This was the result of my backing out of a parking spot rather sloppily one day after yoga, probably due to the fact that I was sobbing my head off, but also possibly because a general perusal of my car’s exterior tends to support the conclusion that I may be an underachiever when it comes to driving backwards. That I consider straight lines a plus rather than a requirement. In any case, in my emotional state I swiped the very large, alarmingly yellow cement pylon that was evidently right next to my car. (I believe it is there to stabilize a lamp post). The irony of course is that those pylons are painted that way to be as intentionally noticeable as possible. To prevent anyone from accidentally smacking into them. Which is the very thing I did.
You should see how yellow this particular yellow paint is. It’s the visible-from-space kind of yellow. Yet up until the moment I realized my car was pressed against it, I did not even notice the pylon was there. I had never once noticed it, in fact, in the several years I have been practicing at this studio.
I got out of the car and saw the yellow stripes on the right front side of my car, looked at the pylon, and thought, “What is that thing that looks like a perch for Big Bird, and how did it spring into existence literally nanoseconds ago?”, and then I thought something really profound, about the metaphorical confluence that had just happened, how it was incredibly epic in its simplicity…you know, because how often have any of us bumped into something so bright, yet so previously invisible? What a way to learn that sometimes we don’t even see what’s right in front of us. But I was so tired from yoga that all my brain could produce to describe the depth of what I was experiencing was, “This means something”.
Also, I was really hoping the paint would come off easily.
By this time I realized that I had stopped crying. Why had I been crying in the first place? I had been crying because I had just completed yet another Bikram yoga class in which I had struggled and battled the whole damn time. After four and a half years of practice, I still completely sucked at it. And I was so sick of sucking at it.
Later, I rallied and wrote this piece. I’d love to be able to say that with the realization that my struggle was voluntary, I immediately stopped struggling and every class since then has been an easy pleasure, every movement within an enlightened step on the path towards mastery.
Sure it has.
It was still really hard. And I still felt I was missing something glaringly obvious, you know, right in front of me.
In theory, of course my practice was getting stronger. Every time we show up for class, we grow. Just getting in the hot room is good. I’ve heard it so many times– that even if all you do is show up and sit in the back the whole time, it’s a win. But there was no way I was going to get caught actually doing that. I wanted a bigger win, and I wanted to keep winning. At the very least, I wanted to make progress each time I went to class.
But that had just not been my story. I’d had a pretty serious injury two years before, after a very slow, slow, slow, and steady, and slow, incremental type of v e r y s l o w progress in Bikram yoga. Like a tortoise doing the cha-cha, I took three steps forward and two steps back every single week.
And I know, I know, I heard you, most excellent and loving instructors: There’s no arriving in yoga. It’s yoga practice, not yoga perfect. All of us are struggling, all of us are challenged in one posture or another.
But you have to say that! You have to say that stuff about journeys and not bending the river and how even you have poses you’ll always be working on.
At least, that’s what my inner Yoga Jerk told me. Yoga Jerk started to crash the party regularly with her negativity and criticism right about the time I started to feel committed to my yoga. When I started to get a clue that this was a foundation piece of my spiritual practice. I was willing to take the risk of being a beginner. I was willing to be bad at it, and still keep coming to class. Which I thought I was okay with, and I was, for about a year. I secretly thought I was extra awesome for being, you know, humble. But then it began to be important to me, which is just what Yoga Jerk wanted. She waited until I was all in. And then she let me have it. Like an older sibling whispering, “you know you’re adopted don’t you?” into my ear, Yoga Jerk said the reason the teachers were so nice and passionate about all students, was that not giving up on the stragglers was part of their spiritual practice. Sure, they didn’t judge, they brought hope to the hopeless and all that. Because they had to be nice to us, because we really sucked.
Yoga Jerk said I was definitely one of the hopeless. I would never transform. I was behind schedule. I needed to hurry up. What, was I going to still be trying to lock my knees in twenty years??
God Yoga Jerk is such a jerk! She’s not doing her job if I’m not crying by the end of class. She’s expertly observing what’s causing my distress on any particular day, and makes sure I know it’s my fault. She’s there to catalog and measure what’s not right, what’s not enough. I’m never strong enough, never calm enough, never flexible enough…Yoga Jerk trains me in lack, in what’s missing, in the measurement of every deficiency. No wonder my hamstrings are tight. No wonder I panic before certain poses and stop breathing properly. No wonder I’m exhausted and miserable after class, crying in the parking lot, smacking my car into bizarre yellow slabs of concrete. How can I possibly take a real yoga class when I have to take Yoga Jerk’s class too, packing down all that criticism and negativity on top of everything else I carry with me?
And then, a couple of months ago, some of the actual yoga practice, that’s been rattling around in me unmoored, pacing in a waiting room of positive thought, just itching to get out there and make some magic, found the exact right moment to make it all make sense–and escaped. All the pressure of years and years of never arriving started rushing down through a small gap of hope that had wedged my heart open. And made itself a little nest.
A nest of being kind. To me. And I began to wave the white flag in front of Yoga Jerk on a regular basis. I wasn’t going to listen to her or fight her anymore. Class started becoming fun. I stopped pushing for excellence. I let go and let my body find the poses. Slowly. I let myself breathe. I sat out a pose or two if my breathing got crazy. I showed up to class even when I thought I couldn’t win. I heard more and more of what the teacher was saying, and began to adjust my poses quietly, with more depth. And I just loved it. I didn’t think so much during class. I started releasing all the before class and all the after class.
Basically I started to chill out.
And eventually I was able, for almost an entire class, to completely surrender the constant (and futile) evaluation about my yoga. Sometimes a class started to get difficult again. So I cried right then. I didn’t save it up for when people couldn’t see me.
I paid attention to my breathing and sent stress away with every exhalation. I started noticing I was very relaxed after class, but alert, not exhausted. Once in a while I’d hear the teacher complimenting some woman with my name about a bit of progress or precision.
And whatever happened to Yoga Jerk? Well, sometimes I let her come with me to class, because she doesn’t have any friends, and it’s a kindness to her. If she starts getting nasty, I’ll say something to her like, “Did you just hear yourself?” and we’ll laugh and roll our eyes. Sometimes she gets really sad she can’t do certain things like other students, and she cries a little and wonders if she ever will. I remind her why she’s really there.
To just be there.
But if she starts to cause trouble, I send her back outside. She hates that, because I make her work on scrubbing that paint off the car.