I have a thing about yoga.
My love for it is both boundless and fraught.
There is something about moving your body and breath in harmony that calms the mind. As the air flows deliberately in and out of your lungs and the sweat drips slowly along your skin, you start to inhabit your body once again.
For someone who lives in her head, yoga is an invitation to notice my toes, my spine, my ribs.
It’s a chance to be upside down. To balance on one foot. To roll around on on the floor.
It is joy.
But it’s also a place where my inner critic can be especially caustic. There’s always someone stronger, thinner, bendier, or wearing a cuter outfit than me. Progress doesn’t always happen in a straight line and some poses remain elusive after years of practice.
Worst of all, my critic compares my current practice to what it used to be. And it points out all the ways that I am weaker, less flexible and heavier than when I practiced at my beloved Tosa Yoga over ten years ago.
That critic can make me angry, but the feeling of struggling in poses I used to love also makes me sad. I find myself in the middle of one yoga session, missing another experience of yoga desperately.
It is the opposite of loving presence.
I wonder if there are many ways we give up things that give us joy because the bullying of our critic and the sadness at the changed experience is simply too much to bear.
Maybe you don’t dance anymore. When was the last time you road a bike? Or walked barefoot in the grass?
I haven’t been on a horse in over three years. Like yoga, I’m afraid to do it because I am likely to burst into tears, dismayed at my stiff, weak legs and distraught at how much I’ve missed the partnership with the horse.
I’m not ready for riding yet, but I did get back on the mat today. It was good to be back, moving through poses that are familiar even though I haven’t done them for years. I kept my eyes to myself and didn’t worry about what the others in the room were doing.
One pose nearly threw me off. It’s called half moon pose and I have always loved it. Listening to the instructor cue the move into the pose, I couldn’t quite find my balance. I couldn’t figure out how to position my block right and my balancing leg shook with the strain. I tried several times to raise my arm but finally had to come out of it, my confidence shaken.
After moving through the rest of the vinyasa, we came to that same pose on the other side. In a flash of muscle memory, I adjusted the block a slightly different way… and easily lowered my upper body while raising my right leg, stretching my right arm high over head.
It wasn’t a my best version of half moon, but it had that combination of strength and balance and stretch that makes me love it so.
That feeling, that ability, is still available to me, a fact that humbles me and gives me hope at the same time.
Maybe you find it easy to be in your body. If you do, take a moment to be grateful. But if you, like me, have always had an uneasy relationship with your physicality, my dearest wish is that you find your way back to your mat – whatever that mat may be.
We are made of matter and memory, sinew and soul. We lose our balance all too often in life, but the mat is still there, an invitation to begin anew.