I decided in that moment to just practice proudly, belly rolls and nipples and all. I had come to class to do yoga. Even in a situation that pushed all my most tender buttons, that’s what I decided to do.

That’s part of the practice today.

Dani Shapiro reminds us that “all of life is practice.” What would it feel like to approach whatever happens today as part of your practice: the dishes left in the sink. The traffic jam. The mis-fired email. All part of the practice. All of it. The cat in your lap, the arms around your neck when you come home, the cup of tea, the tears, the embarrassment, the excitement and the peace. It’s the practice. The practice is to stay engaged and aware no matter what is happening.

That’s part of the practice today.

It was not my most focused yoga class. I spent most of it in my head. But I did have a few moments when I was present in the midst of my nakedness. And that was precious. To be so exposed and yet to find even a few seconds of breath and presence, that was a gift. It was an experience of being with an uncomfortable situation that I have been cultivating ever since.

I’m not saying I ever wore that stupid shirt again. When I got home I washed that cute little yoga shirt and took it directly to Goodwill, yes I did. But the experience of that class has stuck with me.  Every time something twists my panties or feels annoying or upsetting, I remember the sensation of the steadily creeping sweat. I take a breath. I pay attention.

I forget a lot, too, of course. Like we all do. Sometimes when I feel vulnerable and exposed, I metaphorically run for the locker room.

But, sometimes, I make it part of my practice.

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Susan McCulley