Updos And Down Dogs: On Meeting Yourself.
“I can’t do that kind of yoga. It’s too slow.“
She stared at me with an ice sheet over her eyes, a look that darted back and forth and when it hit me it seared right through and past me. If you do yoga every day, or every week, how is this kind of glare even possible? I thought. I always think this, because honestly, I see it a lot.
I lay on my mat today with my hair pulled up in a tight bun, a hairdo I hadn’t visited in years. I used to pull it up with my bobby pins and my baby hands, freakishly long locks still wet from my quick hop into the shower after my early morning workout before 8am ballet class.
Those tight buns and suffocating leotards killed me. They hugged everything.
We were forced to scrutinizingly stare in the mirror at not only ourselves but others, we were forced to do the same poses over and over and over and over until the combo was second nature.
I could not do most of them.
My legs were too muscular, my arches too low, and my knees ever so slightly bow-legged which is apparently something that could have been fixed when I was a baby but thankfully my parents opted to keep me just the way I uniquely was (I love you, mom and dad!). My lower back hyperextended naturally, which no one told me and no one thought to work with me on, so I was just ordered to tuck my pelvis more and more and more and my insides cried as everything just felt completely stiff and I looked at myself in the mirror next to the flat-chested straight-waisted kid bodies and my overdeveloped womanly self felt even less like a dancer.
And then I got skinnier. And my hair pulled back tighter. And I at least had that, I thought, at least I look the part.
And I felt so alone.
Everyone was extreme and extroverted and childlike in the way an undergrad should be, honestly, and I was so sad I did not fit in. I kept doing the battement tendus to the front, side, and back, over and over and over again.
I became so used to a heavy bias towards routine, no balance. I fell in and out of love with my body by the day, I would eat the same things over and over and do the same workouts over and over and wear the same clothes over and over, and when I fell out of order I would fall into such deep depressions I would close myself off from any sort of interaction with the world and I would just snap.
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I know exactly when the turning point happened: it’s after I started doing yoga with mirrors in front of me. These mirrors, they weren’t like the ballet mirrors, forced upon me and picking apart my every move. These mirrors stood there with a smile, completely optionally allowing me to face myself and only myself with no outside dialogue to distinguish right from wrong.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s when I started doing yoga that was different each time. It’s when the cueing that was funny and personal if flubbed, sequencing that fit the mood and themes of the day, classes in which I was guided on how to work with my body to find my individuality, not against my body to conform to a molded chorus line of asana.
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s when my eyes were opened to the fact that everyone’s hip joint moves differently, so not everything is one-alignment-fits all. It’s when teachers were allowed to ramble and quote and use phrasing unique to what resonated with their classes, use sanskrit if they liked (or not), use music if they liked (or not), sing if they liked (or not).
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I was given guidance in kind words, in helping hands, in hundreds and thousands of poses and variations and modifications so I could be okay with both my strengths AND my weaknesses. Because how do we HONESTLY know that feeling of true triumph we can count on if we just homogeneously flow through it all; if we don’t know what it is to have those poses that are unfamiliar or change shape (literally and figuratively) day by day?
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I realized that a lot of the trendy classes being offered were actually an exclusive “in-crowd” who constantly tried to top one another with their impressive balances and their superhuman-like physical practice, a crowd that talked at and not to you, a crowd that left anyone below them in the dust.
It’s after I realized that absolutely NO yoga class is “too slow” if you are not afraid to sit with yourself.No yoga class is 'too slow' if you are not afraid to sit with yourself. Click To Tweet
I know exactly when the turning point happened: It’s after I quit going to places that forced the same sequences over and over and over again, the places I did the same set of poses over and over and over and over again in class. They argued it was a way to build confidence by developing expertise. I will always argue it was a way of developing and breeding addiction in addictive personalities.
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And so of course I understood the ice-sheet eyes. Of course those who are used to the same set of fast-paced frenetic sameness or competition based cliques “don’t like” other kinds of yoga. It’s addiction and fear talking. You genuinely cannot hold onto grudges or contempt when you have chosen to meet yourself.
Even the people who have hurt me, cheated me, taken advantage of me, situations that continue to cause me more stress than I feel I can sometimes deal with…I hold no lasting grudges, because I know that the only one who can keep me in that sameness is myself. I cannot control my circumstances but I sure as hell can control my level of awareness and my actions. Some people and occurrences drive me insane, sure, but I choose to see those instances as small dust speck under the blanket of a good heart or necessary hurdle or underlying loneliness and desperation.
I’ll shoot you straight: If you are resentful and do nothing to change either your exterior or interior, you have not met yourself. If you go back to the same coping mechanisms over and over again with the same results over and over again, you have not met yourself. If you keep opening the same doors over and over and OVER again, there’s a whole untouched hallway ahead of you – and you have not met yourself.
I sat cross-legged at the end of class, my elbows grazing the curves in my torso and my thumbs finding their way to my heart through the sweat and muscle and DD-heaviness of what my sports bra was trying with all its might to hold in place. I felt my arms at my sides, three times the size of my once wispy limbs; my legs muscular and probably even less ballet-friendly than almost a decade prior. I hadn’t felt so hot about myself all week, but I had reminded myself that being highly sensitive and proprioceptive is a good thing; I had not freaked out because I knew this too would pass.
I had trusted myself to not know everything that was coming.
I had trusted myself to learn, to listen, to be affected, I had trusted myself to cry and release when needed. I sat with my legs crossed in my skin-clinging workout clothes, ones that show every curve and every protrusion and every little dimple, I sat there with my hair tied tightly in that little tiny updo, and I trusted with all my might then let it go.
And I sit here now typing with my leggings still on and that bun still sitting atop my head, because I haven’t pulled it out, because it was never too tight in the first place. I sit here knowing my body will go through so many incarnations and I’m going to treat it like it’s royalty no matter what. I sit here thinking about the new quotes that were read, the jokes that were made, the funny analogies and the personalities in the room that were all of different levels and at times all did slightly different things.
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I smile because I have not only a yoga practice on the mat but off the mat as well (life, yo) that strives to be authentic, layer-peeling, free of addiction and crutches and sameness, and I feel as if I am gliding down the hallway, door by door.
And I realize I am free, I am whole, I am love.
And I am not afraid.
I am free, I am whole, I am love. And I am not afraid. Click To Tweet
cover photo by the beautiful caddie hastings
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