A rolled yoga mat under my right arm, water bottle in my left, yoga pants, top, bare feet… I feel ready. I can do this. I open the door to a dimly lit warm room. Too warm for my liking. But I’m smiling – this is exciting. I breathe calmly, scan the room for a spot and set up. I’m ready.
I’m 10 minutes early, I glance around the room and enjoy the quiet buzz of people walking in, grabbing yoga blocks and mats. Some were already in their comfortable child’s pose or on their back’s surrendered to the healing art of meditation. I wondered who the yoga teacher was, after all I wanted to have a word with him and tell him about my condition. But it was busy with so many people, close to fifty for sure. Not one person stood out, no one spoke out loud, no one greeted the class… we had just a few minutes to begin.
I figured I could just do my best at my own pace. After all I was here for myself and no one else. I was here to listen to my body and work with my body’s strengths and weaknesses. This wasn’t a competition, this was healing. And this was Restorative Yoga - a beginner’s class, calm and gentle. Simple, easy and safe. Perfect for me.
I tried to relax and follow others and lowered my back onto a yoga block to open my chest.
They make it look comfortable, it is not. But I readjust and try again. It’s better and I try to relax, spread out my arms on my sides, open my palms. And try to tune into my breathing.
But my breathing feels forced. Unstable and feels shallow. I need time. I know I need more time to settle into this. I close my eyes and try to stay still in the Chest Opener.
I’ve done this so well years ago, about eight years ago when yoga was still a small buzz unlike it is today.
I loved it and loved my body during and after a yoga class. I learned to submerge into deep breathing and meditation and took my body to new levels with stretching and bending from the challenging but rewarding asanas. I felt still, centred, focused, peaceful and calm. I loved it, breathed it and lived it for several years.
But then my life changed from busy to pregnant to a working mom to a weak and ill woman. Over the last 5 years I went through the hardest time in my life, struggling through an illness that affected and weakened my entire muscular system. From difficulty breathing to walking to holding my baby or a cup of tea. Since then, for the last few years I’ve dedicated myself entirely to a healing journey which still continues to be successful and strengthening every day.
But I’m not myself yet. And I was worried that yoga isn’t for me, just yet.
But I showed up. I felt ready and I knew that it would be challenging and scary. If I didn’t challenge myself now, when would I feel the healing effects of yoga stretches and breathing.
This was the day to begin again.
The class started with the yoga teacher’s calming techniques to relax the toes and feet and hands. The class settled into deep repetitive breathing, I tried to follow along. Felt great at that moment but then the lengthy holds and deep breathes grew too intense. I lost the rhythm, tuned into my own breathing. Started again, off-rhythm with the class but calm and focused… I was fine, I knew I could do this.
But then we moved into poses; the plank, the downward dog, leg up, then the other. I was stiff and tight – I knew this would be a long and difficult journey. This was getting intense, the poses were long, too long and my arms started to get weak, not from lack of strength alone, but from lack of strength from my symptoms. Maybe I wasn’t ready all along?
But from my approach and from any approach to any physical activity, fitness or even yoga; I knew the rules. You work at your own pace. And that’s what I did. That’s what I knew I would probably have to do for a while until my body got better, my breathing got deeper and my muscles got stronger.
This will take time, I reminded myself and ended my struggle keeping my body balanced and gave my body a break and sat down in a sitting asana. I took a little drink of water and quietly watched as others, probably close to 50 other people looked like poised sculptures. I returned to my breathing, the little break helped and I went with the crowd on the next pose.
I was fine for another while until the heat and breathing just got to me. I couldn’t focus on my breathing; I grew anxious and I felt overwhelmed with the long pauses. My mind grew wild, I was loosing my patience. I quickly surrendered to my growing anxiety and stopped altogether. I sat back on my heels for a moment, looked around, grabbed my water and bailed.
I stood up and tip-toed quietly just passed two or three people, opened the door quietly and left the room. I knew I needed air, real cool air and on my own terms and my own rhythm. That felt good. I breathed cool air into my lungs, felt the surge of energy past me and I felt the sweeping of emotion fill me all over inside and out through the stinging of tear-filled eyes.
This was now more than I beckoned for. This was now very emotional. And hard. This was beyond starting over. It was the birth I was giving myself. I didn’t have to do this. I didn’t have to suffer. I didn’t have to be here. I tried but I can try again, maybe next month or six months from now?
Or maybe NOW? Maybe I could toughen up, brush my so-called-sorrow aside and face this right now? I wiped my face, stood tall, breathed in and opened the door again.
The class was at the next pose, I didn’t see the teacher and felt no one really noticed I was gone. I was glad for the dimmed lights so no one would see my puffed-up face and red eyes. I was back at my mat as I just left it. I quickly set into the current pose and really embraced the moment – I can do this, I said again to myself. And immediately felt calm and refocused and… happy I was back.
We were in another Restorative pose when I noticed a presence near me, it was our yoga teacher. I felt great that he’s checking in on me. He bent down, leaned in to me and said ” If this isn’t for you, you can get out” pointing to the door.
His look was stern, not sympathetic, not sincere and certainly not caring.
I bothered him. I wasn’t with it. I didn’t keep up. I was a nuisance.
He kept it short and to the point. And left me there with doors wide open.
Wow. The burst of emotion that flew in after that. I though the struggles were only with me, and the strength I had to prove was only to me, but here I was in yoga bootcamp, being kicked when I was already down.
I couldn’t help it, I couldn’t even hold it, and tears streamed down my face hard. I went to a child’s pose and tried to recollect my thoughts, tried to find a sense of encouragement to move on. I felt so weak and alone, misunderstood and hurt. Again I fought a battle in my head to just leave now or stay and find the strength to move past this.
Strength isn’t only about the body’s ability to be strong. Strength is our inner voice of the heart and mind standing up for what we deserve and are willing to work hard for.
I chose to be stronger than I ever was and I chose to stay. I wiped my tears off and tried my best to just breathe… and keep up with the class.
A few minutes later, I didn’t see him, but a quick gust of air blew to my side and I heard a voice in the exact same tone: “I apologize if this seemed rude”. I quietly nodded, looking straight into his eyes and quietly said “yes, this was rude”.
I fought hard with my emotions, stayed focused and remained in the class till the end. Working at my own pace, taking each new challenge as an opportunity to get better, to heal and to get stronger.
I didn’t come to this class as a skinny girl that wants to get on with the yoga trend. I didn’t come for the yoga ass either and I didn’t come to master the yoga stands to show off on facebook to my friends.
I came because I needed yoga to help me move to the next phase of my healing journey. I needed yoga to help heal me. I thought this class would restore my energy and my focus and move my body into a new direction of wellbeing.
I came ready to take the next step forward and I left with big steps taking me back.
I know more about yoga than my yoga teacher because I know yoga isn’t about doing but being. It is about acceptance of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses and not competition. It is an individual journey, an individual process for your body and mind. It is a lesson in patience and belief in yourself. And the practice of yoga should always be a welcoming, uplifting and completely positive experience.
I feel that my teacher, Adam completely failed at delivering this experience. Instead of a warm welcome and inspiration, I received coldness and got hurt in the process.
But thank you Adam for helping me be stronger and wiser because of your ‘teaching’. For a high-profile yoga teacher that you are, I had different expectations…
But I will not give up and I will embrace the healing practice of yoga as best I can. After all, this is my own journey and my own process… I’ve already been through so much, this is just the next chapter of my healing… and I welcome it fully with my whole body and mind. (even if it will take a little longer).
♥ Pure Ella