A few weeks ago, at a morning yoga class, I unrolled my mat next to a woman I knew from the Bikram studio. She’s an instructor there, one I’ve always adored. Everything about her – from her teaching style to her open and easy-going countenance – conveys presence and balance. She is really, really nice to be around.
As I stretched out, loosening up for class, I thought about her bio on the Bikram website. I remember it clearly, because it was of those “after my first Bikram class, I knew yoga was my life’s calling” bios. Her’s was one of those “yoga altered the path of my life” stories.
I admire that. And I envy it. A few posts ago, I commented on how I’m good but not great at lots of things: climbing, running, yoga, skiing, playing guitar, playing djembe, knitting, dancing, ultimate Frisbee, CrossFit.
Scratch that. I’m a great dancer.
But you get my point. And sometimes I think that I could be great at one thing – yoga, for example – if I had fewer distractions. If I was more focused. If I totally committed to that one particular sport or activity.
I used to think I got bored when I got too focused on one thing. It’s very K-typical: in the middle of ski season, all I want to do is climb in the warm sun. In climbing season, I dream of snow. If I’m sport climbing, I think about placing gear on desert towers, and if I’m alpine climbing, I just want to be clipping bolts.
Part of that, I think, is that I don’t feel good enough to be dedicated. To really “be a climber,” I need to be climbing much, much harder. To be a “real” rando skier, I need to be logging lots of vert. and skiing big objectives all the time.
I Suppose I think it’s safer to be a dilletante. By doing lots of things, I have an excuse for not being great at any one thing.
This is where my mind was that morning, on the mat. But as D’ana, the instructor, walked in and started class, it occurred to me that even though I’ve bounced from climbing to skiing to running for years, yoga has quietly and continually been along for the ride. From my very first class in State College to impromptu rooftop practice in Kathmandu, from Boulder’s crowded Bikram workshops to flow classes in the posh studios of Aspen, yoga has been part of my life.
As we segued from the initial breathing exercise into forward bends – diving forward, gently moving our heads back and forth and relaxing our crown charkas to the floor – I realized that yoga is more than “part of my life.” Yoga is critical, is huge, is, well, my ee ki guy*
*Ee Ki Guy = a sense of purpose. A reason to live. A life force. I learned about this concept from the lovely Marit.
It’s like a family member whose unconditional love is so assured that it’s easy to take it for granted. As such, I frequently turn away from yoga, preferring the faster, sweatier, easier sports: running, skiing, climbing.
But I always return to the mat, usually a little achy and overworked, and hard as it is to imagine focusing on my breathing for an hour to 90 minutes, it never takes long to realize this: yoga makes everything better.
Yoga saw me through college, when I battled anorexia the injuries that came from running a hundred miles a week on six hundred calories a day. It was like a friend in Nepal, where I practiced alone for hours while staring at the fishtail peak and thinking about the thesis I wasn’t writing. In Boulder, yoga was a respite from heartbreak and tragedy, my daily 90 minutes on the mat providence from the acute awareness of what I no longer had. And in Western Colorado, where I felt like a visitor the entire three years I lived there, yoga was something I knew intimately, even while I re-introduced myself to the same classmates and instructors I’d met countless times.
Backbends boost confidence. That’s no secret; it’s been a yoga fact since Sidartha sat under the Bodhi tree. But only recently have I switched from hearing it spoken in class while half-listening/half-daydreaming, to feeling it for myself.
My home is now Salt Lake City. I feel grounded here. Maybe that’s why I’ve returned to yoga with the fervor of revival tent converts – snake handling types. I’m releasing into backbends with little fear of nausea or dizziness. I’m letting go of mind control. Instead of focusing on how poses should look, I’m just letting them evolve by deepening my breath and relaxing my brain. And from that relaxation comes contentedness.
Since returning to the mat two months ago, I’ve moved through self-consciousness and embarrassment. I’ve fallen out of more poses than I’ve stuck, but I think that’s because I’m trying harder. Crow to side crow to crane. The feeling that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing; the feeling that this is what I was meant to do.