Why I stopped going to Yoga – And Why I’m going back

It is basically impossible for me separate physical and mental issues anymore. Thanks to yoga I’m sure. It can be a good thing in a lot of ways but it can really get your head in a vice. Yoga prides itself on not just being a workout for the body but also the mind. It can relieve stress and give you all sorts of “one with the universe” kind of feels. Which is really great. I’m not knocking that at all. It’s one of the reasons I started going to yoga. But it can also give you the most existential shit-storm of a mind fuck you have ever experienced. And since I’m coming from a Christian background, that’s saying something.

That has been part of my issue though. There are some serious similarities that I started seeing between the church I left and the non religious yet spiritual system I had found myself in. Stick with me here, I know this isn’t the easiest of topics.

You see, yoga in America has issues. Actually, yoga anywhere has issues. I have listened, read, watched, and participated in a myriad of discussions about a myriad of topics relating to yoga. And I did the same when I was a Christian I would debate, study, read, argue my opinion, try and listen to opposing opinions, anything to sort out the why’s and why not’s of my chosen belief system. Sometimes it was great, but mostly it was exhausting. It was disheartening. Unbelievably draining. And I have done the same with Yoga. Is it cultural appropriation? I’m not a Hindu, can I still participate in Mantra? I have my own belief system can I have a deity image in my practice still? I don’t believe in Karma is that a bad thing for a yoga teacher? I don’t want to use Mantra in my classes is that ok? I don’t think yoga is for everyone, will that lose me money? What if I want to make money as a yoga teacher, am I a selfish asshole? Is it wrong for me to be really mad that people had issues about how I look as a yoga teacher right out of the gate? Should I just teach “Fat Yoga” and accept that’s how people see me?

So many things to argue about. I am a firm believer in my humanity. In participating in it, not trying to avoid, deny, beg for forgiveness about or starve it out by denying myself all things that make me human. And if you’ve ever studied the Sutras or anything like it, embracing both the good and bad of your humanity can seem very contrary. And I hate that. I don’t just dislike it, I genuinely hate it. I spent half my life trying to atone for the fact that I was born a women and a human. Trying to pray the human out of me. Trying to deal with the fact that I was told as a child I was born with “sin” and that I had absolutely no choice in the matter. And that there was only one way to keep from being burned alive for eternity. No choices there really. While yoga doesn’t go down that road quite as harshly, there are very specific similarities in how much of our humanity we are suppose to deny. If you choose to pick one of the “less strict” version of yoga then you can,  but isn’t that us westerners just watering it down for our consumerism lifestyle? No, I don’t think it is.

I do, however, think there are people that will argue the truth of any chosen religion or philosophy while the world burns. While it starves.

Does that mean we shouldn’t discuss these things on our minds? No of course not. Does it mean you have to give away all your possessions to the poor before you don’t sound like a hypocritical capitalist drone? I dunno. You go do whatever is right by you. But as for me, I’m finished arguing about whether or not my chosen version of yoga is cultural thievery or not. I’m over arguing about whether or not I look yoga enough to have my  picture posted online. I’m finished with all of that. Because for so long I felt like it was impossible for me to move forward until I answered every question. It has kept me from moving forward. It has kept me from going to yoga in general.

So, after completing yoga teach training  I really felt a lot more lost than I ever thought I would. All of those questions and no answers. Just more arguing, turmoil, people judging the appropriate use of my chosen belief system. Just like when I was a Christian. So much effort being spent on whether or not someone’ else’s version of Jesus was the same as mine. Yoga was suppose to fix all that, fix me. And it didn’t.  I was suppose to spend all my time doing it, come out the other side a kick ass teacher with all my mental issues sweated out. I would be thinner, happier, and have a new understanding of how I fit into the grand scheme of the universe.

And then I did pretty well. I mean, I wasn’t a natural or anything but I did ok. Most people thought I was going to start teaching right away. I mean, I did too. But life is such a bitch sometimes and having plans and a timeline just doesn’t always work out. It’s actually a common theme for me. Mostly my own doing because I’m not a consistent person. I now know that means I’m a fearful person but that’s a discussion for another time. So when I was done with my training I really didn’t feel like I knew enough to just start teaching. (This is how I felt mind you, not how things really were.) I just couldn’t go out and try and teach. I mean, I would have to like…actually go out and try to teach. Which meant I would have to hear “no”.  A lot. And put forth a great deal of effort. And since rejection isn’t everyone’s favorite thing in the world, I decided to wait.

