I think the first time that I actually tried yoga was in college. I can’t exactly remember because I was distracted by two things.
- Many of the class members were linebackers for the A&M football team. Apparently, flexibility is important in football or some nonsense. It was very difficult for me to focus on my breathing when the guy on the mat next to me weighs 300 pounds and is doing a balance pose with pretzel arms.
- (I will try to keep this one as PG as possible). The yoga class had a health portion and I was distracted by the fact that the professor and my classmates were casually referring to…other forms of sex than the regular kind and I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT. It was actually quite a conundrum because I didn’t want to google it (LORD HAVE MERCY) so I ended up calling MY MOTHER as a 19-year-old college sophomore to ask her to give me a rudimentary rundown of all the different ways that people have sex. It was probably her proudest moment. #SexEd in #PublicEducation
Anyway, that was my first introduction to yoga. It obviously didn’t make as much as an impression on me as the Aggie linebackers and my terrible lack of knowledge about human sexuality.
The next time I remember giving it a serious go was when a friend invited me to a donation-based yoga class a few years ago. It was…okay but the teacher caught me staring at a man doing a headstand in the corner and cooed, “Keep your eyes on your own mat”, which I thought was very passive aggressive and very rude in a yoga-y kind of way. So I directed my silent farts in her general direction at the next available opportunity and then never returned to that particular studio.
In the past, I’ve always found yoga kind of hokey. I appreciated it for it’s exercise value, but when we did the breathing and the meditation parts, I would always kind of roll my eyes and then sing a song in my head. The “listen to your heart space” and “hands at heart center” kind of language made me cringe a little.
In January of 2017, someone on facebook shared a link to a youtube channel called Yoga by Adrienne, and shared in particular about a 30 day yoga challenge. I decided to give it a try, since I could do it at home after the boys had gone to bed. I liked it! I even gave the meditation portions the old college try and started to notice a difference in my ability to take a breath before I responded to stress. I am typically pretty hot-headed but I found myself being able to breath a little bit more before my head exploded.
And then I fell off the yoga wagon. Life got busy and stressful and I stopped doing it.
This summer, when stress levels from being at home with no social outlet were high, I decided that I wanted to do yoga again but I wanted to try it at a studio instead. I sought the advice of a yogi friend who recommended a local yoga studio (that also happened to have a Groupon). So I went and then I kept going. I noticed my body getting stronger but almost more importantly, I felt that sense of calm start to creep back in.
It is probably no coincidence that all of this coincided with a rather extensive second faith deconstruction that I’m still in the midst of (more on that in another post). For instance, when I heard the theory that God’s name “Yahweh” could literally have been a breath in and a breath out, the purposeful breathing part of yoga took on spiritual significance for me. I could practice yoga and meditate on God’s name at the same time.
I have definitely gotten better at yoga (or, in yoga-speak, “my practice has evolved”) but I did not start out that way and I still have my moments of shame. This week, both pairs of yoga pants that I wore had strings hanging down from the crotch, which I found both alarming and very distracting. (Silent yoga thoughts: Is there a hole in the crotch of these yoga pants and if so, who am I flashing during this forward fold?)
The pose that I’m best at is the very last pose of each class, which is called shavasana. It’s quite difficult. You basically lay on the floor like a dead person. Eyes closed, shallow-ish breath, not moving. Here is an instructional graphic for those of you who are visual learners.
I like to think about the first time a yoga class was held at a gym. Perhaps the janitor just happened to peek in the studio during the shavasana pose. Perhaps he was alarmed. Perhaps he called the police and said that there were a bunch of dead bodies laying on rubber mats in studio C. Perhaps they called the FBI who discovered a bunch of slightly sweaty, very zen people.
You would think that anyone could just plop themselves down on the floor and do shavasana pose but I actually was corrected once by a teacher. (I’m much more moldable now than I was when I did that donation class. I can take correction without feeling the overwhelming urge to send noxious fumes from my butt in the general direction of whoever has chastised me. #wisdom) She directed me to pull my shoulder blades together underneath my body, which caused my arms to splay out. I thought it was a little silly at first but you know what?
When you do that, it feels like the ground is hugging you.
I KNOW THAT SOUNDS WEIRD. STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES, YOU CLOSED-MINDED GRUMBLETONIAN, AND LISTEN FOR A MOMENT.
Here is the thing. I am always busy. I am always carting children around, slinging my 25 pound sack-of-potato baby over my shoulder at the grocery store, multi-tasking cooking dinner while simultaneously feeding the screaming baby and administering a spelling test. My life is chaotic and it’s quite easy for me to feel off-balance often, like I can never catch my breath.
Three to four times a week, after exercising my body and listening to my breath, I get to lay on the ground and just feel the ground beneath me. It is constant. It doesn’t matter if I do shavasana at home or at the yoga studio or in the baked bean aisle at Kroger. While I almost never slow down to think about it, I always have the ground with me. It is always there for me to lay upon, should I feel the need to do so.
There’s something magical about that kind of consistency and I’ve found lots of spiritual fodder in the imagery of steadily having a support, wherever I may find myself. (DON’T COME AT ME WITH, “WELL, WHAT ABOUT IF YOU WENT TO OUTER SPACE?”, YOU RUMBUMPTIOUS SAUCE-BOX. WE DON’T NEED A DEVIL’S ADVOCATE IN THIS BLOGPOST.)
There is lots in my spiritual life that feels up in the air but I have my breath and the ground that are consistently with me and I’m quite enjoying the simplicity in finding the divine in those two things. If God is as close to me as my next breath, then He fills my lungs and the lungs of every other person on Earth approximately 23,000 times a day. If God is as consistent and reliable as the ground, then that’s pretty darn consistent. I’ve yet to fall into a cartoon-like black hole where the ground has failed me and I think my odds are pretty good that may never happen.
If your eyes haven’t already popped out of your head from rolling them so hard, I encourage you to try shavasana. Find a quiet space. If you can’t do silence yet, find some yoga music. I like this song by Odesza alot. Lay on the floor. Tuck your shoulder blades under you so that you feel the ground underneath them. Let your arms and legs fall naturally. And then just try to empty your brain. Focus on your breath in and breath out. Feel your body sink into the ground and then feel and know that it’s always there to support you.
Boom. Yoga practice #evolved.