Thursday, December 20, 2012

Exalting My Warrior

So I haven't talked about yoga in a while because I've been busy writing my second book O Holy Shit - A Series of Christmas Disasters (which I've been sharing with you guys by the way) but I've still been going.

Every day.

Yeah, you heard me. I've been going to yoga every day.

Right after Thanksgiving the place where I go to yoga started this 30 Day Challenge nonsense and it involved a large chart on the wall with people's names on it and star stickers and every day the people participating in the challenge get to put a star sticker beside their name each time they take a class. Well that was all it took to get me to sign up. I am all about anything where I get a star beside my name. Sometimes it takes very little to motivate me. I didn't care so much that the reward at the end of the challenge was that if you make it you get fifty dollars off your next package. I mostly just care about the star stickers. 

And being competitive and taking on insurmountable tasks at the busiest time of the year and trying in vain to prove people wrong about me, which are all the wrong reasons to do yoga every day, but that's how it started. Plus, there was my sister who goes not only every day but TWICE every day while pregnant because she is insane like that and she is always calling me a wuss so I thought, well, maybe I should try to show her that I'm not that much of a wuss, even though I am. I'm always telling people how different my sister and I am. Here's an example. If we were on a reality show, she would eat bugs and win a million dollars while I would be the person who voted myself off the island on the  first show because I was itchy and wanted a smoothie. But sibling rivalry is not a good reason to go to yoga every day.

Last year I gained almost ten pounds during the holidays, which didn't come off and when I started going to yoga, sporadically, last summer, I thought, well, maybe I'll finally lose that weight I gained and then when I signed up for the 30 Day Challenge, I managed to convince myself again that the pounds would just melt off, because how could they not in 98 degrees or however hot it actually is in there. It hasn't happened yet. I've actually gained five more pounds and I'm trying to convince myself that it's muscle because that sounds better than admitting that the five pounds is from my holiday diet of cookies which is so extreme that it would make Buddy the Elf tell me that maybe I should limit my sugar intake. Wanting to lose weight is a slightly better reason to go to yoga every day, but it's not the best.

I believe that sometimes our reasons for doing good things aren't as important as the fact that we are doing them. Sometimes feelings follow actions. I may have signed up for the challenge for some ridiculous reasons, but today, when I stuck my twenty-first star on the chart beside my name, I knew something in me had shifted and that I'm now doing this for the right reason. Because yoga makes me a better person. Because yoga makes me feel better, even when it makes me feel worse.

Yoga is a struggle for me. I've never done anything physical. Nothing and I'm not kidding. As a kid, I picked last for teams in gym class so often that my teacher decided to let me be the captain and each time I tried to pick another student to be on my team, they actually refused because no one wanted a captain who was a loser and who ran from the ball (which I consider good sense, because who wants to get hit with a ball, jeez). In first grade, after a year of ballet, my teacher told my grandmother that I shouldn't come back because I just didn't have the required grace. Because six year olds are supposed to be graceful apparently. I'm just not physically inclined. I'm a spazz, so I kept to the things I was good at - reading, telling stories, making myself the butt of the joke, writing, teaching, cooking

I'm a perfectionist too. I don't like to do things I'm not good at. I hate being the worst person in the class. I hate being the girl with the muffin top who is forever picking her shorts out of her crotch. I'd love to be one of those swan-like, thin women in their tiny yoga bikinis who never seem to get frizzy hair or wedgies and who can melt into back bends as if they were a hot rope of freshly blown glass. It makes me mad that I'm not like them. It makes me feel like the little kid in gym class all over again. It brings up a lot of my worst insecurities. Sometimes I want to say to them "Hey, I am a rockstar in other parts of my life! I swear! I'm good at other things. I don't always look this bad! I look good with lipstick on! I am a real, published writer!!" But that's just my ego shouting.

When I started going to yoga I was a wreck. The past two years were the most difficult of my entire life and so many very, very hard and sad and scary things are going on, which is saying a lot because I've been through plenty of hard and scary things. I've been abandoned by a parent, my fiance got another girl pregnant and sued me. I had radiation on a tumor. Somehow none of that seems as bad as the stuff of the past two years, most of which is totally out of my control.

I've had despair that my life isn't where I'd like it to be. My health is a disaster. Do I have lupus? Sjogrens? Allergies? Inflammatory Bowel Disease? Am I just crazy? Do I even have the energy for more tests? 

Many of my relationships just weren't what I wanted them to be. I wanted people to love me who didn't. I wanted others to be proud of me, to show their love differently, to be different. I wanted kind words from people who couldn't offer them. I wanted to prove to some of the people in my life that I wasn't what they believed and that I didn't deserve how they were treating me. I wanted to change a lot of people close to me.