And then I got pregnant.

Briefly. It was over before it started really. I didn’t feel any sense of loss around it. I wasn’t planning it and I wasn’t interested in it. I mean, We had talked about maybe pursing that in a year or so, but for now it wasn’t what I had my mind on. But then We started talking about it more. And then We decided to just go for it. Why not? And this very small part of my brain was so relieved because then I wouldn’t have to put myself out there yet. I could use this as a reason to not face rejection. To not have to work on the uphill battle of trying to change my physical self more than I already had.

It was an out.

I could go down this road and come back to yoga after I had studied more. It would be a great story. Yoga would be the perfect way to get back to it after a pregnancy right? All my psychological bullshit could be avoided for a least, lets say….another year?

So. Fucking. Wrong. Just so so so so wrong.

See the problem with yoga and all this self awakening shit is that you are aware of your own mental tricks. The things your brain used to do to get you out of bad situations and make you feel ok with yourself and justify that the way you are is perfect and needs to alternation, they don’t work anymore cause you’re “enlightened” or whatever buzzword is popular this week. Really, it’s because you’re being honest and relatively aware of your own consciousness. Enlightened sounds entirely too graceful for what is really happening.

Why was I so wrong? Because We tried to get pregnant. And failed. Tried again. Failed…..six months later, nothing. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know this is normal and blah blah blah and I’m not interested in hearing why I shouldn’t be upset about it. As someone with PCOS (look it up if you don’t know) and Hashimoto’s Disease, getting pregnant and staying that way can be a little tricky. A lot tricky.

The summer passed in somewhat of a blur for me. The only times I really remember not feeling depressed was when I was outside hiking, or in the water.

Then, we had a tragic death happen in front of us at work one night. A man died. We saw it.

Another man that had tried to help our friend was covered in blood and in shock, standing in the street. I helped him, washed the blood off of him. Tried to clean it all up. I didn’t sleep that night. A few days later, it was my day off. I was sitting on the couch. The house felt stuffy even with the windows open. I wasn’t pregnant. Again. I looked at the clock.

12:47pm.

I blinked and looked at the clock again.

2:58pm.

I have no memory of what happened in those hours. I hadn’t moved I don’t think. I hadn’t been thinking. If only I could get to that kind of state when I’m trying to meditate! But in all seriousness it scared the hell out of me. I called my Naturopath for a counseling session and energy work. I started to feel better.

What does all of this have to do with yoga and why I stopped and am going back? How does this compare to not wanting to face rejection or deal with yet another step in dealing with my physical self?

Because, I have never felt rejection in this life like I have while staring at the “not pregnant” symbol on a pee stick. Six times.

And there is nothing in this life that has forced my hand around my physicality like wanting to tell my husband he’s going to be a dad.

Cause see,  I’ve already given up a lot to make myself more physically fit. I mean, it sucks because I’m still the me I’ve always been: super hot and plus size. But compared to a lot of people, if they did what I did, they would be a lot thinner by now. Heathier. Less issues. It was my Naturopath that told me on repeat, like a fucking broken record, you can’t compare the immeasurable intricacies of your body to anyone else’s. And it’s a really hard lesson. Like…really, really hard. Because then it’s just you and your shit and you can’t say it’s unfair. Unfair compared to what?

So once I realized my epically depressive state I got help. I told my friends, my Naturopath, my family. And it helped. A lot. Because loneliness was a choice for me this time. It was safer because if I said something out loud then it was true and then I would have to deal with it. Which brings us full circle doesn’t it? Sometimes you just have to deal with your shit.

There are things about yoga that I’m so over. And I’ve had to come to terms with that, and figure out how that fits in my practice as a student and as a future teacher. But that means I have to make decisions. And stand by them. And I want to do yoga. If that means people think I’m a racists stealing from other cultures and that I’m too fat to be a teacher and that I should always be arguing my beliefs…then so be it. You know I had to remove myself from a Facebook group that was made to discuss the Sutras four times before people stopped adding me?

Because I don’t want to discuss that bible either.

 

So now what? Yes, We are still trying to have a kid. And yes, I still want to be a yoga teacher. Tough to try and go find a job and then two months later say I’m pregnant. Yoga is a physical field. But that’s ok. I’m just me. And however that shakes out, with either yoga or motherhood or both, I’m ready to take it on. The rejection, the bullshit, the just having to do my own thing and knowing that people might hate it…that’s fine too. I’m just me. And the good part about that is, it means you can just be you too.

