Sometimes, all you can do is breathe.
My favorite yoga lessons consistently take place off the mat. My teacher, Johnna Smith, says that our yoga truly begins when we leave our mats, and I can tell you that she is absolutely correct. Moving in asana, or poses, is only one small part of the science of yoga. Breathing is the most important part of yoga. I frequently hear teachers say that if you’re no longer in control of the breath then you’re not doing yoga anymore, even if your body is technically holding a pose. If you can control the breath, they say, you can control the mind. Imagine the possibilities for our lives if we could learn to control the mind! There are dedicated yogis, philosophers, teachers, spiritual guides, pastors, and monks around the world who spend all day every day working towards this mastery through meditation, reading, and manipulating the breath. The rest of us, who must hold jobs and raise children and pay mortgages and feed our cats, we do the best we can with the time we make. I started to say the time we have, but that’s not entirely the case. We must make time to learn these lessons. They rarely happen by accident.
The breath can carry us through all sorts of reactions to what happens around and to us. It is no coincidence that small children are told by their kindergarten teachers to “take a deep breath and count to ten” before lashing out when they’re angry. Practically speaking, it’s about finding a place in between the catalyst and our reactions where we can create ease for ourselves and those around us. Doesn’t that sound like a nice place to live? Connecting with the breathe really does something inside of our minds. It can energize, calm, give focus, ground us, and establish a solid foundation for our entire day. There are countless breathing exercises in yoga. The act of intentionally controlling the breath is called pranayama, and there are specific techniques that can be prescribed to deal with different needs. There is pranayama for anxiety, for listlessness, for fatigue, for rest, for energy. Yogis activate the breath and alternately inhale and exhale to varying ratios in order to bring a concentrated dose of life force into the body. Prana, in fact, means “vital life” or “life force” in Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga. It is this life force that carries us through asana on the mat and through everything else when we’re off.
Genesis 2:7 says that God formed man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and he became a living being. It is the breath of God that creates us, and breath sustains us. Job says in chapter 33 that The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. I read stories in the news of people surviving days and weeks without food or water, stranded in deserts or ditches living on drops of rain and candy bars. We can live without food and water for a good while, but try to go days or weeks without breathing. It’s absurd, isn’t it? Our brains die after just 5 minutes without breath. When you think of it in those terms, it’s remarkable how critically our bodies rely on the breath. It’s also remarkable how much we take each breath for granted most often only generating it subconsciously, without a single thought.
Pranayama requires focusing thought on the breath for extended periods of time. Sometimes just 20 minutes of sitting with your breath can turn your entire day on its head. I know this because I have experienced it. I have sat through guided breathing exercises and felt how powerful they are. But if pranayama is part of yoga, and yoga truly begins off the mat, then so must the benefits of knowing and commanding the breathe.
It means when you’re cut off in traffic, you breathe. It means when your toddler breaks your favorite dish, you breathe. It means when the proverbial you-know-what has hit the fan, you breathe. It means when all the bills are due but there is not enough money, you breathe. It means when your heart is breaking, you breathe. Not because the breath always brings the answer, but because it brings life. Remember, controlling the breath leads to controlling the mind. Even if you haven’t gotten the hang of that last part, breathing will calm your mind. Then, you can give that driver the benefit of the doubt- maybe he’s trying to get to a sick wife or child. You can hug your little one and give him a kiss, rather than yelling at him over the dish. You can clean the fan. You can find calm, rather than panic, in the face of financial discomfort. You can offer your broken heart a place to grieve, and then find peace.
So start today. Take a few minutes to sit someplace quiet and alone, and breathe. I go to the floor of my closet sometimes. Go where you can focus and just breathe. Your mind will wander. It’s okay. When you see it wander, bring it compassionately (that means cut yourself some slack, Type A) back to the breath and let that breath bring sustaining, centering, calming, rejuvenating life back to your world.
Grace, Peace, and Namaste
These thoughts are for a dear friend in a time of searching.
