OCD & Dirty, Dirty Yoga Feet. ~ Amy Vaughn

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Bisbee, Arizona is a haven for artists, old hippies, and 20-somethings trying to find themselves.

Bisbee also happens to be home to one of my favorite yoga teachers, Marcia Galleher.

Marcia’s class, on the third floor of the old Oddfellows Hall, was everything I needed as I struggled to recover from a major anxiety disorder. Between panic attacks, social phobia, and obsessive compulsive disorder, it was a big deal to show my face outside of my house.

But for Marcia’s class, I would.

Her classes embodied the paradoxes of yoga—grounding and uplifting, energizing and soothing. In her class I felt entirely human and entirely part of the Sacred. At some point in every class, tears would come. Sometimes they were tears of joy, sometimes they came from release, and sometimes the feeling that everything was finally, if only momentarily, alright simply overwhelmed me.

I cried in every class, except one.

Class had started. We were seated, bringing our arms slowly, slowly, up and down, when a 20-something hippie kid popped up from behind the banister and asked, “Can I join you?” A nod from Marcia and this guy was unfurling his mat right next to me—really close to me.

He was on my left, so I moved as far to the right as I could, but still, he was right there.

“Okay, he’s really close. Deal with it. Just turn inward.”

I tried to convince myself it was no big deal, “He’s just a person.”

Maybe the dreads were purposeful and not due to lack of hygiene, but lack of hygiene there definitely was. He didn’t smell too bad, so silver lining there.

But he was dirty, manifestly unclean, grimy, soiled—like he’d spent time working with potting soil.

“Just breathe.”

A few poses later, we were all lying on our backs in supine big toe pose: right hand to raised right foot. I knew what was coming next. “Oh no. No. No. No… Please! No!”

Every muscle in my body tensed as I waited for it. Time slowed.

And then, she said it, “Lower your leg to the right.”

Oh geez. Oh man. There it was—a so-dirty-it-was-nearly-black, dirty, dirty foot just inches from my face. Aaach!

I could see all the whorls and loops of his footprint, the lighter tan of his arch, the white between his toes as he flexed his foot.

“I can’t be here! I need to leave! Oh dear God, why is he next to me? Why is he so close? No. No. No.” And then I thought, “Calm down. Just breathe. You aren’t in any danger. It’s just a foot, a dirty, dirty footprint in my face!”

Eventually, after what probably felt like a much shorter hold for everyone else in class, we moved on and the offending appendage was removed from my oh-so-immediate vicinity. But class was ruined; I couldn’t get over it. It was just a foot, but I couldn’t let it go.

I kept picturing it and tightening up. I was missing the bliss and I was mad.

I was mad at the dirty hippie kid for setting up next to me and for not taking a bath, ever. I was mad at Marcia for choosing that pose that day. But really I was mad at myself for not being able to deal with it better.

They didn’t sabotage my yoga class—I did.

Class ended and I went home disappointed. A week later, with memories of the foot still fresh in my mind, I came back. I took special care to set up between two friendly (clean) faces and to not leave enough room for an interloper.

Class was wonderful again. I released, I breathed, I healed. All was right with the world.

I learned a lot from that dirty, dirty yoga foot. I learned I can stand to be that wigged out and not panic or run away if I just keep breathing. I learned that disgust can trump good intentions, even in yoga class.

Most importantly, I learned to keep going back.

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Apprentice Editor: Bronwyn Petry/Editor: Travis May
Photos: Austin Kirk, Flickr Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Amy Vaughn

Amy Vaughn is the author of Yoga to Ease Anxiety: Practices and Perspectives to Help You Enjoy Life Again. She’s also a walking cliché: a vegan yoga teacher, an over-educated at-home mom, and a teacher trainee mentor. She makes her real life home in Tucson and her virtual home here.

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anonymous Apr 7, 2014 10:40am

Thanks for sharing. We all sabotage our practice at one time or another. It's great when we learn from it!

anonymous Apr 6, 2014 7:46am

I get it…my yoga mat is a metaphor for my life. It all unfolds right there in the 6 foot space, and all our issues are laid bare. Whenever I meet a dirty foot in the real world, off the mat, it's easy to run away, much harder to accept and absorb the raw stinky reality. But when we stop trying, that's not living. Thanks for bringing my morning smile 🙂