So here’s to the new year. To the absolutely terrifying choices that lead us to the immeasurable unknown. To those that make the infinite possibilities of every little decision not only bearable,  but beautiful. Here’s to every mistake, every night we want to give up, every morning we try again, every person that carries us, makes us laugh, and gets us through. To every person we accidentally inspire. Here’s to family, blood or stronger. To our guides, deities, spirits or figments of our imagination. Here’s to the new year. May we all embrace our fear, run recklessly towards it, and dare to imagine the version of ourselves that is the most free.

How It Starts

I’m not talking about this like something that happened years ago that I am just now coming to terms with and have finally figured out. This is something that is happening to me right now.

After several years of off and on practice and being content in my perpetual beginner status, I decided to take it up a notch. I noticed that I felt shittier when I didn’t go to class and there must be something to that. I decided I wanted to be like those students that always opt for the most challenging pose and leave glowing. Not like the neon pink faced, mouth breathing sweat monster I turned into after an hour of asanas. I wanted to be one of those students that had the perfect balance, in life and in poses. That with just a few well-intentioned breaths I could twist myself into a beautiful bird of paradise and all my problems into oblivion. There are some that have it so blessedly easy. But not all. Not me. And I’m finding that that’s ok.

I wish I could say my yogic experience started with how much my practice has given me. How many amazing physical benefits I have received and how I now have a better understanding of the universe as a whole.

I wish I was one of those people that was transformed the minute they hit the mat. That every pose brought about the release and tranquility or ultimate ass-lifting glorification that has been promised so many times by all my Pinterest memes.

But no.

My yoga story starts with epic frustration. Blinding even. With the understanding that starting a physical career at the age of 30 is, well, humbling to say the least.

And I am not a humble person.

My experience starts with yoga gutting me. Physically and mentally. The more I go to class the longer my list of, “things I can’t do” gets. The more I try to balance my life the more I realize how out of whack it is.

And it is very frustrating to have your efforts matched with more problems.

The more it takes from me the more I realize I don’t have enough to fill up that space. Sometimes it makes me feel empty. Sometimes it makes me feel really lonely. In a sea of people standing on their heads I am the only one sitting on my ass. The more I go, the more that emptiness grows. Coming to terms with your current physical state is a battle we will face again and again and again and again….And I am, apparently, ill-equipped.

Yoga has opened up a space inside me that I have no idea what to do with. It doesn’t fill me with universal peace or karmic bliss. It is just…space.

I had this idea that if I if I just keep with it then it will natural get better. It will be easier for me to find time to go to class and I wont be sore after a few months. Even though this has never worked for me in any capacity before. So, naturally, after regular practice for the past 8 months I find myself in the same mental fog of frustration I have had about any kind of work out regimen. Then I thought, well maybe if I became a yoga teacher then I would have the motivation to continue and also make a career out of a healthy lifestyle, which would be a good balance to my bartending lifestyle. I could be a yoga teacher by day and a hot bartender by night. That sounds solid. I was planning on practicing this year and then in the fall of 2015 taking the yoga teacher training at my studio.

But then, some of my teachers told me that one of the authors of Yoga Anatomy, a favorite book of mine, was gong to be teaching this year and it was a great opportunity. So I signed up.

I’m about 13 days out from starting my training and my inner panic button has been pushed and is now thoroughly stuck.

We have several things on our list of preparations before training starts. One of which is to organize the house and make sure you have enough space to practice and have time to yourself.

I have completely redone my house. Well, not I but we. My wonderful husband has been more than helpful. We have rearranged, bought new furniture, cleaned and shredded literally 6 garbage bags worth of old mail and even bought a new table that collapses so I can fold it up and put it away when I need space to do yoga.

Space. I have made so much space for this in my life. And when I sit in meditation and feel the chasm of space I have put forth so much effort into creating I always feel the excitement of anticipation as I wait for something wonderful to fill it up. And I always feel the bitter disappointment when nothing happens. Like a stupid fucking echo in a cave.

Among the list of to-dos, is a reading list. Of course Yoga Anatomy is on there. I have mostly used the book as a reference in the past and have not read it cover to cover. The first assignment is to read chapters 1 and 2. I skipped most of those previously because I have taken anatomy before and a lot of it is about breathing and I totally know how the lungs work.

