I love yoga. Actually, I don't just love yoga, I love, love, love yoga. I love yoga culture. I love yoga inspirational sayings. I love yoga clothing.
I love the concept of mindfulness living that often accompanies the yoga practice, with its emphasis on connecting mind, body and soul. We live in a world that encourages compartmentalization, so I appreciate pondering the concept of greater interconnectedness.
I love waking up in the morning and going online and reading all of the yoga-inspired quotes posted on my Facebook timeline from yogis around the world -- each sharing ways that I can unblock my Chakras and live a more balanced life.
I love my beautiful mint green Lululemon yoga mat. Sure, I had to choose between paying my son's college tuition and buying this mat, but when I see it all rolled up and majestically leaning into the corner of my bedroom, gently reflecting the soft light streaming in from my window, I know I made the right choice.
I love the yoga body. Strong, long, lean and healthy. I love the yoga diet. Clean and organic, with no gimmicks.
But more importantly, I love the yoga wardrobe, particularly the pants. I love how yoga pants make me feel. When I slide my yoga pants on in the morning and pull them up to my mid-tummy, I immediately feel thinner. Gone is the muffin top I must constantly mask when wearing my low-rise jeans. Gone is the feeling of rigid cloth cutting into my sides from my optimistic I'm-going-to-fit-into-these-pants-someday-dammit work slacks. Yoga pants gently hug me in a way that says, "let me do the work for you, and I'll do it gently, so relax my dear, you're nearly perfect just the way you are." At last count I had 16 pairs of yoga pants and about 12 yoga tops (although I'm not as much of a fan of my yoga tops, particularly those with cut-out backs -- I find those a bit, well, "judgey").
I love everything yoga. Well, not necessarily everything. To date, I haven't completely fallen in love with the actual practice of yoga. Don't get me wrong; I've tried. I mean I've really, really tried, but I've found that engaging in the practice of yoga -- and by that I mean going to yoga classes and attempting to make my body comply with the commands of the size-zero yoga instructor -- isn't nearly as nurturing and comforting as everything else yoga.
For instance, many of the yoga poses (called Asanas) make me feel inept, uncoordinated and kind of clunky. While some positions are a breeze, such as Child's Pose, where I get to curl up in a ball, with outstretched arms, resting my head on my mat, other positions require a level of coordination and flexibility that pre-circa 2010 would have been reserved for an opening act at the circus (but more on that later).
I refuse to be intimidated into sitting on the sidelines any longer, though, and after years of immersing myself in all things yoga except yoga, I finally decided to take the plunge and attend a real, live yoga class.
When I walked into the yoga room for the first time, I looked around to get my bearings and I noticed mostly women spread somewhat haphazardly around the room. I quickly discerned the culture of mat placement, and quietly padded to an open spot toward the back of the room. Hoping not to disrupt the meditative silence in the room, I quietly unfurled my beloved mat (with a loud flap! that I'm certain could be heard in the parking lot), and placed it onto the floor in what I assumed to be close enough to the adjacent mats so as not appear to be a floor hog, but far enough away to avoid violating anyone's personal space.
I looked around the room for guidance and noticed my fellow yogis sitting in what used to be called "indian Style," but in the yoga world is referred to as the Half Lotus Position. I used to love sitting this way as a child -- cross-legged, with my feet resting on the opposite thigh, turned upward toward the sky. Not so now. Any attempt to pull my feet inward toward the opposing thigh was met with ugly popping sounds and the skin on my thighs threatening to tear wide open. Still, I managed to pull off what I like to call the one-fifth lotus position. Proud that I had mastered my first Asana, I placed my hands on my knees, palms up, and following my yoga mates' lead, I started breathing deeply.
The yoga instructor had at some point entered the room and taken her place in the front of the class. "Breathe," she gently admonished. "Getting ready for our sacred time here today, let's start by settling our minds by getting in touch with our breath. Clear your mind and just focus on your deep breathing."
Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I have to do laundry. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I need to pay the cable bill. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I wonder if my debit card was one of the ones hacked at the grocery store. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. My son needs new socks. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. I forgot to get gas.
Now, it was time for some real yoga, which relieved me because I was starting to feel almost high from all that deep breathing, and my stress level was now through the roof. Apparently all that shallow breathing and static in my brain served as a deterrent from thinking about my very long to-do list. The next 45 minutes of this introductory class was spent teaching us basic poses. Repeat: basic poses. After about five minutes though I began to wonder if I'd accidentally entered the wrong class because there was nothing about these poses that seemed introductory. And what's worse, I appeared to be the only one struggling. Whew. I spoke too soon. In the mirror I could see another fumbling fool. "Ha!" I thought. "She's worse that I am!" Oh wait no, that's me.
