I often ask my students why they love yoga and why they want to dive deeper into their yoga practice. I always love hearing each answer as it gives me an insight into their experience and how I can support them. Today I want to tell you about the answer that affected me the most. Her answer was “I do yoga so I can bend and not break.
The first part about this answer that affected me, is it reminded me how often I hear people say they don’t do yoga because they “aren’t flexible enough” or “aren’t bendy enough”. Each time I hear this my heart breaks a little. This is the image of yoga that is so often portrayed. The images of bodies wrapped up in poses that appear inaccessible, and sets an expectation of the “yoga body” and “yoga ability” that is so far from the intention of a yogic lifestyle. As much as I could rant on about this for hours, I will leave this for another day.
The truth behind it all
To dive in, first let’s back up a few decades to my first experience with yoga. To one of the hardest times in my life.
Looking back now, I can tell you that during this time I was severely depressed and didn’t see a future in front of me.
A friend came over to check on me because she hadn’t heard from me for a while. It was awkward, I didn’t know what to say. She tried everything, and it was like I was inside a tunnel and couldn’t hear her. After about an hour she asked me to please come with her to yoga. I really really didn’t want to. But there was something in her eyes that had me go anyway.
I didn’t really know what to expect, which in hindsight was perfect.
What I didn’t know until several years later was that my friend was scared. She could see my suffering and she was terrified. She didn’t know what to do, or how to help. She could see that I was not ok and didn’t want to leave me alone. This invitation, her insisting, and the hours that followed saved my life.
The waves flowing in and out
As we entered the class, I found a spot in the back corner, where the lights were a bit darker and placed my mat. I followed my friends lead grabbing bolsters and blocks and then sat on my mat.
After a few minutes, I noticed my friend talking with the teacher, and how they glanced over at me as they spoke. Wanting to hide I turned away. Over the next hour, we were lead through using our breath as the momentum of our movement. After a few minutes, the teacher said to allow our breath as it flows in and out like waves, and it is here that my trance begins. Each breath felt like it was washing through me like, and like I was floating above my mat.
And then it happened, the waterworks. Uncontrollable tears began streaming out of my eyes.
The eye of the storm
When class ended, I wanted to get as far from there as I could. I quickly packed up my things, and it was just as I was done that, I noticed the snail pace my friend was packing up. I could have screamed. Didn’t she know I was mortified?
Finally, she was ready, and we headed to the lobby. She had taken so long that it was just the two of us and the teacher.
As my friend walked to the shoe rack the teacher turned to me and asked me about my experience in the class, and I froze! What was I supposed to say? How could I possibly explain how I felt and not sound crazy?
I just stood there, mouth open and no words. I kept hoping someone would say something. Please, just say something! It seemed like forever was passing by.
And then the teacher said, can I offer you a cup of tea? Still unable to speak, I just nodded.
The smell of citrus
Still frozen I watched as she took out a jar filled with orange peals and dried berries. I remember the smell in the room as she opened the jar. It felt like a warm hug. I took a seat in the corner of a little nook by the window. After a few minutes, they both joined me.
Over the next half hour, our teacher told her story. How she had been hurt, how she had felt irreparably broken and completely lost. Each word she spoke felt like a mirror to me. It was almost unbearable to be with. But then something changed, she began to tell me about the teacher who had entered her life. How she had shared the teachings of yoga with her. And then she said something that I will never forget, “I learned that my practice was to notice the tiny little light inside of me and love it”.
As we poured the last cup of tea and her story came to an end, she asked to be my teacher. She asked to share this gift with me, just as it had been shared with her.
I am a work in progress
Over the next couple of years, this incredible woman stood next to me in my darkness. In my resistance, my grief, and anger and never once wavered in holding a space for me to be with anything. She held me with loving tenderness even as she challenged me when I needed it most.
Yoga has been a part of my life since that first class. Sometimes playing a big role, and sometimes tucked away in the closet waiting to be needed again. Even through all of the times that I used the lessons she shared with me, I didn’t actually get it until the moment my student spoke.
I do yoga so I can bend and not break!