I stayed in downward dog today for the entirety of the time the instructor asked. I took each deep breath. I centered myself physically and emotionally. I felt the stretch in the backs of my shoulders and my hamstrings. And my left shoulder, for the first time, did not give out on me.
This is an achievement that has been years in the making.
The past month has been a challenge. I joined a yoga studio and hated it. I cried during almost every class. I judged myself against everyone else and found myself wanting. I cried as I not only failed at maintaining poses but failed to achieve the basic mental and emotional tenets of yoga.
In yoga as in life, it is important to accept where one is on their journey. This does not mean one should ignore challenges or refuse to accept them, but the path towards success starts in the present moment. One cannot change where one is at present. One can only work towards being somewhere else at some future moment.
The yoga studio I first joined was not an environment where this was possible for me.
I felt unwelcome and uncomfortable there. I do not know if this is because of my current state of physical fitness, but in my current mindset, it very much felt that way. My body is not taut, toned, and fit. Everyone else’s was.
The yoga studio was walled in mirrors. I had no choice but to see myself during every single class. All I could see in the mirror was how out of place I looked compared to the rest of the people in the room. I was an elephant among gazelles.
Being in an environment where everyone but me was perky, energetic, and fit, and, to make matters worse, where it seemed nobody wanted to talk with me or exchange greetings, quickly prompted what I now know to be the beginnings of a depressive cycle.
I am grateful I have people around me who practice yoga and could speak to this. I am also incredibly grateful I live in an area where yoga studios are plentiful. There are many to choose from and I was encouraged to give a different studio a try.
I quickly realized most studios in my area provide introductory offers, so trying one on for size does not involve a large monetary commitment. The studio I initially joined offered a two-week introductory package, which allowed me to attend unlimited classes over a two week period for a minimal fee. I was able to try a variety of the classes they offered. I did not realize this was common until I did more research.
Thus, shortly before the two weeks had expired I signed up for a similar two-week package at a different studio. I did not feel I was wasting any money by not sticking it out at the first studio for the entirety of the two weeks. The dollar amount was trivial.
I was delighted to find the experience between the two studios was night and day.
I arrived at my first practice at the new studio early so I would feel more comfortable. I was the first person there. I set up my mat, hoping I was orienting myself correctly (I wasn’t sure where the instructor would be). I grabbed props.
As people started coming in, I noticed many of them knew each other by name and greeted each other fondly. A few recognized me as new and introduced themselves, sharing a little about their yoga background and their experiences with this particular studio. They made me feel welcome and at home in this new environment. When the instructor joined us, she greeted people by name, introduced herself to me personally, and asked how we each were doing. She remembered individual people’s physical and emotional challenges and inquired about their status with genuine concern. She asked if anyone had anything specific they wished to focus on during the day’s practice.
There were no mirrors on the walls. There was no judgment. There was only warmth and kindness.
As we engaged in our practice I made sure to not look around me. I didn’t want to know how others were doing; I wanted to focus inwards and on myself. But at one point, I happened to inadvertently glance around the room.
It was while we were in a standing twist. I saw that only about half the attendees were attempting the pose. A few people were in child’s pose. One was in shivasana. A few were in different poses entirely.
I had a rush of recognition. I had found my people. I had found my studio. Whatever I needed to do on any given day, wherever I was at any moment, I knew I would be accepted.
Finally, after years of attempting to form a regular yoga practice, my yoga mat has become my haven. Finally, I am realizing the benefits I’ve heard others speak of and I am enjoying yoga not as a chore, but as a relief from chores. It is my space of freedom and acceptance. It is where I am most myself on any given day. It is where I best understand all I am feeling and all I am surrounded by.
I still cried during a few classes, primarily when I wasn’t able to hold downward dog. I have been impatient with myself. But, I have been able to accept that these are two different challenges; a physical challenge and an emotional one. I have been encouraged to be kind to myself as I address either or both of those challenges on any given day.
And then I’ve tried again. And again. And again.
Thus, today, for the first time ever, I found myself in downward dog and not needing to transition into child’s pose. As we ended our time in downward dog and moved into the next pose, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Our instructor touched my shoulder as she walked by, briefly making eye contact with me and nodding approval. I knew she understood. I knew my moment was a shared one.
For the first time in a long time, the Narcissist’s voice in my head fell silent. There was no criticism to give. I had achieved something special for me and all I heard were the feelings of joy and relief inside me, shouting and dancing in celebration.
Healing is not linear. Nor is getting better at anything. But today, I achieved an important milestone. I showed myself I’m capable of change and improvement. I conquered a personal challenge and I did it slowly, gently, with love and patience.
Exactly as one is supposed to in yoga.