I have spent a great deal of my short life looking ahead, making plans based on where I’ve been in the past. It’s natural and human to make plans. We gather evidence from our history, our experiences, the consequences of our decisions, and we make plans based on a few assumptions. The first is that we won’t repeat our mistakes. (Ha.) Second, that our plans are good and will be better than our past. (How many times have we repeated this process?) Third, that everything will go as we plan. (Does it ever?) And then, God laughs. Or maybe, He weeps. Either way, I’m convinced He sees the trajectory we lay out for our lives, and aches for us to see just a glimpse of the infinite abundance He has stored up for us.
The problem with making plans for the future based on the past, even if the plans are to improve upon the past, is that we’re missing out on our lives. The past already happened. It’s not real anymore. It’s done. We hang onto it like it defines us, but it doesn’t- unless we let it. Living in what we did or who we were or what that person did to us or how we felt at that point is a great way to never grow up. I am not the sum total of my past. Neither are you. The decisions you have made and the costumes you have worn are not YOU. You did those things and you said those things, but they are not your identity. If you need to make amends, make amends. Tie up your loose ends, and then let them go.
Neither, then, are you the future version of yourself that you have imagined. That’s not you, either. We plan for the future, as if we have any control over it, and then we live in those daydreams as our actual life literally passes us by. I’ve done it. I know how it goes. There is a void in my life. I am unhappy. I need to be somewhere else so that I can be someone else. Once I get there, I will be able to be who I really am. Here’s the problem with this line of thinking: First of all, it sucks. Second of all, if you cannot be who you are where you are, then moving your body to another place will never change that. Your void will follow you. Emptiness transcends geography, dear friend. If you are empty where you are, you will be empty no matter where you are. I wish there was a prettier way to wrap it up, but that’s the truth that I have experienced myself and seen played out over and over again for others. You cannot escape the void in your life by moving your life, because you take it with you wherever you go. You may be able to cover it up with the thrill of a new place, new stuff, new life. But, with time, the new will become old again and the void will be there waiting. Unless you can find a way to fill it NOW.
NOW is the big secret. Right now. Can you taste it? It’s the only thing in the world we really have. Ghandi said this:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
What do you choose to believe NOW? Start there. If you want to have a life of love, gratitude, kindness, abundance, and peace then you must believe that those things are available to you NOW. Choose to think about those things. Philippians 4:8 says this:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Think about the peace, talk about peace, do peace often, and you will have peace. Do that with love, gratitude, generosity, kindness and every good thing and you will see these them manifested in your life. But you must start NOW. Ecclesiastes 11:4 says:
“If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done!”
Perfect conditions don’t exist. The only way to be the person you want to be, to fill the void in your life, is to be that person now. As someone who loves and trusts Jesus, I suggest you talk to Him about this. He and I have had many conversations over the past few weeks about this stuff, and He can give you answers in exactly the way you need to hear them. It’s okay if you haven’t talked in a while. He doesn’t hold grudges, and His door is always open. He’ll be glad to hear from you.
Although I do strongly recommend Jesus, I’m also just a phone call away and happy to listen.
Grace and Peace and Namaste
God’s been working on opening my heart to simplicity. He’s using just about every part of my world right now to show me the richness of less. I got to take an incredible trip to Costa Rica with my mom, where I had a lot less of what I’m used to and a lot more of what I need. Less TV, less processed food, less internet, less distraction, less noise. More sunshine, more yoga, more quiet, more stillness, more reading. I’m becoming more aware every day of how much extra of just about everything surrounds us all the time. What would happen if we turned the television off and talked to one another? What would happen if we ate less food and spent more time outside? What would happen if we spoke less and listened more? We’d chill out, that’s what would happen. We’d realize that we don’t need to eat all day, or have the TV on as background noise all day, or vocalize everything we think and feel.
As a person who is a professional communicator, an actress, director, and storyteller, it’s difficult for me to give “just the facts.” I love telling stories. I love the drama, and getting the laugh. I love it, love it, love it. But sometimes I just need to shut up and let other people do the talking. Sometimes, my story isn’t that important and telling it does little more than make me the center of attention, and sometimes that’s all I’m after. God says, “Okay, but try listening. Try not needing to get the laugh. Try simple.” That’s not to say that telling stories is bad or that I’m going to stop, full stop. But maybe I ought to be okay NOT telling the story every once in a while. Simple.
