East Meets West: An Ode to Yoga (Part One)

I didn’t plunge headfirst into West coast clichés, though the ones thrust upon me weren’t wretched (dogs everywhere! I mean everywhere; in shops, offices, tucked in carts in the grocery store. Weed everywhere! I mean everywhere; in a less than a 10 block radius there were at least four marijuana dispensaries and it was smoked right out in the open creating masses of little cumulous clouds). The big cliché, or lifestyle that I tiptoed into, which, without doubt, has left the deepest impact, dare I say in all my life: yoga.

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Back in university, one of my movement classes (which were three hours long Monday morning, ugh) commenced with 60 minutes of gentle yoga which my 20-year-old hungover self, was not into. Sporadically (being the key word) I would sweat and curse my way through a solo evening practice. Yes, it was hard, but I liked the way that I felt when completed: rung out. 

In St. John’s I reserved my sweating and cursing and being rung out to dancing at Lottie’s and pounding Quidi Vidi Honey Brown’s at O’Reilly’s. I allowed myself to imbibe in a different methodology of movement and mediation (right…).

And then Vancouver, the Canadian yoga capital, chock full of hundreds of yoga studios tantalized me.  Practicing yoga, to me with my preconceived notions meant sleek bodies, ease and grace, rad athleisure ware, a chill and peaceful time. I’d consistently worked out for the better part of my adult life-I could run 30 minutes without stopping- surely I’d be a natural at this new endeavor in my new city.

Isn’t it cute to have 20/20 hindsight and see how naïve we once were?

It was so deeply hard. Yoga challenged everything. Those first few classes I’d never felt weaker. Less at home in my body (that’s saying a lot). More in my head with awful thoughts yelling at me in surround sound. The room was packed with all those sleek bodies who were so in their groove, floating easefully from one pose to the next and I was feeling as graceful and uncoordinated as a dump truck grunting and sweating up a hill in the wrong gear.

And as a fun plot twist: going to yoga class made me sob. I don’t mean a trickle of a tear in frustration. I mean guttural, deep in your core sniveling like a child all-consuming crying. Exquisitely awful.  I vividly remember one instance where, while I was snotting away, the kind yoga teacher put his hands on my back, offering comfort and support, and this poor elderly lady was just horrified and concerned about why the tall sweaty tomato-face blonde girl was blubbering unabashedly, but very apologetically.

 Photo courtesy of Lung Liu, graciously reposted with permission.

Photo courtesy of Lung Liu, graciously reposted with permission.

I would nine times out of ten, weep in class. That’s draining, literally and figuratively; not to mention embarrassing. When was the last time that you wept in a room full of strangers? Acutely aware of the fact that you were disturbing them and all the reasons they were there to practice yoga.  I couldn’t do that to myself, and to the other students, I just didn’t have it in me. Or rather, I did, I had it all in me, chose to keep it all in; the tears, frustration, sadness, grief, anger, doubt. Swirl, swirl captive in my heart and limbs, blood and bones.

It wasn’t until two years later, two years ago, that my brief and pitiful flirtation with yoga bloomed into a full-blown love affair. My world had shifted and my perspective was flung wide open. I was ready to do the work. I accepted that I would continue to be humbled. Deeply. I wailed and sniveled my way through that first class and was held and supported by a new friend and a new community.

I stuck with it. I challenged myself; the perceptions of self, physicality, tenderness, and surrender.

Yoga, indeed, has been the good, the bad and the ugly. But so much more than that, yoga is the beautiful, the grateful, the love and the courage. I’ve found, in mind and body, strength, flexibility, and joyful challenges as the body and the psyche shift, evolve and integrate. 

I’ve chased this passion around BC, its coasts and islands. I’ve journeyed to Nicaragua and Indonesia, seeking the new and unfamiliar instead of retreating into the comfortable.

I have a community, but more than that a family. A family who has carried me held me and cried with me. They celebrate and dance with me, as I do them. This family has eradicated a loneliness that no longer needs is a debt that needs to be paid. I have released the shame of being supported, both the support that I’ve asked for and the kind that has sought me out and nourished me when I didn’t know it was there.

Years ago, amid the tears and tremors, I croaked to a friend “I just want to be empty!!”. But to be empty would to not be who I am. That vastness of emotions, and yes, tears are woven into me. I no longer scoff at it. Rather, I swath myself in the blessings and wisdom.

I’ve survived my terrible twos of yoga. I haven’t even had a tear-tantrum in months (and again, it’s ok if I do. That’s just where I was at, and I’m sure will be again).  I’m now a toddler of this practice (maybe that’s why I still suck at balance poses...) And I’m ok with that because I’m growing, evolving.  I’m becoming more me than I ever have been. Gratefully.

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