The instructor used Sanskrit names so we could get used to calling each pose by its correct Indian name, but unfortunately I have no head for languages so I couldn't discern Adho Mukha Śvānāsana (Downward Facing Dog) from Ardha Matsyendrāsana (Spine Twisting Pose) to save my life. With each pose of what seemed to be of increasing complexity, I no sooner managed to twist and contort my body, that the instructor announced a new Asana. Willing bodies complied throughout the room -- all except mine, that is.
While my co-yogis were gracefully engaging in perfectly formed Downward Facing Dogs, I was creating new positions such as the Sideways-Facing-Backwards-Falling-Stray. And while my fellow yogis were transitioning to Warrior 1 Pose with a smooth thrust of their leg in one uninterrupted and graceful forward-driving swing, I was teetering on tiptoes (in an attempt to create as much room as possible), willing my leg forward in three inch increments, in what I like to call the Stuttering-Stomach-Halting-Leg-Thrust.
When the instructor gave us a much-needed water break I sat uncomfortably in my One-Fifth-Lotus Position dying of thirst but with no water in hand ("dammit, I knew I forgot something!"). When the instructor told everyone to grab their blocks, I quietly arose, and feeling terribly embarrassed, tiptoed my way through a minefield of mats to the back corner of the room where yoga blocks were stacked to the ceiling ("ahhh, so that's what everyone was doing back here before class!").
Clearly, I didn't belong. It was like eighth grade all over again, where I was still wearing late-'60s style hip-hugger bell-bottom pants long after 1970s Dittos jeans were all the rage. Or keeping within the athletic realm, it was like the 1980s when I was the only person in step aerobics without high-top Reeboks and leg warmers, or the 1990s when I was the only one in my Jazzercize class with completely rhythmless hips.
I had no business being in this room, I told myself, ticking off one reason after another. I wasn't thin enough. I wasn't graceful enough. I wasn't limber enough. I hated being new. I hated feeling out of place. I hated feeling self-conscious. Yet another life experience where it seemed that everyone knew what they were doing, but me.
I was a yoga impostor.
Truth be told, I have suffered from the impostor syndrome -- the belief that one is a fraud and does not deserve success, for as long as I can remember. I used to let the impostor syndrome stop me in my tracks in whatever new endeavor I was trying to master. Whether in my career, or in my personal life, I used to believe that feeling out of place, lost, and having no idea what I was doing, was a sign that I was unwelcome and would never belong -- where that out-of-place feeling served as a sort of Do Not Enter sign warning me to turn around and skedaddle back in the other direction.
But life circumstances have prevented me from remaining within my comfort zone and forced me to realize that being comfortable at all times is often a luxury that only the chronically indulged and/or passionless can afford. Financial struggles when my son was younger pushed me into university teaching long before I was ready. The need for a more flexible schedule, higher income and a life of meaning forced me to push past my fear of entering a Ph.D. program when I was well into my 40s. A desire to share my life with someone special has forced me back into the dating world during my empty nesting years.
With many new venture in life, I have managed to endure feelings of discomfort by convincing myself that being out of my comfort zone was just a temporary phase, and before I knew it, those uncomfortable feelings were gone, and I belonged.
Maybe tackling yoga was just a matter of applying the strategies that I've employed in other areas of my life, such as my career or personal life, to the world of yoga, where an Asana is nothing more or nothing less than projects I accomplished at work, concepts I mastered in my graduate work, or fears I face in my personal growth journey.
The truth is that regardless of the situation or life domain, there is no new endeavor worth mastering that doesn't leave one initially feeling out of place and out of one's comfort zone.
I could have walked out of that yoga class and never gone back. I could have continued on my path of embracing all things yoga except the actual practice of yoga, but instead I am sitting with my discomfort (and intermittent embarrassment), and letting my Chakras evolve at their own pace. Because after all, the living tradition of yoga isn't just about a series of perfectly practiced poses, but rather yoga's ultimate goal is to help people become aware of, and connected to their deepest nature. And in this crazy and hectic world of conflicting messages, most of which are negative, I think the world needs more yoga. I know I do.
Today I may feel like a yoga impostor as I attempt the Tree Pose (Vrksasana) (or what I like to call the 'T-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ber-Tree-Pose'), but I trust that I won't always feel this way. While I may never reach the advanced level of yoga where I can do the Handstand Pose (Adho Mukha Vrksasana) with ease, I will in time feel comfortable enough to know that I belong in a yoga studio as much as anyone else, trusting that the feelings of discomfort in any new adventure are just a part of the process -- something to endure, something to get past, something that everyone experiences to some extent.
And so, with hands clasped together and raised to my heart, I say to all yogis and future-yogis alike, Namaste.