It’s amazing how much food we think we need here. I ate a couple of healthy, nutrient rich meals every day in Costa Rica and I had the energy I needed without the lethargy or bloating after. Seriously, try to go a week without constant snacking. I dare say you’ll survive, even feel better, and possibly lose a couple of pounds. We are surrounded by food every day and we need far less of it than the advertisements, the “professionals,” the news makers, and the chefs who dish out enormous portions at restaurants tell us we need. If it didn’t exist in your great grandmother’s pantry, you probably don’t need it in your body. If it did, you probably don’t need 3 or 4 servings of it at a time. Eat what your body tells you it really needs, then walk away. Simple.
For the better part of the past few years I have been employed, paying my bills on time, and able to splurge on dinner out with friends and the like. It’s amazing to me now to think of how incredibly blessed I have been. Today, I’m not sure where the money for my next round of bills will come from. I haven’t had a steady paycheck in months. A few times, I’ve let myself panic and worry over where the cash will possibly come from for this bill or that tank of gas. Each time, I’ve cried and prayed and within hours gotten a call to babysit, or come to an interview, or received an unexpected tax return or check in the mail. You see, I don’t need as much as I’m used to having or expecting. What I need is to obey and listen to God who doesn’t just do provision but is provision. Simple.
I’m also learning how to experience discomfort. It sounds silly, but it’s pretty huge for me. Yoga is showing me many of my habits- good and bad. In the past, I have had a tendency to retreat from any kind of discomfort: emotional, physical, you name it. It took my teacher ordering me to scream at the top of my lungs during a particularly difficult yoga practice, then a few minutes crying my way through vinyasa to realize that on the other side of discomfort lies breakthrough. Feeling anger and wanting to retreat do not make me weak or wretched. That makes me human. The question is “Will you retreat? Or will you sit in this until it passes?” It’s uncomfortable to sit in your anger, your pain, your frustration. But it always passes, and it always grows you. On the other side is breakthrough. Huge breakthrough. So, be pissed off. Be uncomfortable. That’s fine. But be patient, too. Don’t retreat because the moments of discomfort will not defeat you. Be in it, then let it pass, and learn what you can. Simple.
God does not give a biography when He introduces Himself. He says, “I AM.” Simple.
Simple is not easy. Often, it’s a hell of a lot harder than it sounds. Tuning out and turning off is easy. Self medicating with food or Facebook is easy. Telling stories to keep people at arm’s distance is easy. Sitting with the quiet, inviting in the presence of God, and letting people in is so simple, but it’s not easy.
I encourage you to give simple a try. It is not easy, but it is always better.
There is a pose in yoga called Camel, and it is my Everest. It’s not a very physically demanding pose, in that you’re not twisted up or stretched out like a rubber band, but it has it’s challenges. Give this a try: Get on the floor and come to standing on your knees. Place your hands on your hiney, as if you were sliding them into the back pockets of your jeans. Press your hips forward and, if you can, reach down behind you and grab your heels. Let your head fall back. Congratulations, you’re now in Camel pose. For some reason, in the heat and humidity of a Bikram classroom, I do not do that pose. I could do it right now, no problem. But in the Bikram sequence of poses, sweaty and exhausted, I have had such trouble with Camel. There is something about opening the front of my body, turning my head upside down, and pressing forward through my hips that makes me nauseous and anxious, and I almost always back out of it.
A couple of weeks ago in class I thought, “Forget it! This is not going to kill me. I’m just going to go for it.” And wouldn’t you know that as soon as I got past the initial discomfort of getting into the pose, I was right there in it! In Camel! After I let go of what I thought Camel would do to me and committed to the pose, I was fine. Not only was I fine, I was pretty stinking pleased with my body.
So, the connections here are pretty obvious. Let me tell you where it’s manifesting in my life. Because if you really practice yoga, you’ll find the things you learn on your mat directly reflect the things you’re going through in the rest of your life. I’m in a place right now in my job, my finances, and my relationships where I feel a bit out of control. There are so many unknowns, as there often are for everyone, and I’m finding myself backing out of places of discomfort when I don’t know what lies on the other side. I have high hopes, but I don’t know what the other side looks like so I just stay in the safety zone. After my breakthrough with Camel, I decided to trust myself a little more. I’m also deciding to trust God a little more. He made my body, my body can handle Camel, so maybe He can handle these other things.
