I’ve been practicing yoga casually for about a year now. Before that, I was skeptical about the benefits yoga could offer me. I was so focused on cardio exercise for my physical and mental health that I stuck with the gym, Pilates, and spin classes. Yoga, I thought, couldn’t possibly be enough of a workout to satisfy me.
Sometime last year, while dealing with my long-time anxiety and depression head-on for the first time in my life, I realized that in addition to talk therapy and journaling and exercise, I needed something more. I was in need of a way to relieve the tension in my mind and body. So starting last February, I found myself attending class once a week at a beautiful Anusara studio near my office.
A year later, I’ve finally been bit by the bug. I spend most of my monthly play money on yoga classes and yoga-friendly workout gear. Some days, when my anxiety is at its worst, the only true release I can find is in a yoga studio, focused on my breathing and the simple/not so simple task of making my body fold and stretch and bend into the myriad poses and shapes.
About a month ago, I tried out a studio just two blocks from my house, and I have officially fallen in love. This studio is primarily Hatha, so the classes are more of a flow, and it’s hard - at least for me it is. I’ve been trying to get there twice a week. Already I can see myself wanting to up that number to three or four. I’m sweatier and more sore than ever before in a yoga class, and I couldn’t be happier.
The night I attended my first all levels flow class, I was so intimidated. The beautiful, incense perfumed studio was warm and welcoming on a cold winter night, and the music immediately put me at ease. As I was setting up my mat, I realized that several of the others filling in the space around me were clearly more athletic than I am - taller, leaner, stronger. A few of them had to be ballet dancers, their sinewy limbs and beautifully hollowed cheeks a dead giveaway. I immediately began to doubt myself. It got worse when the instructor, Natalia, lined out the plan for class - working toward handstands, headstands and crow position - none of which I am able to do yet.
I very nearly got up and left.
But there was something Natalia said as she put forth the intention for the evening, something that resonated with me and made me want to stay and at least try. She said, “The trick is not to get caught up in your story, but to observe it.”
When she said that, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head as I came to a profound realization about myself, which I later discussed with my sister, who is also a yoga instructor. My realization was that I always worry about things before they happen. I expend so much energy worrying about what’s ahead, but then, inevitably, I manage to get through whatever comes with so much less trouble than I anticipated. The worrying is always, always worse than the thing itself.
The moment Natalia said “headstand,” I panicked. My anxiety took over, even though reason and logic told me that I’d be okay, that I’m probably not the only person in an all-level class who can’t do that headstand yet, and that variations would be available to me. None of that logic mattered. None of it was loud enough to shut out the worry and anxiety that consumed me.
“The trick is not to get caught up in your story, but to observe it.” That’s the point of yoga, and why it’s so good for me. It’s about accepting and facing our pain, rather than fighting it or trying to run from it or change it. It’s about letting things happen, rather than worrying about what’s going to happen. It’s about knowing I’m strong enough to face what’s coming, even if I don’t execute each moment with perfection. The perfection is in the attempt.
For this year, I’m going to try and observe more and get caught up less. I’m going to try and climb out of my head here and there and just let things be, let them come. I’m going to fight against my instinct to worry and fret over things that are totally out of my control. Because the fact of the matter is, I had a choice that night. I could have bailed on that class and thereby missed out on all the things I did well, including the best shoulder stand in the room, thank you very much. Or I could stay and try, and know that each time I tried, it would get easier.
I’m so thankful I stayed.