Being STILL. This has been my goal of late. I’ve been exercising it in my relationships (by initiating hardly any correspondence), via the practice of meditation (and I do mean PRACTICE…it does NOT come easy to my overactive mind), and on social media (checking it only twice a day). Being still(er) on social media has been huge. HUGE. My mind has been less chaotic in the interim, during the 7am to 7pm hubbub-that-is-my-life, and I’ve been kind of amazed at the immediacy of the results; my attunement to the hubs and kids is much more heightened when I’m not losing my focus a dozen times a day. Then, this past weekend, I stilled myself on a yoga mat. Or a Yoda mat, according to Madea (see Tyler Perry’s Witness Protection for reference).
My history with yoga is pretty much nil. When I lived in Nashville, a friend taught sessions at the neighborhood community center and oft-encouraged me to visit, though I never did. I participated in a class at a fitness gym a few years ago but never returned. This past Saturday morning, however, as I was sitting in the backyard attempting to read and instead being hypnotized by Mother Nature – all three kids were elsewhere, the hubs was tinkering with the fritzy sprinkler system, the leaves of the pecan tree were fluttering overhead, and the birds were doin’ their chirp thang – I started re-pondering the ancient practice to the point of googling “yoga abilene”. The idea of stretching my middle-aged body via a low-impact workout…the mindful, meditative part of the practice…how uber-fierce the women look in the Athleta and Title Nine catalogs doing their “tricks” (as the 3yo describes it)…it all seems very appealing. My search of the interwebs brought up a yoga center on the south side of town. I poked around the class offerings and noticed the online “disclaimer”, smiling at the fact that it has to be…disclaimed: “Yoga is NOT a religion. It is a physical practice that incorporates mindful breath work and whole body movements with the aim to integrate mind and body. Do not be scared off if your instructor places their hands together in front of their heart, bows and says ‘namaste’; this means ‘I honor you’ and each class is ended this way.”
The online schedule showed that a beginners’ class was scheduled for mid-afternoon. When no one answered my call, I drove to the center in hopes to see if I could participate. The owner welcomed me in to the third week of a four-week beginners’ class, showed me around the simply-decorated venue, and introduced me to instructor Johanna. Other participants trickled into the dimly lit room where mellow music played. Soon Johanna turned off the tunes, and we were off and stretching. The room was quiet, and I mean QUI.ET. I wish I could tell you I described it to myself in my head as “so quiet you could hear a pin drop”, but my first thought was actually, “If somebody rips one, there will be absolutely NO hiding it. We’ll ALL know who it is.”
After our warm-up, we moved into poses with names like Downward-Facing Dog, Cobra, Warrior II, Plank (which is just an uppity word for ‘steadily holding a push-up for torturous amounts of time’), and – my favorite – Child’s Pose (the resting position…ahhhh). It wasn’t long before mmmmKAYthis isHARD floated into my head. But I reminded myself: you’re a beginner. Only a BEGINNER. First real class EVER. BE…GIN…NER. And anyway, I needed assistance only ONCE during the entire hour. Instructor Johanna guided us into a position that I haven’t even been able to find on the ‘net yet. Maybe it was just some random contortion she made up to weed out the pansies. And it almost did. My body felt torqued…’cause it was. Another instructor, set up on her mat behind me, frantically rushed forward to help, like she could see the lawsuit coming a mile away.
Somewhere in there, amidst the twisting of our bodies into pretzels, the instructor directed, “Let your belly be soft.” No problem THERE. I’ve given birth to three 9-lb children. My belly is permanently, irreversibly, forever…SOFT. About halfway through the class, my soft-pretzel self caught the odor of sweat-stink. Pretty fair chance it was me. Don’t amble too close there, Johanna. I doubt you would “namaste” my naste’ stench. Honor the DEO…that’s all I’m saying. All-natural deo made with baking soda, coconut milk, and flecks of gold from the Holy Grail, of course.
The instructor strolled between us speaking in her firm, encouraging voice. As I was bent forward with my head to the ground, my fists stacked in front of me, she said to the room, “Unclench your hands. What are you holding onto?” Oh. OH. You wanna go THERE, do you? Johanna? DO YOU??? I almost rolled over on the mat that other people’s smelly toes have stepped all over, looked up at her and asked, “Do you REALLY wanna know?” But I didn’t. Rhetorical question.
Near the end of class, as she guided us through cool-down, she kept repeating the word ‘surrender’. Surrender. I wanted to stomp my feet at that comment. Surrender what? All this talk of surrendering and relinquishing and letting go (don’t you dare start singing it!). Surrender WHAT?! And then…it was like the spirit of God that lives within gave me a gentle, knowing look and replied, “You know what.” It wasn’t till several hours later the answer fully arrived: surrender the expectations you have of people, the approval you seek from people, and in some cases, the people themselves.
I suppose this is why I feel drawn to yoga at this point in my journey. It’s not just about strengthening the body – which I need for sure – but the mind and spirit too. It’s yet another meditative practice that promotes connecting with one’s self, an inward excavating adventure of sorts. As yoga teacher/life coach Erin LoPorto describes it: “There is a deep meditative aspect to yoga that takes you deeper into yourself and into your life…the mere act of stilling our bodies, closing our eyes and minimizing the external stimulus brings us to a place of witnessing our internal state of being. Are you practicing yoga solely for the physical benefits or are you hungering for transformation? If you want the latter, at some point, you will have to acknowledge that inner world….”
Have you experienced grief to where it made your heart ache, literally? That’s been me the past few weeks. There’s been the physical sensation of a vise grip on the innards of my ribcage. Saturday was the first day in weeks I’ve felt relief. Maybe it was having a kid-free morning or sitting outside in the shade of a tree. Maybe it was the prayers of my people or more fully accepting certain life circumstances. Maybe it was the yoga…or maybe it was everything.
Whatever it was, I wanna see where the yoga takes me. Hopefully into a better sense of my self. And very few Planks.