Letting go is a terrifying thing. Trusting yourself and trusting God when the outcome is unclear? Incredibly uncomfortable. But also incredibly liberating. In that moment when I decided that Camel would not kill me and I could trust my body, I was no longer afraid. It was uncomfortable for a moment, but then I felt so strong and free in the pose. Life is the same. Getting past moments of difficulty is uncomfortable. But strength and freedom wait on the other side. You may not know what the details look like, and that can be scary, but no matter what you will find strength. You will find freedom. You will find growth. You will find that you can trust yourself and trust the God who made you.
It’s a decision every single day. This growth doesn’t just happen, you have to choose it. You have to enter it with intention and the expectation that no matter what happens, you will be okay. So, give it a try. Follow your gut. Do something scary. Trust yourself. You’re stronger than you seem.
Grace and Peace
I’m in Virginia for work this week, and had an afternoon to myself in DC when I arrived. I knew I wanted to eat some seafood and see the new Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial while here, so I set off from the airport in the general direction of Washington DC. I say general direction because my GPS system is faulty, my internal maps are highly dyslexic, at best, and the sign said “Airport Exit”. After a couple of hours meandering through the state of Virginia, I found our Capital City right in the midst of rush hour. Have you ever driven in Washington DC during the afternoon rush? I imagine it’s akin to navigating a Fiat against the running of the bulls in Pamploma. I nearly took out at least one pedestrian (Right of way, as it turns out, is determined as liberally as fiscal policy is here.), made no fewer than 5 U-turns, and somehow managed to miss the White House despite being on both 16th street and Pennsylvania Ave multiple times. I made my way to a restaurant in Georgetown called The Tackle Box and decided to camp out until either traffic cleared out, or I ran out of change for the parking meter, whichever came first.
After tilapia and sweet potato fries, I checked out a couple of stores and ran out of parking meter money. Time to go. I headed toward the Mall, circled Madison Ave a couple of times, found parking across from the Smithsonian Castle, and set out to find MLK, Jr.. Roughly two miles in heels later, I found him. The monument really is impressive. Against the backdrop of the water, a full moon, and incredible history, the Reverend really blew me away. If you’ve been to the Vietnam War Memorial, you’ll remember the names etched into the wall. King’s memorial is similar, but quotes fill the wall surrounding his. I wrote down the ones that made the greatest impression on me.
“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“It is not enough to say, ‘We must not wage war.’ It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war, but on the positive affirmation of peace.”
Reading those words, being in that place, surrounded by memorials to some of the most important people and events in the history of our country reminded me why I studied history in college. History reminds me that I am part of something so much greater, more expansive, more important than just myself. It took the words and beliefs and pro-action of millions of individual people to create this big, big world in which we are somehow all connected. The study of history will mortally wound the arrogance of people who really take the time to listen to it. You cannot read the words of true public servants, warriors for social justice, and peacemakers and continue to be impressed with or worried about yourself. I can’t. History is so incredibly humbling, and so incredibly motivating. The people we study DID SOMETHING. History tells me, “You’re not as great as think yourself to be. Now, go do something great.”
In a culture that teaches us to be so incredibly self obsessed, as if we needed any help, history gives us context. History is where we come from, and we do not exist apart from that. So, today, history’s challenge to me is the challenge I give to you. You are not as great as you think yourself to be. Now, go do something great.
Shanti and Shalom
One of the things that my employers requires of those of us who travel and speak to students is that we examine ourselves often and find fresh ways to identify with the kids we work with. That means that when we all get together for any kind of training, everybody cries. Students today go through such an incredible amount of emotional trauma by the time we see them, that if we are unwilling to “go there,” they won’t hear us. If they don’t hear us, then they won’t give us a chance to hear them. My job is all about hearing kids. It’s about hearing them, affirming them, validating their feelings and their pain and their dreams, and giving them the tools to do and to be their best. I got to spend my day hearing my friends. To call them coworkers, after all we experience together and on the road, will never be enough. It gets harder to leave after every time I come here and spend time with them.
