Sunday, March 21, 2010
Learning To Yield
Given the title of this entry, you might be expecting me to prattle on about my vehicular pet peeve #1: people who cannot comprehend the distinct difference between “yield” and “merge”. Indeed, I could compose an entire dissertation on that topic and walk away feeling as if I’d done a great public service seeing as how at least 75% of the population blatantly ignore the entire concept of “yield”. Instead, my brain is fixed today on an entirely different type of yielding: the yielding that must occur when the universe, in its relentless way, keeps steering you towards something that challenges you to move beyond your comfort zone, like making a career change or overcoming an addiction or trying on a new swimsuit.
Anyone who has spent any time around me knows that I am fairly incapable of sitting still for protracted periods of time. I percolate with nervous energy. If you manage to catch me sitting still, chances are my brain is going a million miles an hour over an idea or two or twelve. While I fully embrace my squirrelly nature, my mother (for one) hasn’t been quite as keen about it; for as long as I can remember, she’s told me that I should take up yoga to quiet my spirit. And, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been telling her that her tree was missing more than a few acorns. Seriously? Me? Trapped inside a hot studio with suburban hippies, listening to “earthy” music, putting my body into pretzel poses, and focusing on deep breathing? Had my mother even MET me? I am completely incapable of that level of inner peace. While I love to exercise, I’ve forever known that long walks or bike rides outdoors are the sole method of feeding my spirit. Nothing clears my head and revives my embattled soul quite as thoroughly as a vigorous 5-mile walk.
Yet, through the years the universe has sent many unfortunate souls to steer me toward yoga. My sisters-in-law have been dutifully practicing yoga and promoting it for over seven years. They are six years older than I am and are more fit now than they have ever been before; while their fitness levels alone should have convinced me to attempt yoga, I would not relent. Friends have shared their yoga experiences, and the moment the dirty “Y” word was mentioned my brain went into an immediate (albeit childish) version of “lalalalalalalala...I can’t hear you.” Isn’t yoga for mellow folks with earth mother tattoos who eat vegan diets and refuse to wear leather? What part of that fits me?
Well, this past December, my sisters-in-law did the unthinkable. Sick of telling me how good yoga would be for me, they simply gifted me at Christmas with hours of yoga classes at a nearby studio. Great. Just what I always wanted. Can you see me rolling my eyes? The gift was sizable enough that I would feel guilty just ignoring it. I also knew that they would ask me about it, so now I was truly accountable. To make matters worse, when I opened the gift my wonderful and well-meaning sister-in-law saw the curious mix of disappointment and resignation on my face and said this to me: “Well, we just think that yoga is so important, especially as you get into your 40s.” Gasp! How dare she bring my advancing age into this? That was a low blow. Accepting my midlife status had been hard enough to swallow, but admitting that my body was going south (some parts more rapidly than others) was even more difficult to face. Still, I knew she was right. I wasn’t getting any time back.
So, I caved. Okay. Okay. I get it. I am supposed to try this. Like it or not, good or bad, it had been thrown in my lap too many times over the past twenty years to ignore any longer. I needed to yield to the will of the universe and just try it, even if just to prove to everyone this was not for me and get them all off my back.
On one Sunday afternoon in January, I decided to attend a beginner level vinyasa flow class at a nearby Corepower yoga studio. There was no way I was going to go through this experience alone, so accompanied by my youngest sister and with yoga mat, water bottle, and towel in hand, I resolutely went to class to prove everyone wrong.
Instead of being miserable and bored as I had expected, however, I nearly immediately felt comfortable. The instructor spent the first couple minutes putting us into the right mindset. She assured us that yoga is a practice, not a competition, and that we shouldn’t judge ourselves too harshly. She couldn’t have uttered more appropriate words to encourage this perfectionistic and highly self-critical Type A personality to give it an honest effort. After she had started us in Child’s pose and had us practicing our ujjayi breathing, she began talking about our intention for the class; she suggested that we attempt to surrender and find a balance between strength and control and the grace to let things go and be at peace. Dang. Did my mother call this woman and tell her about me? I got teary eyed on my mat listening to the instructor describe in detail one of my greatest personal weaknesses, my inability to acquiesce with grace.
As we went through the yoga flow during class, I tried to yield to the full experience despite my inner reservations. I was shocked to notice I was actually sweating. It was more physically demanding than I imagined it would be, requiring balance, strength, and flexibility. I was relieved not to be standing still, embracing each movement as it built upon the previous pose and flowed into the next one. Just when I was opening up and feeling a bit more optimistic about yoga, however, she called us into Supta Badhakonasana for abdominal crunches. (Did I mention I am learning Sanskrit?) Crunches? Nobody said nothing about no stinking crunches. I hate crunches. See. I knew I would find a reason not to like yoga. I was still trying to maintain the mental illusion that yoga was not winning me over when the instructor demonstrated the Crow pose arm balance and I felt my anti-yoga resolve start to melt. This is the yoga that you see people doing and swear you could never do, but my overachieving self desperately wanted to do it. I wanted it so badly that I went home after class and practiced it. Yes. I am that annoying person. Maybe I could actually use this whole yoga thing to dial down my Type A to maybe a Type A-minus?
It’s been two months since that first Sunday afternoon class, and I can’t believe how much stronger I am already. I’ve seen postures that were extremely challenging for me that first afternoon become increasingly less uncomfortable. I’ve watched my biceps and triceps return without the use of free weights. I’ve found my waist again. My clothes are looser. The biggest change in me, however, has been in my mental state. I am learning to live in the moment more, to trust myself, and to surrender when I need to. It’s definitely a practice and not a destination, but I am happier. I’ve found myself seeking new experiences and being ever-so-slightly-less hard on myself. For once I know I am completely present in my life, at least for three to four hours a week when I am on my yoga mat. Yoga has become something I look forward to. And, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve even ditched previous appointments because I have learned I honestly do need yoga and I don't want to miss class.
Did I tell my mother that she was right? Absolutely I did. I surrendered my ego and told her I was sorry I hadn’t yielded to her suggestion years ago. Surprisingly enough, the admission didn’t make me feel weak but instead brought me greater peace. My surrender on this one topic doesn’t mean I’m entirely changed, though. Don’t expect to find me burning patchouli incense, chanting, or turning vegan anytime soon. The universe hasn’t called me to that...at least not yet.