I’m staring face-down at a yoga mat, willing my hamstrings to stretch to new lengths. The hypnotizing chants of Eastern music have done nothing to ease my strain. I’m trying. I’m trying very hard.
And that is exactly the problem. “Abby,” the instructor says in the middle of my pose. “Relax your neck.”
Against my instincts, I drop my head down to within an inch of the mat. Suddenly my back is stretching instead of my head, and I’m feeling better.
I hate when yoga instructors are right.
In fact, I thought I hated yoga instructors and the yoga they teach. I have only done yoga one other time, and it was because I wanted to see what all the women from work were getting so excited about as the clock neared 5PM every day. Unfortunately, it was hot yoga. So what? I thought. I’ll sweat a little.
Not only did I sweat more than Niagara Falls in springtime, I also received the yoga blessing of watching others’ sweat fling over onto my mat. I smelled acidic perspiration that no human should ever have to inhale. And when I committed the yoga-sin of reaching for my water bottle after enduring a horrific pose, the instructor actually yelled at me. A scary, tiny, female, Asian instructor with the fiercest six-pack I have ever seen in my life yelled at me in the middle of class. I found it ironic that I was paying money to relax while being harassed.
I vowed never to return.
And yet, here I am in the middle of a non-hot yoga class, feeling the stretch. How did I get here?
In case you haven’t noticed (like here, here, and here), I am an intense individual. I am a control-freak, and I tend to carry all of my problems between my shoulder blades — right at the base of my neck. I take nearly everything seriously, usually to my own detriment.
For example, during one of our pre-marriage counseling sessions in 2007, we took a personality test and I rated off the charts in self-discipline. Guess what I felt when the therapist told me this? Blushing pride. I felt like the valedictorian of pre-marriage counseling. You can imagine my surprise when she looked at Mike with total sincerity and said, “This is going to cause many problems for you.”
What? Don’t you mean, This is going to solve many problems for him as I take over his life?…oh. I get it.
It’s been two years since that counseling session and I haven’t made much progress in the way of stress. And since I never want to be the lady who can only relax after two martinis, I decided to take control. Wait, there it is again. Do you see my language? Amendment: I decided to release control.
“Abby,” the instructor said quietly again. “Let your head hang.”
Shoot — I’m in a completely different position and yet I’m tense again. I start to laugh this time, because it is exactly my personality that I would be focusing so hard on doing the yoga correctly that I tense up from the effort and miss the point entirely.
I’m here with my sister-in-law, Rachel, who agreed to give this new excerise a try with me. We are both long-distance runners, and neither of us has the ability to calm ourselves and sit in peace for five minutes. So, as skeptical as we were that this had anything to offer athletes like us, we went.
I tend to be of the opinion that yoga is pseudo-excercise, that it’s for people who refuse to admit that they’re not really working out. All of the breathing and moving of the arms can’t possibly be doing anything except tricking people into believing that they’re burning calories and achieving inner peace. Plus, as someone who loves the Lord, I’m not into the “emptying of the mind” that so often accompanies this practice. I’ve learned to fill up with the Spirit, not empty everything out.
It’s about an hour into the class when I realize some of the motions are making my muscles burn like warm embers, the kind of burn where I know I’m building strength. Then we move into a stretch that I don’t have to think very hard about, and I realize I can make this my own and just pray. Who needs to empty their mind when there is so much of God to fill it?
Thirty minutes later the instructor tells us to lay on our mats for “everyone’s favorite position.” She walks around to all five of us and places a bolster under our knees for back support. As soon as my back hits the mat, I feel the most intense vibrations moving through my body. It’s the most drug-like state I can imagine, and I cannot explain why I’m feeling this way.
In my mind I am suddenly transferred back to being four years old, and it’s nap time at my preschool. The only reason any of us kids looked forward to nap time was because all of the nannies would come around and lightly rub our backs to help us fall asleep. That was the exact feeling I felt as I lay on the mat in yoga, like someone was sitting with me, giving me a tiny massage or playing with my hair. If you’ve ever let someone play with your hair, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s sublime.
In that moment I had to face the humiliating truth, the admission I never thought I’d make as long as I live: I’m doing yoga — and I like it.