Last month I decided to take the plunge and take my previously private yoga practice public. As in signing up and paying money to go to a studio full of other people who know what they’re doing, who have perfect yoga bodies, who’ve never struggled with coordination, who don’t get anxious in situations where they don’t know anyone. (At least that’s what was true in my head.) There were plenty of reasons to stay in the solitude of my own home, including numerous painful memories associated with my attempts to participate in anything athletic. I can still feel the anxiety of the mandatory intramural sports I endured in junior high, the high school PE class, complete with locker room humiliation, volleyball games with the “young married” Sunday school class (Chris was sure he could teach me), golf outings on work trips with Chris where obnoxious businessmen with something to prove took it upon themselves to “help” me with what I was doing wrong. My experiences had taught me a painful lesson: it would not go well, I would end up feeling like a fool.
When we finished our basement a few years ago, we cancelled our Y membership and intentionally planned a really good fitness space, and I relaxed a little inside, knowing Chris and our kids would be the only ones to witness my awkward efforts to stay in shape. I tried various exercises and activities, even joined Chris in the insanity of P90X. At least, I tried to join him. Let’s just say I was reciting Tony’s phrase, “I presently struggle with…” for what felt like the majority of the exercises. He could say “Do your best, forget the rest” all he wanted, I didn’t buy it. Looking at the men and women on the screen and hearing all his extreme words too often produced feelings of frustration and hopelessness for me. At times, I did experience the thrill of surviving something really hard that I knew was good for me, yet kindness was noticeably absent.
This past month I have found myself in a space where I was painfully aware of how much I needed kindness. Kindness towards myself and my body, reflected in the words I think and speak about it, the care I take with it, the nurture and nourishment I provide it, and the importance of having that kindness dependent on something much deeper than successful numbers on a scale or clothing tag.
You see, my heart was aching, and since my heart and mind and body are all intricately connected, my body and mind were suffering as well. Anxious thoughts ran through my mind like a racing train, often in the middle of the night, leaving me sleep deprived. I could feel the shift in my body and any desire to care well for it. One night as I sat awake again in bed, trying to distract my mind enough to get back to sleep, the idea of yoga floated through my thoughts. I was determined, even desperate enough at that point that I needed something different, so I knew even going through the motions on my own with my iPad yoga app was not going to be enough.
I went online to a local studio where I knew one of the instructors to be a person I respect. I made a deposit online and committed myself even further by registering for several classes. This is where a level of shame can be somewhat helpful – I wouldn’t want to feel the shame of being seen as a quitter by not showing up! How ironic then that the first class I was registered for was cancelled for a power outage…of course! That provided just enough time for evil’s assault on my mind to begin: “You weren’t really going to go through with it anyway, you know you hate things like this, you know you’ll end up looking ridiculous, you might as well save yourself the humiliation and stay home.”
Alongside those words, I also heard, “It is not good to be alone…I will never leave you.” When I am suffering, not at my strongest or best, I know my tendency as an introvert is to retreat past a healthy “recharging” to isolation. I needed community now more than ever, and I needed kindness and care for my whole being.
The first class was terrible, for all kinds of reasons. And, I still had enough hope to propel me through the door one more time. As I moved my body through the flow of the poses, the instructor spoke about the importance of extending ourselves grace…another word for kindness. She shared about her own awareness of her body as a 40something woman, of the importance of good care, not harsh deprivation. She reminded us of the practice of breathing in gratitude, breathing out compassion…kindness. As I continued to move, I became very aware of all that I was feeling in my body, and the tears began to flow. In an effort to stop some of the pain I’d been carrying that felt like too much, I’d disconnected parts of my heart…and the gentle, kind and strong movement of yoga was connecting them again.
I was also experiencing the holiness of connection. Of having someone else’s face turned towards me, seeing me, and speaking Namaste, which simply means “the divine light in me sees and honors the divine light in you”. As Glennon Melton Doyle puts it so beautifully, it’s a simple practice of reminding ourselves of what is real, of seeing God in everyone. “Namaste. God in me recognizes and honors God in you.” My yoga app doesn’t do that.
Yesterday I was reminded of the second part of the thought, “It is not good to be alone…I will never leave you.” I felt the presence of Wild Jesus through the touch of a woman anointing my forehead with a simple cross and speaking the word “peace.” Our instructor called us to bind ourselves to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Master of Wholeness. Yoga itself simply means a yoke that connects heart, mind and body to something greater…today I am grateful to be connected to Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Bearer of Kindness.