I’ve been practicing yoga pretty steadily for the last three years for two main reasons: 1) my back is jacked to hell and I needed to find an exercise that strengthened my core without placing unnecessary stress on it, and 2) after reconstructive ankle surgery, my right leg was useless and I needed to rebuild its strength. I like yoga because you have to focus on the present or else you fall out of positions and frustration quickly takes over. You must be in control while also letting go in each pose. It’s very complicated stuff, this yoga.
I remember in college trying to get into yoga with my girlfriends and unfortunately, never succeeded. It was a breathing-centered yoga, and without fail, every class I would hyperventilate and pass out. Wow, that’s a really fun way to pass an hour of your life, let me tell you. So I gave up on yoga.
Until I found athletic yoga that so reminded me of my years as a ballet dancer. The concentration, the ability to improve strength and balance, the competitive side it brings out of me when I see someone more advanced, all while sweating my ass off — it was the perfect combination to hook me in. Over the years, I’ve seen a significant change in my body, in the way it looks, and also how it feels. It’s incredible to feel your body, I mean really feel it, as an adult. It’s totally different than lifting weights or your common cardio.
I know that yoga has restorative properties and can help with stress management, but I’ve never bought into the different breathing, chants, and de-toxifying mumbo jumbo that many instructors spit out like truth. When I hear, “This is really good at helping your liver breathe” I want to hurl the teacher out of the window. My public health brain is always on so don’t try to fool me with your soft, enchanting voice.
I go to yoga to shut my brain off but also to turn it on, to really focus on the pose and nothing but, and to breathe through the discomfort so I can lengthen and stretch. It’s harder than it looks, because you actually have to try to make it challenging. That’s the greatest thing about yoga in my opinion: it’s hard if you want to be harder, but it’s easy when you need it to be. There’s not a lot in life you can control like that.
Lately, things have been rough and amazing. I’ve been dealing with Jake’s loss in my own way, sometimes breaking down, other times laughing at an outfit that would definitely gain his approval (he was a clothes snob, btw). I’ve also been traveling like crazy this past month, in Spain for a week, Baltimore the next week for a conference, then Michigan for a certification program. My car broke down twice, and I’ve been collecting donations for Jake’s son’s college tuition savings plan from our high school class. It’s helped to keep me busy, but has definitely made it harder to process things. Now it’s April, and I look back on March like WTF happened?! Is it really over? We were so looking forward to Spain, and now it’s over. The conference, over. My time in Michigan, done (until October).
How is this ok? For time to move this quickly, and all of the sudden you look up, and it’s been over a month since your friend passed away. A month. I’ve barely had time to keep my head above water, and then a month is gone without me even realizing it.
Last week I got more bad news from an extremely close friend. I won’t say his name because he hasn’t gotten the results back nor am I sure that he has shared this beyond just his close friends, but he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
Have you ever had bad news hit you so hard that you don’t even cry? Like, your brain can’t even process the words but it knows it’s bad? After I got the news, I just started to shake uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop it, I just shook, and the shaking didn’t even stop for sleep. I would jolt straight up in bed, shaking, after dreaming about losing another friend. The tears came later, when I left him a voicemail letting him know that I was thinking of him during his surgery, and that I wish I could be there for him and his family.
It’s just one punch after another, and the thought of losing another person, and in particular a person who helped shape who I am today, an individual that I can’t even separate from my adolescence or 20s, is too much for my head and heart to comprehend right now. I’m just trying to get through, hour by hour, but hoping that time doesn’t get away from me like it did last month.
And now we return to yoga. Yesterday, after an extremely invigorating Hot Power class in which I was able to complete yet one more advanced arm balance, we sat after savasana, the corpse pose, at the end of the practice. Savasana was the hardest pose for me to become comfortable with when I first started yoga. It requires you to lie still, and shut your brain off but stay focused. Sound confusing? It is. Letting your brain stay on but not running is the most difficult thing to learn how to do. I mean duh, meditation exists for a reason.
I cried the first time I got into savasana because the silence was the most uncomfortable for me. I couldn’t find a place of peace in it. And that was shameful to me. Why couldn’t I just be silent? What was wrong with me?
Last night, after savasana, we sat up to chant Om 3 times. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Om:
Depending on the day, I could be okay with joining in and chanting Om with the group. Yesterday was one of those days. I sat, legs crossed, and chanted the first Om.
The vibrations started in my chest, and I immediately choked up. My throat closed up and my eyes filled with tears, and I had zero control. It was like the vibrations were forcing an emotional expression within me. Then the shock of what was happening hit me. What was happening??
The second Om began, and again the vibrations in my chest were almost too much for me. My voice broke, and I couldn’t finish the second Om. I was beginning to panic, in my head, because I wasn’t trying to be emotional. It was just happening. I was able to complete the third Om, only I used a much softer voice to chime in.
Let me remind you, I’m not the person that buys into this yogi divine stuff. I’ve never once given credence to the idea of yoga being a way to connect to the divine, or whatever. I still don’t know if I do, even after that experience.
All I know is that I needed that moment to sit in myself again. I’ve spent so much time the last month doing for others, or traveling, or being somewhere other than super present in myself and the moment, that I forgot what it felt like. To be here, right now, and be okay with being still. And in forgetting that, there came a sadness, a realization that it’s not okay to keep going, day after day, without being still and present. A reminder that life is about controlling and letting go, all at the same time.
Thank you yoga, for being there for me when I need that reminder the most.