It’s hard for me to write about yoga. Partly because I tend to find most writing about yoga to be maddeningly vague, in an affirming, new agey way. Sentences like, “Melt your heart into playful arm balances with So-and-So” make me feel stabby, not inspired. (Sorry, Yoga Journal). There’s also the feeling that yoga isn’t mine – to declare or opine or appropriate – it’s a culture and a religion and a fad all at once, depending on what you’re reading, which makes me hesitant. I feel the same way about being part Native American. I mean, look at me:
I know it’s not rational, that experience and agency and even culture are what you make of them, but still, I feel that certain topics demand responsibility, and I guess yoga is one of those topics for me.
I started doing yoga two years ago, for the honorable reason of wanting to “impress” my hot new yoga teacher girlfriend. Once a week, I would go to Cheetah Gym and learn “Ashtanga” from a woman who, at least once a class, reiterated that she’d been doing yoga since she was nine years old and that her children did yoga too and her unborn grandchildren would also be doing yoga once they were free of the restrictions of not being alive yet. She also used the class as time to do her own practice, never giving any adjustments or practical help, which I didn’t find annoying until I took a class with someone who actually did teach.
I did learn a few things from her though, namely that doing yoga ONCE a week is the worst idea ever. It took me months before I felt like I wasn’t going to die every time I did it. Then, in June of that year, I took an expensive workshop (that was totally worth it) with Kino MacGregor, who is one of the most inspiring, eloquent and hilarious people I’ve ever encountered. Watch the three minute video below to get an idea of her awesomeness (if you’re lazy, just skip to the 1:30 mark where she demonstrates her practice).
Whenever Kino leads a class, amazing transformations always seem to occur in my practice. For instance, in prasarita padottanasana C, which is supposed to look like this:
However, when Kino adjusted me in that pose, I felt this odd, cold sensation in my hands, which took me a second to realize was MY HANDS TOUCHING THE FLOOR. Easily, it seemed. It was amazing. She’s full of such moments, like an ATM machine that dispenses puppies and rainbows instead of money. (She travels a lot, so if she comes to your city, I highly encourage you to shill for her.)
The downside, of course, was that a year later, hopped up on Kino-rmones, I pushed too hard and tore my hamstring. It’s been about ten months since that happened and I am STILL recovering. I took a lot of time off, thinking that would help me heal faster and lessen the frustration of no longer being able to even touch my toes. Or maybe I was being lazy. It’s easy to come up with excuses when you’re injured, when things that once seemed possible suddenly aren’t and it’s comforting to know that if you can’t touch your toes, at least you can watch The Bachelor and have a good cry. I’m also lazy by nature. I need discipline. Ellie has to wake me up 2-3 times each morning, make the coffee, then throw it on me in order for me to get up.
No one ever called me out on the laziness pertaining to my injury though, until recently. Ellie and I have been practicing with Magnolia Zuniga, (who has a really funny and incredible story that you should read on her website) at YogaWorks. Like a benevolent drill sergeant, Magnolia spat on my excuses and pummeled me with pain-tinged enlightenment. And in a few short weeks, I have seen drastic improvement in myself and my willingness to get up at stupid o’clock every day and breathe and contort myself into impossible positions. My body is no longer looked upon as a treachery. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts, but the hurt is more like faith and less like ignorance.
She gave me permission to feel what I was feeling, the pain and frustration, the limitations. It seems so astonishingly simple. Yet there it is. And each day, my practice becomes a different telling of the same story. It’s urgent and affirming and maddening (but not in a new agey way) and becoming. This morning, while pouring a second cup of coffee (because it still takes a lot to get me out of bed), I felt a pang of excitement in my stomach at the thought of back bending. Like I was about to go on a date with a yoga pose, that kind of pang. After the initial embarrassment subsided, I felt really joyful. Like an emancipated traveler, like Sisyphus finally pushing that boulder up the hill and having it stay put.
Call it gratitude or hope or enlightenment if you want. I call it a really nice place to be.