Want to follow another yoga challenge?

Friends, family, strangers, yogis, and the like:  Guess what?  I’m still practicing yoga!  Are you still coming here to read about it?

Might I suggest wandering over here instead…

It’s quite a modest party, but you’re welcome to join all the same.  I like company.

Update: A new blogging adventure!

You didn’t really think it would end at that, did you?

E-mail me at hannahjustbreathe at gmail dot com if you would like to know  where to find me and my next blogging adventure!

The last call.

My writing portfolio, from childhood to adulthood, is thick with rich, excited beginnings, with dense character sketches, and scraps of paper scratched over with snippets of unfinished dialogue, overheard one-liners, last thoughts, first lines, and the middlings of many, many stories.

Endings are scarce.  Completed works are a rarity, a collector’s item.

Seldom have I ever been able, in life or on the page, to successfully tie together the finales of anything: relationships, friendships, jobs, eras, romances, reasonings.  Rather, my modus operandi, however untidy, is to let things erode with time, on their own, naturally.  Let people drift, by and by, until they’re invisible, gone.  Continue working and reworking and refining and re-editing.  Move with the change, clumsily even, rather than push against it.  Allow—enable?—a ragged, jagged series of last tears instead of the cold, clean break.

I am trying, at 32, to pick up the ax and use it, with good aim.

And so, with the start of this year comes the end of Hannah, Just Breathe.  Admittedly, I tried to do this before.  (Actually, I’ve contemplated an end ever since the beginning.)

Although I started out attempting anonymity here, at some point the blogger-persona and the real-me-persona melded, molded, and Hannah, Just Breathe and I, together, became hopeful, heartfelt travelers through yoga practicing, moving, dating, aging, settling, dismantling, and rebuilding.  We were honest, nervous, never untrue. We were passionate, opinionated, sad, joyous, struggling, succeeding, wrong, right, and wholly our own.

I asked nothing and yet received reprieve, encouragement, friendship, wisdom, critique, love, inspiration, and good cheer.

But now, five long, eventful years have passed, with me still keying away at this same blog.  The reasons for her beginnings no longer match the blogger, writer, yogi, or woman I am now.  She, this space, feels old, tired, stretched too thin, threadbare.  My readership has come and gone, again and again; the blogosphere has evolved; my writing interests have expanded—and here this blog remains, dusty, heavy with the past, burdened down by a rusting archive stuffed with nearly 700 posts.

Meanwhile, I have other writing projects I want to begin, a new blog I am launching (!!), a new phase of my life to write and share and understand.

Quite plainly, our time is up.

Hannah, Just Breathe: you have served me well.

I’m taking the ax to several other things in my life these days.  But I am choosing not to think of this particular ending as a trip to the guillotine.

Rather, I want to close this blog as I began it:

Gently, quietly, hopefully, an eye on the possibilities ahead, with a lot of breath, a lot of heart, a leap of courage, and full faith that letting go has so much less to do with what you’re losing and has everything to do with all, all, that’s worth gaining.

p.s.  This voice?  These lyrics?  The perfect parting song.

p.p.s.  E-mail me at hannahjustbreathe at gmail dot com if you want to stay in touch!

The one-liner heartbreak.

Sometimes, when I wake in the belly of the night and find my sheets in tatters, and my pillow damp, my hair knotted and salty and stuck to my lips, my body wrangled, and my bedroom suddenly sounds and tastes like a churning, furious ocean dragging me under, then I think this feels like death:  like you passed, and with you a half of me, too, and I am left with no resolution or closure or last words, with no sea bottom, no coast line; only a starless sky, only your surreal, sudden departure, and all these new depths, all this emptiness, dark and cold and consuming—

And then I lay awake, floating, the waves of memory, of mourning, rocking beneath me, thinking:

I am going through the motions of onward progression; but look, I am right where you left me—

So, come back—please.

This is the story I know well.

One of my favorite yoga teachers once told me that, in yoga, we all become story-tellers.

In class recently, as she strode among our mats, pressing her flat palms against the rise of our backs, pulling at our upturned hips, smoothing the line of our spines, she said, “Thank you for coming and sharing your story with me tonight.”

We rippled, shuffled, a murmur of limbs adjusting, of lungs filling—we weren’t speaking.  What story-sharing was she talking about?

“This is the story I know well,” she continued.  “The story of your arrival, the story of your work, the story of your yoga.”

It was such a fitting observation, considering I have been thinking of my yoga story a lot lately, largely because I just finished Benjamin Lorr‘s “Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga.”  Part-memoir, part-research, and part-expose, “Hell-Bent” tells quite a story about Ben’s personal journey through discovering and practicing yoga, as well as many other stories about Bikram Choudhury, about other yogis (professionals and average practitioners), about Bikram’s teacher training program, about extreme back-bending, about yoga-induced weight loss, about science and physiology and philosophy and the deep, confusing, fascinating history of yoga itself.

