Many people swear by yoga and have found great joy in it. My 2017 was splattered with everchanging subleases, chasing jobs and unrewarding dating attempts. My sanity and hopes to avoid moving back home were growing thin. Stillness had always been painted to me as sitting and thinking about nothing, which always made me laugh. So only people who have no stress and nothing to worry about can be “still?” It seemed pretty hopeless. I had never tried yoga and had only heard great things about its ability to reduce stress, so I thought I’d give it a shot...
I could hardly understand anything the yoga teacher said between her foreign yoga terms, incredibly echoey walls, and thick accent. She pushed us into poses that were very painful and would snap at us if we did something wrong. With slim to no muscle strength my arms were cramping, my legs were trembling, and several times I truly thought I was going to vomit. Weakness and helplessness overpowered my withering attempt to control my body. At any sight of a grimace she’d yell, “Stop crying!” She’d even snap at us if we looked at anybody else, which was particularly difficult when we couldn’t understand anything she said. Every swear word I knew raced through my head both at this militant yoga teacher and my own pathetic body.
Then she had us do a pose where you lay on your neck and hold your entire body up with your hands. I could not get my feet up. I kept falling, had no core strength, no balance, and scarcely any energy left. She came over and pulled my feet up to help me find it. Then she let go and my entire body crumbled immediately. She yelled, “Why won’t you put your legs up?!”
“Because I can’t!” It had been over an hour and my tolerance was quickly dwindling.
She bent down and sneered, “Stop it! Do not tell yourself you can’t do this or you won’t be able to do anything!”
A flood of tears and depreciating insults swarmed my head. My lack of control over my body translated to me that I couldn’t control anything in my life. This incredibly fit and gorgeous woman picked up my entire life with my legs and watched me fall, leaving me completely overwhelmed. I felt her “tough love” was a tad excessive. By this point, I had adamantly decided yoga would not be a part of my life.
Time passed and every friend who heard about it was appalled. They gushed that it was just a bad teacher and that yoga really is a lovely exercise. It took several months but a friend finally convinced me to give it another try.
The first thing the teacher said was that we should accept ourselves exactly as we are today regardless of what we consider our imperfections. She capitalized that we are all in different places physically, mentally, and emotionally, and if a pose is too hard or hurts, to respect our limits. Within the first two minutes, I felt a layer of anxiety leave my body. We maneuvered through numerous positions that allowed us to stretch our bodies to the “edge” but not enough to hurt. Over and over she said “what you can do today is plenty. Be accepting of where you are now.”
Because I wasn’t stressing about whether my body was going to collapse or whether I was doing the moves wrong, this bizarre hyper-awareness became present. I was thinking about my inhalations then my exhalations. I was pushing the stretches and really focusing on where I felt the discomfort and where my body’s flexibility stood. Is this what “listening to your body” means? The idea of stillness popped into my head and I realized—for the first time—what that felt like. This yoga class brought me a way to occupy my mind so my extraneous thoughts of anxiety and stress couldn’t come to the forefront.
This is the beginning of a journey for me. Now I am eager to hear other ways that people have found stillness and use it to enhance their everyday lives—not just when it gets really bad. Working hard and constantly is productive and necessary to reach our life’s goals. Being still is sometimes—perhaps always—just as productive. I hope you join me in the never-ending quest to be still.