Thursday, August 26, 2010
A Year of Yoga
A year ago this coming Saturday, I attended my first Bikram yoga class. For most of those twelve months I've practiced three times a week. I practiced when the voices in my head told me repeatedly to turn the car around and go home. I practiced when it seemed like no amount of heat or stretching would convince my body to let go. I practiced when it became clear that most people in late middle age seemed to find other less killer paths to health.
For the first few weeks, I wrote a lot about the experience. In part to create perspective for myself (translated: to force myself to keep going back), and in part because things were so challenging they made great story material. The heat. My fellow practitioners. Rusted tight body parts.
Somewhere along the line I stopped even thinking about the heat, except to notice on the days when it's not hot enough in the studio. I stopped listening to the teachers urging us to try harder, to push ourselves, to give 110%, and focused entirely on what my body was willing to offer at any given time. When classmates set up in what I consider my space, I give a mental shrug and figure we're either going to bump something, or they'll adjust.
Today I had the opportunity to practice concentrating and staying even, while the woman next to me pitched relentless shit at the teacher, meaning to be funny but coming across as critical and rude. He handled the situation with his usual humor and grace. I breathed and focused on myself and quietly celebrated the absence of angry energy.
Even though if you were to practice next to me you probably would not assume I've been practicing for a year, I am deeply aware of how far I've come in these last months. Some poses I feel competent in. Some I manage good form if not much depth. Some I still can only point my body parts in the general direction of. I no longer actively hate any of the poses, and until a month ago I felt like every single class I made progress in some significant way.
For the last month, my practice has become irregular, to say the least. Being out of town for two weeks, having company, all the work getting ready for and recovering from those things. The first time I went back after two weeks with no class at all, I was afraid. Afraid in the same way I remember feeling after being home from school for three weeks with the mumps in sixth grade. So I made the same deal with myself that I did for the first weeks of class: go, breathe, do what you can. That counts as success.
And it worked. My face was redder than usual, but beyond that, class wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it might be. I went one more time, then missed another week, went twice, missed several more days, and went back today.
My biggest fear letting go of a strict routine was that I'd find a way to quit. That hasn't happened, and for now at least, it's not looking like it will. Yoga has changed me and I want more of those changes. While I haven't lost weight, my shape has changed and firmed. I sleep better. I breathe deeper and hardly ever catch myself holding my breath any more. My arms have shape (lumpy doesn't qualify as a shape) for the first time in recent memory. I have not been sick in a year. I can pull weeds for hours and be upright and pain-free the next day. The world feels like a lighter place to be.
Ironically, the place I see the biggest change is in my face. I still look like I've earned my white hair and laugh lines, but I look happy. Serene. Alive. Like someone I'd like to know. That's worth some sweat and humbling. It's worth everything.