Even if you aren’t a yogi, the average reader would likely appreciate the humor, candor, strangeness, and humanity of Ben’s tale and of the yoga world he picks apart and analyzes.

I admit, however, now that I’ve finished it, that I have struggled to pinpoint exactly how I felt about the book.  Did I love it (hundreds of pages devoted to my yoga!)?  Did I hate it (learning truths about people in my yoga community, truths that I don’t care to know)?  Why did I blow through some parts and struggle reading through other parts?

I was impressed at the effort, of course.  (Bravo, Ben!)  A bit jealous of the byline, the yogi-turned-published-author?  Absolutely.  Entertained and educated throughout, indeed.  Inspired to haul my own knotted body into the hot room?  Yes, a thousand times over.

But…what about the story itself?

That has been my struggle.  And, I’ve finally found my answer.

Here’s the thing:

We each have our yoga story.

Many of them start the same:   We wandered/stumbled/were dragged into a hot room, usually by someone who loves us, someone who knew the yoga would work on our tired bodies, our battered hearts.  The first class passed in a haze of sweat, nausea, emotion, frustration, amazement, confusion, terror, humor, maybe even humiliation—largely because we watched, in stunned wonder, as the yoga waged war on our big, old American egos and won.  We left swearing we’d never return.

Later, we felt transformed.

Later still, we did return.  Whether it took one day or 100 days or even a whole year. We came back, maybe to a different studio, maybe with a different companion, maybe even more tired and more battered than we were the first time around.  But, we came back to the yoga.  And kept coming back.

And then, our mats became churches, our holy place of communion with our true self.  Our practices became our best friends: we are wholly devoted to one another.  Our teachers morphed into prophets.  We each became willing, eager, dutiful students.  The studios shifted into homes, communities, places of refuge.

The yoga takes hold, and we hold it back, and we become obsessed with breaking down, understanding, knowing, memorizing, and honoring every last little detail.  It is one of the greatest love stories I’ve heard told over and over and over again.

Throughout the six-plus years of my own practice, I have read countless blogs, books, essays, magazines, and articles about this one subject.  It astounds me, even now, that so many people—present self included!—are so eager to talk and write about their yoga, “get” it, analyze it, share its teachings, praise the lessons we’ve learnt from it.

And for what?  Why?  (Side note:  the irony of this question is not lost on me, given I’ve devoted nearly five year’s worth of blog posts to own my yoga practice.)

Especially given yoga is, I think, an incredibly intimate form of therapy, both physical and emotional.  A dedicated yoga practice is grueling, messy, difficult, wondrous, and profoundly life-changing.  Old injuries resurface, old hurts bruise anew, a past long buried suddenly and completely cracks through the walls we built to protect ourselves from those old wars, those old ways.  On our mats, we can’t hide; we face and work through it all.  (Although “Hell-Bent” tends to focus more on the physical effects of the yoga, the moments when he touches on the emotional blowbacks of a particularly intense class or workshop are incredibly touching and real.)

Why are we so inclined to share the arduous steps of that journey, that transformation?  Why do we ask others to bear witness?  Are we seeking validation?  Are we seeking praise?

Are we so enamored with our yoga, so enthralled by our practice, that we’re blinded by our adoration, our pride?  We are in love—with this yoga, with this new self!  And we want all the world to see!  Is that it?

“Hell-Bent” is an attempt to answer all sorts of questions, about Bikram yoga, about yoga’s vast history and complex origins, about the author’s own skepticisms, about the actual physiological ramifications of doing 50 back-bends a day or logging 6+ hours in a room heated above 100 degrees.  The book also provides a rare inside look into the Bikram Yoga community through copious interviews, research, quotes, and first-hand experiences and, in doing so, validates that this yoga is powerful, yes, but power can lead to corruption, hatred, extreme and unhealthy behaviors.  I found these explorations interesting, if not a little overdone.  I appreciated Ben’s meticulous research.  I liked that he did answer a lot of questions—but also left a lot unanswered, unsaid, open to the reader’s own conclusions.  I applaud his honesty.  His writing strikes a nice balance between journalistic, comedic, and soulful.  And, throughout, his wit and willingness to poke fun at himself and at the yoga community he’s a part of helped buoy a narrative that, like many a yoga-memoir before it, could have started sinking onto the bottom shelf of the self-help aisle.

However, I realized, come the book’s end, that the one question that plagued me—the one question that has, over the last many months, swayed me away from this here blog—is:  So, what?

And what I mean by that is:

We each have our yoga story.  And no two are alike.

But why are we so compelled to tell them?

