Almost two years ago, in January, I entered a yoga studio with a crumpled up Groupon, mismatched socks, and a brand new pink mat (I cringe even now, recalling how a new mat sounds, sticky and fresh when you unroll it.) I remember the socks because I wore them into the room, only five minutes into the whole thing realizing that I could be barefoot.
(I’d “done” yoga a few times before. The hot kind was what I thought I wanted — supreme exhaustion and the promise of weight loss were part of my college girl drink a lot, study, sleep a lot, be skinny dream. I only went a few times. Hot yoga, it turns out, is not for me.)
This studio, Satsang, was always warm and welcoming, and it changed who I am, or at least who I thought I was capable of being.
(A bunch of hooey, right? Stop drinking the juice? I thought so too, at first. I really don’t anymore. It starts with letting yourself accept that you like what you hear. For example, Satsang means “being in the company of the truth or the good by sitting together with a group.”)
I was hesitant to chant, to sing, to meditate. The postures can create pause as well — can I stand on my forearms if my neck is the first to crumple? I still don’t know.
I am not a special yogini. I’m a regular one who curses traffic on my way to class. I eat animal products, which a lot of big-hearted yoga practitioners do not. I drink alcohol and I roll into my pillow, hungover. In the past two years I’ve attended all of four yoga classes on a Saturday or Sunday.
I go weeks without practicing. I spend weeks in classes, frustrated, wondering why I went in the first place.
And I always come back.
Two years ago I didn’t take a deep breath when I lost my keys. I cried. I screamed. I traveled down a rabbit hole of hate and anger. Of course I still do that — I’m human. But I recognize it now. I let it pass.
I cannot say enough how important it is to be with yourself. Find your center. I think this is my version of an advice column, the kind you take with a grain of salt.
I don’t think yoga is for everyone. My sister likes to go to spin classes, riding madly into a blasting sound system of rap music. I also like to run, slowly setting my lungs on fire, pushing against the mad thoughts of the day.
Some people walk their dogs. Others dance in front of a TV or Google Pilate workout videos. Some people don’t exercise at all.
It’s not what you do but how you do it.
It’s not what you say but how you say it. Yoga has taught me so many foreign words, but not so many foreign concepts. The big love I feel in classes has become a substitute for a spirituality I’ve never explored — it’s an answer to questions I was afraid to ask. I don’t know about God or gods. Deep breath, twist, exhale, twist. And not knowing is OK.
I spent all weekend on my couch with a half-cold. Half-sick, half-bored, the usual seasonal affective shit. I wanted to move, I wanted to eat, I wanted to get drunk. I knew that I needed to be still to get better but I was angry at what felt like a slovenly version of my self.
The solution is sometimes a sleeping pill. It was on Friday night. And Saturday. You move past that. You learn to be gentle with yourself. Being gentle isn’t Family Guy-ing for ten hours, head peeking just barely out from under a dog hair laden blanket.
Being gentle is so many things. It’s taking a moment to assess what you need. And then it’s giving it to yourself. It’s seeing what others need and giving them what you can.
For me that’s waking up early, walking my dog. That is ahimsa — kindness, non-harming, gentleness. It can be so simple.
Tonight one of my yoga studio’s spaces will close. A shala. My mom says, “What’s a shala,” knowing that it’s probably just another word for studio.
It sounds nicer though, Mama.
I went to class last night, my last one in the first place I ever really sat still. I cried in my car after, happy, sad, stagnant, electric. The usual, you know?
We roll out of savasana and we bow our heads to the altar. There are images of teachers there — yoga teachers are my secular angels — a glass of water, mala beads, Ganesh in all his glory.
Every time I bow I think the same thing, Am I here yet? For me that means, have I become a little more whole than I was before? Have I stopped making fucking grocery lists in my stillness?
My hands shake as they touch the floor. I never know the answer. I never feel completely at peace. Maybe I never will.
But I sure as hell won’t stop practicing. Namaste, y’all.