You know the drill. Some days, you just don’t want to go to a fucking yoga class. Maybe it’s winter, you’re cold and tired, coming off a long work day, wanting to go home to the shelter of your living room couch and cable tv. But you know you should go to yoga, you know it’s so-called good for you, so you drag yourself halfheartedly to the studio.
You check in with the teacher at the front desk, forcing yourself to match her bubbly enthusiasm. You kick off your shoes and enter the dimly lit room, and plop your mat somewhere towards the back of the room (it’s not a first-row kind of night). You sit crosslegged on your mat but quickly remember how sick of sitting you are - maybe you’ve done it all day today at your desk behind a computer, or in your car in rush hour traffic. So you shift to lie on your back, trying to ignore the twinge of annoyance/genuine hatred you feel towards the 90 lb Laker Girl next to you, who’s casually floating herself up into a size-0 blur of a handstand. You close your eyes, and still somehow manage to roll them, acknowledging yet not caring how un-yogi you are in this moment.
You close your eyes and breathe, breathe, breathe, looong inhales and looong exhales. You want to be anywhere but next to the Laker Girl. You feel gravity pull your shoulders, hips, and ankles towards the floor, releasing the weight of the day. You notice your face muscles are tensed, and that there’s a slight ache in your lower back. Looong inhales and looong exhales - you visualize yourself "Living Carefree" like Oprah and Deepak Chopra. After a few breaths, you eventually start to go somewhere else, and you welcome the transition. Your breath moves you away from the rush hour and the office and the Laker Girl. Gravity moves you down and down and in, in, in...
When I first started yoga, I focused on nothing but the tension, and how much the tension sucked. In a standing split, all my attention was on the weight and discomfort in my standing leg. In plank, I'd feel only my weak, shaking arms, hating the pose with everything I had, waiting for it to be over. I chose to let the unpleasant sensations guide my practice and dictate my mindset - which limited my thoughts to “Fuck this, fuck this, FUCK THIS…when will this pose be over..."
…We are conditioned to avoid discomfort. We label it as bad and painful and do everything in our power to mask it and ignore it. Yeah, that standing leg will feel super uncomfortable in standing split - especially if you refuse to acknowledge every other part of your body which is supporting the pose as strongly as your standing leg.
The word "yoga" basically means “union,” or coming together of body and mind. So, in some interpretations, yoga is the union of different physical parts of your body - quite literally the working together of your arms and legs, your abdomen and your upper back, your spine and your heels. Years ago, a teacher asked my yoga class a simple question that shifted my perception forever. While miserable and sweating in plank, She asked us “where can you release, where can you go?” I was flabbergasted. Where can I go? Nowhere, I thought. I can't leave the burning sensation in my arms and shoulders. I can't leave the shakiness or my spinning thoughts. ...I can’t leave my job, my home, my relationships, even if none of them serves me nor I them. I am here, stuck in this uncomfortable space. Where I can go and where I want to go seemed to be, in that time in life and in that plank pose, very different options.
But i tried it anyway. I tried bringing my attention away from my shaky arms and to my feet which felt strong and ignored. I focused on the possibility of strength in my feet and legs and hips, then actually tapped into that possibility…I used the muscles down there to shoot my heels back and out, which, (like the teacher magically predicted), took tension off my arms. I forgot I had other systems of support, just because I chose to focus on the painful part…WTF... mind, blown. Touche, yoga.
So I realized it wasn’t about “letting go” of the pain in my arms, but instead about “going in” to another part of my body which is always there to support and guide movement. How fucking empowering that was, to know I’m free to move and travel when a circumstance no longer serves me. Don’t let go of the discomfort, embrace it, look where else can create space for it, and use your resources to transition and grow profoundly stronger.
There is always somewhere to go. What can happen when you realize how big your body is, how expansive your consciousness is…”how heavy are your bones when you allow them to be as heavy as they are?” (Amba Stapleton) How free you can be when you realize you’re allowed to be free…?
And the epiphany, for so many, is just that: that you are free. You are free to travel, to move, to leave and return, to be you, you, you, the purest, heaviest, the shakiest and mobile-est, YOU. So maybe the next time you just don’t want to go to a fucking yoga class, go, and then go somewhere else.