In the good moments, I found myself throughly engrossed in “Hell-Bent,” to the point I couldn’t put it down or couldn’t wait to get into the hot room to determine if I saw or felt my practice differently, based on what I’d read.

And, in other moments, it was as though I just left a tough yoga class, and I’m sitting outside the hot room, satisfied and satiated and utterly spent, grinning stupidly, sweat dripping from my ears and my fingertips, my mind empty, my skin tingling, and suddenly I hear people going on and on about how they hated *this* or *that* about the class or thought the room was just too damn hot or didn’t understand WHY they couldn’t talk to each other or couldn’t *believe* the X, Y, and Z of the yoga that I love and that has changed my life.  The yoga and the community that has, for the most part, treated me quite well.

It took me a long time (read: a lot of yoga) to understand that type of reaction wasn’t wrong or bad.  It was, quite simply, that man or woman’s individual experience.  It was, simply, his or her story, and it didn’t matter whether I agreed.

Ben’s story and the various stories he tells in his book are just that:  his.  And I have mine.  And you have yours.  And we all tell them differently.

None are right or wrong, better or worse, bigger or smaller, more or less justified at being told in the first place.  None are more or less deserving.  We can’t expect that every last story will resonate.  But, each should be respected.

It all comes back to the yoga, of course.   The point isn’t the story we’re telling (or selling).  In the same way that the point isn’t how deep you can curl your spine in your backbend or how high you can kick your leg in dancer or how lightly you leap into chaturanga dandasana.  The point isn’t how much weight you lose, how cute your clothes are, whether the teacher knows your name, or how wet your mat is by class end.

The point is that you showed up.  That you came back, despite fears, against reservations, a pebble of hope caught in your shoes.

The point is that you arrived honestly, that you bared your blackest, bloodiest demons and your best, truest self and didn’t turn either away, that you opened your heart again—so much so, in fact, that you fell in love, over and over.

And who, really, doesn’t want to tell that story to anyone willing to listen?

My all.

When you give your all—you sweat, you work, you drive hard, you silence that shrill, scared voice of “No more, I can’t!”  You get dirty; you find yourself covered in the dust of effort.

When you give your all—

You hurt, you groan, you fracture, and then you break.  The everything of you explodes, and scatters, in ashes, everywhere.

When you give your all—you exude confidence, bravery, strength, assurance and steadiness in tone, manner, point, and purpose of self.  Because you are you, in totality, awesome, without apology.

When you give your all—you willingly accept vulnerability, because you are so resolute in your belief that, no matter the chill from all that nakedness, you will be okay.  You believe this so fully, in fact, that even as you shiver, even as you stand tall within the wide, frightening openness of honesty, you know, no matter the outcome, that soon enough, you will peel yourself raw all over again.

When you give your all—

You dive—you want to dive deep, you want to explore, you want no inch uncovered, you want to get lost, and you want everything to surprise and humble you, because this is it:  this is reality, and you are standing squarely within it, open-armed, ready, and those relentless, pounding waves of recourse are held at bay by the power of the present, by this heft of this one moment.

When you give your all—you gain much more than you lose.

When you give your all—

You are so caught up in the excitement of what may come from your efforts, your good intentions, your faith in that one person and in all the possibility, that you forget how fast and how far you will fall when your expectations, your wants, your hopes, provide no firm ground—when you find yourself plummeting and realizing there is no cushion beneath you to brace the landing, because you left it, up there, with everything else.

And you leap anyway.

When you give your all—you rinse clean.  You feel entirely, thrillingly separate from the you before.

When you give your all, you know, at day’s end:  I presented myself honestly, authentically.  I was true.  I did not waver in my convictions.   And that is, really, all that matters.

When you give your all—

The all of you goes.

You empty.

I must believe that is because you are now able to fill yourself with the good that comes back and is worth keeping and with the unexpected and beautiful new that you now have room to embrace, to store, to pack back into the foundation of self and heart (which, exhausted and weakened from exertion, need some restructuring attention).

Because after the all, I can say, with absolute certainty:

“I held none of me back.  I acted with the brave trueness of my heart.  I did my best.  I left every last piece on the floor, on the table, in your mouth, in your god damn lap, in the tight, sad cling of your embrace.  I gave everything.  There’s nothing left.”

And I’m proud.

Because these efforts are all mine.

I may be empty, but everything in me knows:  I will fix and fill myself again with my own, good, honest doing.

Did you taste as many as you could?

My mother told me of a quote the other day that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since.  I’ve never read any Louise Erdrich, but this one quote—this perfectly put synopsis of heartbreak and recovery and the why behind it all—has convinced me I need to add this author to my list.

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.

And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness.

Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

― Louise ErdrichThe Painted Drum LP

Have you?  Tasted as many as you could, I mean?

Or are you, like me, still hungry?