One of the ways that I got to begin an examination of myself today was to identify a story in my life that I can share with students. My objective is to help tear down any sense of barrier between myself and the teenagers I’ll speak with. As is normal when I’m training for work, I spent a chunk of the day in- or on the verge of- tears. I won’t go into all the details here, but I’ll ask you the same questions I asked myself today. Take a moment to really consider these questions. You might discover something you didn’t realize was inside of you.
What is something that I’m currently struggling with?
When did the behaviors that led to this struggle begin?
Have I really dealt with the part of my past that keeps interfering with my present?
How has that part of my story held me back or prevented me from finding full life where I am now?
If you dig deeply enough, you will find experiences from junior high, from high school that left some kind of mark on your heart. I am discovering that boundary issues that I am dealing with as a twenty-something stem from habits I formed when I was 14. There are no isolated incidents. Don’t be afraid to stare down parts of your past that you’ve ignored or shoved under the rug. Maybe they’ve been there for decades. Dust them off. Deal with them. Tear down that wall that you built up so that no one could make you feel that way ever again. Really think about how those early times of pain made you develop a crutch that has kept you from being free in your life today. Then, throw the crutch away. Be honest. Talk to someone you trust. Find a place of vulnerability where you can acknowledge those things and then let them go. You have no idea how much your coping mechanisms have kept you from real freedom until you toss them aside. Let’s be courageous. Let’s support one another. Let’s do life together in such a way that we’re constantly making ourselves and those around us better.
I love my job. I pray this kind of challenge and this kind of peace for all of you.
I think Winnie the Pooh might hold the key to all peace, love, and happiness. Seriously. Just look up “A.A. Milne quotes” and I dare you not to smile through your tears. Reading a little A.A. Milne makes even the most anguished heart feel hopeful. How can you say that, Daryn? Don’t you know there are starving children and horrible disasters and evil dictators in the world? Why don’t you tell those anguished souls to read Winnie the Pooh. And you know what? I would. Because behind all of the evil, pain, and heartbreak in the world lie people. People with souls that crave tenderness and understanding. Forgive me if you think I’m being dramatic, but I really think Winnie and the gang have a lot of tenderness and understanding to offer. Let us never take ourselves so seriously that we cannot learn from Christopher Robin.
Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
As we begin the new year, I hope you’ll memorize these words spoken to Pooh by Christopher Robin, as penned by the incomparable A.A. Milne. I have them written in giant chalk letters on a giant chalkboard wall in my garage. What with the start of the year, a promise of fresh beginnings and second chances, please don’t forget that.
You’re braver than you believe. The proverbial “they” say it’s healthy to do one thing per day that scares you. I’m not so consistent with this one, but I can tell you that every time I have decided to do something that scares me for not other reason than to stare it down, I feel a little stronger. Just do it.
You’re stronger than you seem. In my yoga practice, I’ve started just trying things that I have always thought were too tricky. No… that I thought I was too weak, too tight in my hamstrings, too whatever to do. Guess what? I can do stuff I never knew I could because I had always written it off as beyond me. I bet there is something in your life that you have written off. I bet you could come up with something that you would really like to do, but think yourself unworthy or incapable. You really could surprise yourself. Just try it.
You’re smarter than you think. I’m having to get creative with some previously straight forward parts of my life. I’m staring down some things that have always fit into place, and now, for whatever reason, they do not. As it turns out, I can deal with it. I’m discovering new paths to where I need to travel. Paths I’ve never taken. Paths that intimidate me. Paths that I’m not entirely comfortable with. Nonetheless, they are paths that I haven’t seen before and discovered exactly when I needed to discover them. Think differently. You have what it takes.
So here we are. Resolutions, goals, and dreams abound. It’s the honeymoon phase of the new year, and we’re all in love with the idea of where we could be a year from now, if we will only stick with it. So, stick with it. Don’t be overwhelmed. You can do the things you set out to do.
Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.
