This—a raw, intense Bikram yoga class during which I peaked, I pushed through, I relaxed, I became myself again.
My one intention in yoga tonight was to remind myself, as often as needed, to send the breath to where it hurt—and, headed into class, my body hurt quite a bit. Six hours in a car yesterday, coupled with a weekend spent chasing after a three-year-old boy and swinging a 7-month-old baby from hip to hip, added to a blisteringly hot and humid and draining yoga class yesterday afternoon, left me sore and aching today. But, still, all I wanted was that hot room.
And so I strode into it, bold and determined. I placed my mat directly beside the teacher’s podium. I stared myself straight in the eyes. And when she said to focus on nothing else but my body for the next 90 minutes, I obeyed.
The teacher kept us moving at a brisk, challenging clip, and the humidity hovered between 70 and 80 degrees the entire class. But, interestingly, I barely noticed. Every ounce of energy I had I poured into my muscles. During bow pulling pose, my kicking leg came as close to straight as I’ve ever experienced. And balancing stick felt absolutely awesome—with one subtle shift, my hips fell into a perfectly even line. Even tree pose, usually such an after-thought for me considering by that point all I want to do is collapse on all fours and call it quits, offered up its own treat when I stood with my hips and shoulders parallel, my pelvis pushed forward and open, my standing leg nicely locked, my breathing quiet and calm.
And, thankfully, finally, for the first time in what seems like months, I didn’t fall apart when we did hit our mats.
My floor series in tonight’s class was probably my strongest since my 30-day challenge. It helped that the teacher regulated the temperature perfectly and gave us a nice, cool reprieve while we laid still. It also helped that I barely had anything to drink during class—nothing in the standing series, just one tiny sip before the first two-minute savasana and then one equally tiny sip before fixed firm and that was it. And so my belly was empty and dry, which suits me oh so much more than a weighted and water-filled tummy.
The little lessons I continue to learn, again and again.
Like that—water doesn’t work all that well for me during class. And, I need to balance between 90 percent listening to the dialogue and 10 percent giving myself my own silent encouragement. And, I really must get to class at least four times a week, at the very minimum. And, perhaps most importantly, I enjoy my practice so much more when I consistently remind myself: it’s just yoga.
Some days, I muck my head and heart up by thinking too much, caring too much, by over-analyzing, by trying too damn hard, concerning myself with everyone else instead of just me. (And, yes, I mean in and out of the hot room.)
Tonight, nothing mattered but my body. My tired, cramped, soft body. My sore, stiff, still body. My flushed legs, my glassy eyes, my tight hips. Me—all 5 feet and 11 inches of limbs and long hair and long fingers and toes. All mine, nurtured and natural.
I asked my father this past weekend if he thought my sisters and I excelled at sports more because we were naturally athletic or because we benefited from good coaches. After a moment, my father responded that he thought it was probably a combination of the two. Then, after another pause, he said, “But, you know, you got started nice and early with those Jane Fonda videos and were so buff by the time you were five, your swim coach thought we had you lifting weights.”
I hadn’t thought of my obsession with Jane Fonda’s workout videos in quite some time, and my father and I enjoyed a good laugh at memories of me in my bathing suit and knee socks—I did my five-year-old best to emulate the 80s fitness icon’s workout gear—doing jumping jacks, head stands, crunches, stretches, and more for hours on end. I memorized the dialogue for each workout, which lasted between 60 and 120 minutes, knew every single move and position, could even impersonate the way Jane counted the sets and shouted encouragements. Nutty, I know.
Of course, I had no idea what “exercise” was. Rather, as a clumsy and rambunctious kid who lived in the country and had two older sisters who could tolerate only so many pleas to come play, I just thought the videos were, well, fun. Cool, even. An easy, entertaining way to expend energy.
But, beyond that, I also thought Jane and the ladies in her videos were so beautiful. They lifted their thin arms as lightly and smoothly as ballerinas. They arched their long, white necks like swans. I envied their quiet, gentle movements. And I thought they were each so lovely, so graceful, so in control of their bodies, of the exact placement of each muscle and breath.
Now, more than two decades later, I’ve come into my own grace.
And, although I’ve ditched the swim suit and stockings, although I’ve forgone my days as an “athlete,” I’m still on a mat.
I’m still working hard and sweating. I’m still breathing deeply, fully. I’m still striving for those quiet, gentle movements. I’m still hopeful I’ll find…something within the power of my own body.
I’m more naturally me then, now.