A few years ago I tried bikram yoga for the first time and it instantly became a happy place for me. The heat was soothing for my muscles as well as my mind. I used to love tanning beds (I know, I know, for shame) because they felt like a 15 minute vacation; hot yoga was kind of the same…if you mix in some intense effort and notsomuch relaxation! For a blend of reasons – yoga buddy moved away, my schedule got changed up, I moved to a neighbourhood further from the studio – I stopped going to yoga for awhile.
This Easter weekend, after copious amounts of food and sugar (we demolished the hugest bag of Dino Sours from Costco, as well as the requisite bag of mini eggs, not to mention a full turkey dinner), I decided it was time to get reacquainted with my mat. I have always felt that the first yoga class (or first time back to class) feels like a bit of a reset and detox. Monday afternoon’s class was rough – really rough. I looked over at my partner in torture and silently mouthed “death!” And I knew it was going to be bad…but it was truly a revelation as to how poorly I had been treating myself lately.
Today I went back for a second round, hoping that it would be better. And it was – I only had to sit out a couple of postures this time! And I know that next time will be even better. But more than that, I learned some things today…or rather, was reminded of things that yoga taught me a long time ago that I had let myself forget:
1. How you face the mat is a reflection of how you face the world.
On Monday, I went into class apprehensive about the pain and suffering I was going to encounter and, as soon as it came, I told myself “I’m not strong enough, I’m not good enough right now. I’ll rest until later.” And sometimes we all need rest, in yoga and in life, and it’s OK to admit that. It doesn’t make you weak or a failure to – literally or figuratively – lie down once in awhile until you gain your spark back. But sometimes, we need to brace ourselves for challenge and know that we CAN persevere. It might not be pretty (the pose you fall out of, the recipe you ruin, or the family dinner that careens into disaster), but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. How you choose to react to challenge, to pain, to lethargy, doubt, hubris on the mat is telling you a lot about what’s going on in your life outside the studio. Pay attention, and ask yourself what it means, and if it’s something that you’re happy with.
2. You don’t have time to worry about other people, and they aren’t worrying about you.
I have a really bad complex when it comes to external approval – I constantly crave for my looks, actions, desires to be validated by the people around me in order for me to know my worth and success. It’s a battle I live every day. But at yoga, there are so many things assaulting your senses: it’s SO hot, you’re SO sweaty, you’re trying to listen to instructions, keep breathing, keep from falling over, maybe even make the pose look nice when you catch yourself in the mirror… Suddenly, you find that you have gone 60 minutes without so much as glancing at another person in the world. And more than that, no one has paid any attention to you either; they have been too busy fighting their own fight. No one has evaluated your outfit, your effort, your hairstyle, your aptitude, or even your attitude. All you have been is a physical presence, floating in their peripheral, that tells them they aren’t alone in this class or this world…but ultimately you have no bearing on their life, nor them on yours. You’re all, collectively, living in yourself, for yourself. I need to learn how to do that more often…which brings me back to point #1. More yoga = more of this feeling; more of these experiences on the mat might just percolate into more of these experiences in my life.
3. You don’t have to fight against discomfort. It’s OK to experience it, live through it, and let it pass; you will come out the other side.
Sivasana (corpse pose – for any non-yogis, it’s a quiet time where you lie on your back and actively rest, eyes open, but not moving) is always a challenge for me. I try to be silent in my mind and still in my body, but suddenly I am aware of a rogue bead of sweat dripping into my ear…and it’s itchy and hot…maybe I don’t even have to touch it…I could just turn my head, it would roll off by body, and I would be so much more comfortable. And then my foot is tingly. And I want so badly to curl my toes, scratch it against my opposite foot, do anything to make the sensation go away. But what’s so wrong with sensation?! It means that we’re alive…that we are able to sweat, to move, to feel. So, OK…FEEL THEN! I convince myself to be like Elsa, just “let it go”…be like The Beatles, “let it be,” and lo and behold, I mentally fight through the feeling and…it dissipates and…I’m fine. I lived! Sweat and itchies and fidgets didn’t kill me after all! But in all seriousness, why does feeling make us so uncomfortable? The more we feel and allow ourselves to experience, even in terms of these teeny, tiny discomforts, the better we will know how to face and forge through other discomforts in our life…kind of like point #1, again… 🙂
I’m planning to hit the mat a few more times this week and I hope to learn even more from these lessons as I practice them both in and out of class!
~ Princess Lindsey