I don’t remember their names. I don’t even remember all of their faces. But, I remember their stories. Here are a few.
A boy who watched his mother die, moved to another town, and landed in a school with no friends. No one there who knew his story. Raising his siblings with his grandparents. No father. Tried football, but hated it. During a Rachel’s Challenge training, he stood in front of his peers, crying, and told them everything. Went back to his seat. Then, the football coach took the mic. Told this boy, through tears, that he was sorry he didn’t do a better job making him feel at home. Promised the whole school would step up. The rest of the day, this boy was surrounded. Hugged. Loved.
A girl teased for years for liking other girls. Tried to kill herself more than once. Hated her school. Couldn’t wait to get to college. Stood up in front of her school and promised the younger ones it would get better. Hold on. Don’t give up.
A boy who, at the beginning of the year, decided to sit with an autistic boy at the school during lunch every day. His friends asked him, “Why do you always sit alone at lunch?” “I don’t sit alone. I sit with him.” Another kid asks, “Why do you sit with the retard?” Now, he sits with them, too.
A special needs students comes to the front of the room to share with 100 of his high school peers. Talks about his parents’ divorce, how he’s always been teased, how his life only got “better” in high school because instead of being teased, he’s now completely ignored. “That’s all.” He said. The senior class president comes forward. Blond hair, blue eyes. Mr Everything. Weeping. “I was the kid that teased you the most in 8th grade. I’m so sorry man. I’m just so sorry.”
A girl comes to me after an assembly. Quiet. Shy. Nervous. “I just wanted to say thank you. I’ve always been bullied, and I have been so afraid about my little sister coming to this school. I have always known how terrible it would be for her. After today, I’m not afraid anymore. This place is different, now. So, thank you.” Lots of tears. Lots of hugs.
A boy, no more than 11, comes forward and says, “There are some homeless guys who live by my apartment. I always want to help them, but I never have any money. I have this, though, and I want to help Rachel.” Hands me his $5 lunch money.
A sweet young girl tells us how she’s been raped all her life by her uncle and cousins. In and out of foster homes. A child of the system. Multiple attempts at suicide. She’s always been sad. So sad. Today, she saw someone who understood her. Someone who made her feel like she wasn’t nothing. Someone who saw her pain. For the first time in years, she didn’t feel alone anymore.
Rachel Scott may not be with us in body, but she is looking into the eyes of students across the country and letting them know they’re not alone. They’re worth something. They’re capable of feeling loved, and showing kindness to others. These are the stories I hear every day on the road, and these kids are the reason 40 something presenters spend thousands upon thousands of collective days and nights away from their own families every year. Because somebody has to tell these kids about Rachel. Somebody has to give them a reason to come back to school tomorrow, and with a purpose.
This is my job, and I can’t believe I get to do it.
If you happened to find yourself on Elliston Street tonight, and you happened to hear some maniac hollering, “I DID FULL WHEEL!!!” as her car sped past, then you heard my celebration. I’ll start from the top.
I’ve been practicing yoga, off and on for about 10 years. A few friends, a supportive teacher, and I started a yoga and pilates club at my high school my junior year and I’ve come back to yoga over and over ever since. I can remember following along to Denise Austin yoga tapes as far back as my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I had bursts of consistency in my practice during and right after college for a few months at a time, as I could afford it, but have made yoga a real priority for the past year. I’ve gone to class consistently, even on the road. I found studios from Boston to Seattle to practice in while I’m working, and take class regularly when I’m home at Kali Yuga Yoga, in East Nashville. I’ve practiced Bikram, Vinyasa, Hatha, and Forrest styles in studios from coast to coast.
A few weeks ago, Hot Yoga Nashville issued a Groupon for a month of unlimited yoga for $49. A month at HYN usually costs $165, so I bought that sucker. I started December 13, and decided to take up their challenge to do 30 days of hot yoga. Hot, because the studio is heated up to 105 degrees for each workout. Seriously hot. They posted this beneath the challenge: “See who you are at the end. It will change you. We promise.”
