I know this is a thing that happens, I hear people share about it all the time. But I’m not one of “those” people.
I go to yoga twice a week.
I’m not good at the practice, I never have been. I’m 6 feet tall with size 11 feet. Bending and twisting and stretching and folding are not things that come naturally to a body like mine.
I don’t “float” to the top of my mat. My movements at any time during a class can look like a rickety 80’s chaise lounge, unfolding with stops and starts and maybe a couple of shakes and kicks. I inhale when I should exhale. I go left when I should go right. I constantly have to be looking around to see what the next movement is.
Everyone is skinny and perfect and flowing and focused.
I am none of these things.
I am there. Doing yoga twice a week.
Because The rest of my week is spent doing the jaw clenching sweat breaking nearly fainting fucking WORK that comes with intense cardio and strength classes. I’m comfortable there.
I don’t think about my job or money or the future or if I’m going to have kids or write a book or that asshole or any of it.
And I feel like I can go like that forever.
So, I try to make yoga my easy day, my opportunity to take a break. A “gift” to my body. I like the idea of yoga. I show up every week with the set intention that this time I will let go and breathe. I will float and flow and be all spiritually gangster or whatever those $170 shirts say.
Yet, I still come to class with my jaw clenched, and my mind made up. Ready to challenge myself in some way. Ready to make it hard somehow. Because I know that if I don’t do this at every mat I come to, I won’t be strong. And If I’m not strong all the time, especially in New York, then I am nothing. I don’t know where this idea comes from, but it’s mine.
Today wasn’t any different. But today was also SO different.
The teacher was a sub, and as soon as she started speaking to the class I wanted to punch her. It was all “intention this” and “mindfulness that.” By the time she got to the part about “going into go into our practice a little deeper,” I was throwing up in my mouth.
Cmon lady. Get to the part where I’m using my core to bring my nose around to touch the back of my knee so I can shut down completely.
She asked if anyone had any requests for the class, anything they wanted to work on.
I said “core stuff,” feeling like a badass and a moron at the same time.
I was pretty sure she ignored me. What a dick, I thought.
The class was challenging and frustrating. I was confused by some movements and oddly sweaty. This teacher kept adjusting my body just so, and it was disarming.
People don’t touch people in this city.
By the time we got to shavasana (yes, I had to google that), I was more than ready to be on the floor.
As I rolled into my back feeling defeated, I heard her ask us to wrap our arms around our chest in a hug before we fully relaxed. I did this and immediately panicked. I had the overwhelming sense that I could easily break if I let go. This feeling of holding myself together against the threat of spidering hairline cracks in my little system is familiar. I usually try to avoid it at all costs.
The teacher came behind me and gently pushed my tense shoulders to the floor. She placed her hands behind my head and massaged my neck with her fingertips for a brief moment.
I felt my strength giving way right into what I feared, right into to breaking. But I didn’t break. Instead, tears leaked down the sides of my face.
For the first time in a while, I felt relief. More from my own expectation of strength than any of the things I try so hard to avoid.
For a full 5 minutes I breathed and cried through my fear (silently. I’m not a total freak). By the end of it I was exhausted. But for the first time, I actually felt that I had received the break I had been claiming to gift to myself.
I sat up and folded my mat.
“Be careful what you wish for,” the teacher said as I turned to leave. “That core stuff can be intense.”
What is the opposite of strength?
Before I cried in yoga, I thought the only answer to this was weakness. But now I’m not so sure.
Maybe gifting yourself an opportunity to breathe and cry and to not resist everything once in a while builds a different kind of strength, the kind that makes you powerful.
You just have to show up to any mat to find out.