Wrong. So, so wrong.

See, it’s not about anatomy really in these chapters. I mean, part of it is, but it is mostly about the combination of our physicality and yoga mentally. I came across these paragraphs, and they ruined me.

“In a cell, as I all living things, the principle that balances permeability is stability. The yogic terms that reflect these polarities are sthira and sukha. In Sanskrit, sthira can mean firm, hard, solid, compact, strong, unfluctuating, durable, lasting, or permanent. Sukha is composed of two root words: su meaning good and Kha meaning space. It means easy, pleasant, agreeable, gentle, and mild. It also refers to a state of well-being free of obstacles.

Sukha also means having a good axle hose, implying a space at the center that allows function. Like a wheel, a person needs to have good space at his or her center, or functional connections become impossible.”

Good space. Mind. Blown.

For many people this will seem very trivial, obvious even. For me, this is life-altering, mind being, truth of the universe. I created space and didn’t know that was the goal. The objective. The destination.

Well, that might be overstating it but still. A small bit of success in what felt like a long list of failures.

Because when you start looking at space like a destination and not a beginning, all the things you thought were failures start to add up to something else all together. When I see the list of poses I can’t do in class it isn’t a list of can’ts anymore. It’s a space in my practice. A hole. A useful space where an axel will eventually go. When I attempt to hold a pose, feel it start to break and I fall, I am the crumbling ruins that over time will be removed and space for something new will take it’s place.

You see, we don’t start out with space. Especially in this day and age. We are so full to brim with information, fear, anticipation, doubt, happiness, love, hate, anger… the list goes on and on. Cultivating space requires the decimation of things we so desperately thought we needed. The foundations we have built our lives on, the pillars we have raised to steady ourselves.

Yoga is taking away so many pillars I use to stand on and slowly replacing them with my own two shaky legs.

I understand why people focus on receiving strength from an outside source. A deity, a religion, a significant other. Having to scrounge it up from your own volition is fucking rough.

But with the study of anatomy comes the realization that our bodies are amazingly crazy. Like, full on nutter butters. So many things happening inside us that we know nothing about. The body is a violent place. Chemical compounds, explosions, absorptions, reactions….it’s a beautiful, well structured mess in there.

It’s no wonder it takes so much to create something as simple as space. And it’s no wonder we don’t quite know what to do with it when we get it.

So how does all this fit into a yoga practice? I dunno.

The problem…

the good thing…?

No the problem with yoga is that when you do it and really get into it, like doing all the meditations and trying to breath right and all that, is that you can’t really hide anything.

All your proverbial shit comes out.

Those weird experiences you thought you had forgotten. Or those big chunks of time in life you thought you were totally over.

They come out.

I’m not really sure why. Maybe because no one really knows how to deal with what happens to them appropriately while they are in a body? Like I said, the body is a complicated mess. And that’s the problem.

The good thing…?

No, the problem, is that our body has been with us through all that shit. And when we twist it and strain it and give it a chance to talk, it remembers….

It remembers things our minds were smart enough to forgot.

I always feel like my mind and body are at odds with one another.

But sometimes when I do yoga, it makes more sense. My brain is smart and wise. It knows what is best for me. It understands the reality of things. It has a conscious.

My body however, does not understand these ideas.

My body only knows what I have put it through. What it suffered through. What it enjoyed. So when I get on the mat and try to get the two to work together for just one hour a day I see the fractured relationship between what I have been through and what I should be. It’s not a bad thing. My brain is just a lot better at dealing with the here and now.

My body needs more from me.

It needs more time to process, to understand, to adapt. My brain is not restrained by this physical world. But my body is the definition of it.

Being in a body is hard.

It is limit.

It is restriction.

But it is also freedom and it is joy but there is no person that gets to avoid the inevitable outcome that our physical self will end with. Death.

The body is the physical manifestation of the reality that we will die. That our mind is encased in a meat sack full of water that will eventually bring us to ruin.

That’s why I do yoga. Not to move away from my eventual grave, but to understand my steps on the way there.

There are some things that will never change about me.

But there are some things I can breathe, twist, bend, invert, and relax into understanding and acceptance.

I started off doing yoga to try and change myself, but I know now that myself has always been good enough. I just didn’t know how to get that into my physical body.

Not until yoga.