Days 1-4 were full of determination and excitement. I started out pretty wobbly, but quickly found some tricks to staying upright on one foot at a time while the rest of my body leaned and stretched and pulled in opposite directions. I noticed one girl in the front, with particularly good balance, would stare herself right in her eyeballs in the front mirror and tap into this incredible focus. Alright. Try to get a place in the front of class so you can focus on your eyeballs for balance. Got it.
By day 5, I found more solidity in my feet. I wobbled less, focused intensely on my pupils to keep from falling out. I might be able to pull this off.
Day 6 was a Sunday and class was at 8am. Arriving at 7:45 to get a place in the front of the room meant getting my butt up earlier than it is used to during my break from work. Daryn, now you have to get out of bed. Now, you need to put on your workout stuff. Brush your teeth. Put on a jacket. Get in the car. Turn the key. You get the idea. After an hour of hot, sweaty Vinyasa, I felt ready to conquer the day. That was a good Sunday.
Day 7, nothing terribly remarkable happened.
Days 8 and 9? Awful. Terrible. Too damn hot. I just knew that they had cranked the heat up hotter than ever. The heaters turned on DURING CLASS, for Heaven’s sake. These teachers were cruel. They didn’t crack the door open for a fresh burst of cool air. They made us hold the poses, I was convinced, for longer than normal. I grunted, moaned, and huffed my way through class. My own little rebellion. I’ll cooperate, but I’m not going quietly. I have read about certain poses bringing up some intense emotional stuff during practice, but I never really understood how yoga could make someone cry. Days 8 and 9, I cried. In class. Upside down. Crying. Sweating. Drenched. Red faced. Crying. Dealing with thoughts and feelings that only come up when you’ve spent that much time upside down, literally shaking and twisting things free. Sheer stubbornness is all that got me through days 8 and 9. And I’m glad it did, because then came Day 10.
I’m pretty claustrophobic, and there are some poses in Bikram yoga that I just don’t handle well. There are compression poses that have you upside down, pressing your forehead into your knee and your chin into your chest so that your throat is constricted and it’s intentionally difficult to breathe. The goal is to restrict the blood supply to your glands and lymphatic system so that, when you return to standing, freshly oxygenated blood rushes through those parts of the body that you have just cut off. In these poses, I’m always panicked about how the medical examiner will explain how I suffocated and died in my own cleavage. I always have to come out of the constriction poses early, what with my fear of certain death by being trapped in my sports bra and all. Day 10, I found myself halfway through the second constriction thinking I am not panicking. I have been here for some time, and I am fine. I am not going to die. This was a real breakthrough.
Days 11-13 were unremarkable, except that day 12 was Christmas Eve and I was in a yoga class, like a crazy person. Day 13 was Christmas Day, and I skipped out.
But, then I went twice on Day 14. 30 days, baby. 30 days.
Day 15, I balanced in Birds of Paradise. (Look it up, it’s pretty cool.) I’m getting better. This practice, this yoga bubble, is incredibly important. I’m beginning to feel like my mind, body, and spirit are no longer three separate parts of me that frequently are at odds with one another. Some sort of balance, a mutual understanding is taking place. These parts of me- mind, body, spirit- feel less like parts of me and more like one whole being. I feel whole. Still. In agreement within myself. Does this sound crazy? I’ve read and heard plenty about the benefits and connections you gain with disciplined practice… is that what is happening here? I cannot lose this.
Here we are today. Day 16. And today, I accomplished a major personal goal. I did full wheel. Look that up, too. It’s a beautiful pose, and I did it. I’ve watched people do this pose for years and while it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t ever be able to do it, I just never could. The intro pose for wheel is bridge, and it was nearing the end of the class and time for bridge. “Those of you going into full wheel, go for it,” my teacher said. I’ve always stuck to bridge pose, lying on my back, pressing my feet flat into the ground behind my heels and lifting my hips up into the air. Tonight, though, I thought, “Well, it’s probably not going to happen, but it can’t hurt to try. I did balance in Birds of Paradise yesterday, after all, and I didn’t know I could do that.” So I flipped my hands around flat above me shoulders, pulled up with my belly while I pushed the floor away with my hands and feet, and there I was. Full wheel!
I’m so proud and humbled and thankful I could just laugh. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I did after I came back to the floor. I lay there on my back and laughed. My gratitude is overwhelming.
