One evening, I was out with friends. The Wobble came on, and my thighs burned as I danced. It was at that moment I realized that I was healthy enough to start getting in shape. My fatigue (at this point) was a consequence of years of inactivity. So later that evening, when my friend asked if I would try a yoga class with her, I was all ears.
Before when I was sick, I spent a lot of time either saying no or saying yes and then backing out later. I’m sure everyone else felt like I was missing out on so many things, but I never felt that way. When you don’t feel well, it’s hard to think about much more than how you will accomplish your short term goals (take a shower, run errands, prepare food, do work/homework, etc) and hope to attempt a long term goal (finish school or a large work project). There’s so little time to worry about the extraneous things, like how to enjoy the present, who to connect with, what new things to try.
Naturally, after going so long without even thinking of trying anything new (or thinking it possible), I found myself saying yes to so many things. Yes to mussels, to a music concert, to a late night with a friend, to an evening outside, and… to yoga!
Too many months of lying in bed or on the sofa trying to conserve my energy for the things I had to do had caught up with me. Activity was highly strenuous for me, not because I didn’t feel well, but because I wasn’t used to it. A short walk carrying my groceries from the car to the apartment would wear me out, and I did very little when I went to the gym. However, when a friend invited me to go to a new yoga studio with her, I said yes.
My concept of yoga was pretty limited, thinking it consisted of a lot of fancy twists and some spiritual mumbo jumbo, but I was pleasantly surprised when I took my first class. The instructor was patient and down-to-earth, frequently repeating phrases like
“Stay on your mat. Don’t think about what everyone else is doing.”
“Both sides of your body will work differently. One may be able to do more than the other today.”
“Inhale peace. Exhale tension.”
“There should never be pain in your practice. There is a difference between a challenge and a stretch and pain.”
…And you get the idea. I was never the kind of person who slows down, even when limitations were put on me physically. Whatever I was able to do, mentally, physically, I pushed myself further. (Sometimes it wasn’t much, but I always found my limits and tried to work past them). I know that it caused my poor health to become even poorer, and that it made many of my relationships fall by the wayside. I frequently overscheduled myself, and always compared my body to other people’s bodies, both in appearance and capability. Yoga helped me find the moment.
To be successful in your practice, you have to shut out the worries and stresses of the day, whether the current one or the previous ones. Your breathing won’t match with each pose, and you will not successfully gain the benefit from each pose. Learning the breathing takes disciplined practice over time, and you certainly don’t get better overnight. I still can’t always do it well.
Another piece of yoga that is still hard for me to master, (but I’ve seen marked improvement in), is not being competitive, even with myself. I want to be the best at it; I would love to be able to sustain a headstand for a minute or lift myself off the floor in a complicated twist. The instructor in class would frequently say, “There is no end goal in yoga”. Instead, I worked on giving each pose my full strength, modifying it, as was frequently necessary, and breathing through it.
Learning how to stay on my mat also helped me significantly with body image. Even when I looked my best in high school, I never felt it. Now, seventy pounds heavier, pale from staying inside, weak from lack of exercise, I was starting to feel the best internally that I had ever felt. I will probably never quite recognize myself again, but would I want to? I might never be the size for a magazine cover, but I know that I will not look at others on their mats with quite the same envy as before. What I have gained from this long battle is a deep appreciation for the time and energy that I have.
At the end of every practice, the teacher would say, “Thank your body for its practice today”, but I never did that. My body had betrayed me repeatedly, promising me strength and vitality, then taking it away. Even if I woke up in the morning and didn’t feel pain or fatigue, it would catch up to me by lunch or mid afternoon. I knew that this healing, whether temporary or permanent, was a gift from God, one that wasn’t meant to be squandered. At the end of every practice, I instead said a prayer, thanking God for the strength He had given me today, and asking for strength again tomorrow.