Allow me to preface this by reminding everyone that this is the year of the space cadet. So if it gets a little touchy feely in here today, well, that’s why.
Last year around May, I started going to yoga class. I started out with a gentle yoga class offered through the university gym, and it was the best yoga class I had ever taken.
Prior to that, I had done classes at two of the more prominent yoga studios in Norman, but always felt out of place. This is no fault of the yoga studios, but rather just a feeling I got when I was there. It’s hard for me to feel like I belong in A LOT of situations (specific clothing stores, some bars and restaurants, hanging out with some of my friends), so I was pleasantly surprised when after my first yoga class at the OU gym, I actually wanted to come back the next day. That had never happened before.
I think a lot of it was that the instructor, Amy, is also the director of OU’s gym, and she has a Ph.D. She would say things that made sense, and not some New Age crystal healing juice cleanse noise which is what I typically heard at other yoga classes. (I don’t believe yoga is a bunch of New Age crystal healing juice cleanse noise, by the way. I do believe that a lot of the “cooler” yoga studios make it seem that way though. Also, don’t try to sell me bottles of spinach juice to take part in your studio’s group juice cleanse. And spinach is the worst vegetable ever. WHY WOULD YOU EVEN JUICE IT YOU NEW AGE HAG?!) Amy explained the science why you aligned your body a certain way, while still discussing the origins of the poses and the energy flow. She talked about ways to modify poses based on your experience level and body type. It was absolutely perfect for me.
While I’m currently not in the best shape ever/capable of doing like 80% of asanas, I’m absolutely in love with yoga, and completely dedicated to doing it for the rest of my life. Admittedly, when I started, I was all about the fitness aspect of it. I just wanted to look like a pretty girl who wears Lululemon. (Never mind the fact that I have A LOT of political bones to pick with that company and pretty much disagree with the sort of lifestyle they are trying to sell.) I kind of just assumed that the spiritual side of practicing would evade me forever, because I’m just not a spiritual person.
Or so I thought.
(Side note: I know that only approaching yoga from a very western, very fitness-oriented standpoint is wrong. At least, it’s wrong to me. Yoga originated in India and included elements of physical, spiritual, and mental practice. Under British rule, yoga and ayurveda were banned in India. So, practicing yoga as a series of postures taught by a white person is kind of a second colonization here. The practice of yoga should be whole, not a way for a cultural outsider to make money off of it. I’m currently working on decolonizing my practice, as well as working on all 8 limbs of yoga, not just asanas. The rest of this post tells the story on why I decided to move my practice in that direction.)
While sitting on the couch one evening, Chris told me a story about something he read on Reddit. The gist of it was that a woman had hated her body for most of her life. One day in yoga class, she looked in the mirror mid-asana to notice how strong she had become through the course of her practice. Then, she spent the majority of shavasana crying on her mat because she was so proud and happy that her body was capable of that.
While I appreciated the story, I didn’t really think much of it. That was all well and good for that person, but I would never develop that sort of relationship with my body. I’ve spent the past 30 years hating it, and there is absolutely no way that I would have a moment where I just peeked up at my reflection and appreciated what I saw. There are very few pictures that have ever been taken of me for this reason. So, while I liked the sentiment behind the story, it just seemed really unlikely and like the sort of motivational story that was nice to hear, but impossible to experience.
That is, until one afternoon in September. During that 4 PM gentle yoga class, everything seemed normal enough. My mat and I were in our usual spot, and the class was almost over. During the last sun salutation, I happened to look in the mirror. During the transition from high plank to low plank to cobra, I got a clear look at my shoulders and arms as I was mid-chaturanga. Sure, my shoulders were gigantic globes not unlike the shoulders of Dwight Howard. But it was weird to think that my arms were supporting my bodyweight, especially since just 5 months before, I was incapable of doing anything without modifying the pose to make it easier.
It was a very weird moment. I had never thought about what I was capable of, or that I would ever be to a point where I was proud with my yoga abilities.
But that’s kind of the thing with yoga. You come in with a very western mindset–one where you know you are just there to make your body an acceptable shape and nothing else matters. But slowly, the practice brings you to a point where you realize how proud you are of yourself, how grateful you are for your body’s abilities to progress in your practice, and how the act of focusing on your movements has brought you to the point where you are mentally present for the first time in like, a million years.
It was right around then that music changed from some Jack Johnson number, to “Do You Realize??” by The Flaming Lips. And even though I had been coming to Amy’s classes for 5 months, I swear this is the first time I’d ever heard this song in class. I rolled over onto my back for shavasana and sort of just lost my shit. Very quietly though, because even though I’m writing this and posting it on the internet, I’m totally not down with people actually seeing me have emotions when they are occurring.
So, I just laid there and thought about my progress and the lyrics to the song and how maybe I don’t 100% hate everything about my body. And now, because 30 is a very weird age where you start taking stock of things and look for meaning and signs in the most mundane places, I can’t listen to “Do You Realize??” without crying. But seriously, just listen to it and tell me it doesn’t get you a little bit.
I mean, it’s pretty dumb to let a Flaming Lips song make you cry in yoga class, and then decide that you need to pursue a more spiritual yoga path. But, well, that’s how it happened.