So, that’s the first half of my journey. I’m feeling sharp, fit, thankful, focused, capable, and confident. Yoga, baby.
It’s happening. I can feel it. And I’m panicked.
The squishy surplus of my hips is beginning to creep up over the top of my jeans, the dreaded “muffin top” slowly rising. Just a month ago, a Godly and saintly man at church complimented my newfound skinniness and I gratefully relished the recognition after weeks of rigorous hot yoga practice. And now, it’s back. I’ve been on the road, or had company in town, or spent Thanksgiving- well- doing what you do on Thanksgiving, for weeks solid and neglected my consistent practice. And I feel like my body is betraying me. Seriously?! I can’t have just one month of effortless thin? I worked my butt off for weeks and after just over a month with a jam packed schedule, I’m slipping into self criticism again. I’m panicking over how nice I may or may not look in leggings that I don’t even own.
More than my annoyance with my waistline is my annoyance with the chatty, critical, incessant woman in my brain telling me my waistline is a problem. It’s maddening, the voice in my head. It should give me some degree of comfort to know that women in every corner of the world hear the same voice, but that’s just starting to make me angry. When did we allow this voice to get so loud? When did I give this horrible woman in my head permission to tell me just exactly what is wrong with my body?
Your shoulders are too broad.
Your back isn’t defined enough.
Your tummy is too squishy. Seriously. The rest I can live with, but please do something about that tummy.
Your hips. Just… fix them.
Um… excuse me?! Sometimes I think about what I ate in high school and it literally makes me laugh. I remember near daily trips to Taco Bueno for Mexi Dips and Chips and frozen lemonade and never giving the indulgence a second thought. Granted, I worked out every day in high school and had the metabolism of, well, a high schooler. But, still.
What I miss is not the frequent greasy splurge, but the fact that I once enjoyed food without fretting about calories and fat content. Somewhere in between college and the real world, I gained about fifteen pounds. When I’m thinking clearly, this hardly troubles me at all. Honestly. At nearly 5′ 10″, a fifteen pound buffer (By the way, I should confess that I just accidentally typed “butter” instead of “buffer.” Will someone please sort that out for me?) isn’t terribly discouraging. It’s barely a pantsize difference. It’s when that fifteen becomes more like twenty that things start to get a little hairy. Literally. I shave my legs less when I feel like they aren’t worth showing off. And I’m sick of it.
So I’m speaking up. For all of the women who have ever cursed the person who first used the term “saddlebag” outside of the farm. For all of the women who count calories. For all of the women who try on skinny jeans and feel inadequate because they’re not a size 2. For any woman who has ever thrown up after a perfectly good meal just so it wouldn’t settle on her hips. For the supermodels- yes, the supermodels- who are told every day what they need to tighten, tone, or trim. Because, as brutal as the voice in my head is I cannot imagine what it would feel like hearing it out loud. For the little girl who has a mother who puts her in sexy clothes. She shouldn’t have to worry about how she looks in that outfit that her mother only puts her in because she’s too old for it herself. For the mother who doesn’t feel attractive anymore. For the thirteen year old who can’t keep up with how different her body looks every year. For the gym dweller who runs and lifts and squats because she is terrified of putting on one single extra pound.
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU.
I put it in caps because I know how loud that voice is. I want to be louder. Your butt is perfect on you. Your hips are perfect for salsa dancing and making babies. Your arms look like those of Roman goddesses. Your legs are strong and graceful. Your feet are so much nicer to look at than those of your hairy boyfriend- who loves your butt, by the way. Your tummy is the center of your strength. It literally holds you up and keeps you alive. Babies grow in there. Your tummy is the most powerful instrument in nature, and it looks exactly the way it is supposed to look. Your face is not off center, or too small, or overwhelmed by your nose or forehead or eyes. It’s exactly right. There is nothing wrong with you.
So, I’m going to eat my pasta. I’m going to walk around my hotel room naked as a jaybird tonight, and I’m not going to avoid the mirrors. Because there is nothing wrong with me.
And, I’m happy to say that the voice in my head just shut up.