It just seemed like every time I turned around something else was falling apart. A friend even wrote to me and said "Victoria, I have no idea why the Universe is putting you through this right now." It's been that bad. Just trust me.

I didn't feel a lot of love in my life.  

Sometimes the only positive words I heard were from my yoga teachers, who are all beautiful and graceful and don't poop ever and have never once had to hold a fart in while contorting effortlessly into an asana. 

I think that's why I kept going, to hear a few positive words spoken by beautiful people every day and to lay on my mat and know that I didn't have to be anywhere else at that moment except right there on the floor in a very hot room. That and because I'm not a quitter.

I don't know that my body has really changed very much from all this. I don't mind the heat any more. I may have a little more stamina than I did before and I can work myself into a few more poses than when I started, though I'm not convinced I'm doing them right, but something else has changed dramatically.

At the beginning of each class we set an intention. We ask ourselves what do we want to create or to manifest in our lives. We are supposed to dedicate our practice to this intention. I know there are people who don't - who view their yoga as just another workout. But I don't. I take it very seriously. I set my intentions. Stop fighting, I tell myself. Be peaceful. Be beautiful. Be kind. Create. Give thanks. These are just a few of my intentions. It changes every day. I go with whatever comes up, but I mean it. These intentions have changed me. They've given me something better to focus on instead of all the bullshit surrounding me.

"Open your heart," the teachers tell you. At first I'd be like "Please. I can't even freaking breathe! How am I supposed to open my heart?

"Shine your heart to the sky," they'd instruct us, but I didn't feel like I had any light in my heart to shine. Still, I tried to twist my chest a little further in the direction of the ceiling anyway.

And then there was camel pose. The first time I ever saw a class do camel pose, where you're kneeling and then you do a backbend and grab your ankles, I said "Fuck this shit. Who can do that? Jesus fucking Christ. I will NEVER do that." And honestly, it would never have occurred to me to even try or to even think that the human body could or should bend like that.

Fuck camel pose.

Then one day I was like, oh what the hell, I'll try it, and then I said fuck it again, but I kept trying it and eventually I got it, but when I got it something crazy happened. I almost had hysterics. I had such a panic attack that I had to go into child's pose to calm down. Every time after that the same thing happened and recently I learned that camel pose opens your heart and releases all sorts of bad energy. That's what was happening to me.

Slowly, my closed up, very scared, very unsure heart was opening. 

We do a lot of Sun Salutations in class. Standing with your arms up and outspread and your head thrown back is a posture of exuberance and even if you don't really feel particularly exuberant, which I assure you I haven't, if you keep doing it, your mind will kind of align itself with your body and if you really pay attention, you can't help but feel this huge, ridiculously great sense of reverence and love for and from the Universe when you do it. I felt like a jackass at first, but I stuck with it and now I catch myself smiling in this series of poses. It feels like a prayer, but not the "I want this and that" kind of a prayer. The right kind of prayer that says "Thank you for everything I have. I'm so glad I'm here."

I feel better. 

The funny thing is that nothing in my life has changed. All the circumstances are pretty much the same and still out of my control. I still suck at yoga. I still have an autoimmune disease. None of the people I wanted to change have changed very much and while there are still times I'd like to kick them in the face, I mostly don't really care anymore. I've stopped obsessing. I've learned to calm down. I've stopped fighting so hard against everything. I've come to a place of acceptance. I haven't given up. Instead, I've let things go that weren't serving me and I've opened my heart to all the things that are.

So here's the thing I've realized. When I say I suck at yoga, it's not true, because it's about so much more than headstands and backbends. I will probably never be able to do that God forsaken scissor thing. Crow eludes me. I still say "fuck that shit" to Bird of Paradise and the thought of doing Revolving Half Moon makes me need a Xanax. My body might not be capable of doing a lot right now, but my mind and my spirit can work miracles, and I think ultimately, that's the real goal of yoga, isn't it? I am strong in spirit. I am a warrior (one, two and three, ok maybe not three). I've got this. I can do it.

I'm ok with where I am in my practice. I'm ok with my frizzy hair, though I could seriously use a headband, and I can live with constant yoga short wedgies. I am fine with being the underdog of the class. At yoga, I don't have to be perfect and that's a huge relief.

A couple weeks ago, two of the teachers praised my progress and I was so embarrassed because I can't take a compliment sometimes, but you know, that compliment went a long way. I felt good for days. That day in class I suddenly felt stronger and more powerful. It's amazing what a few positive words can do for a person. I really needed those kind words and they transformed me quite literally.

I am so grateful to all of my yoga teachers for helping me along through such a hard time in my life, although they had no idea that they were. 

The winter solstice is tomorrow. It's the darkest time of the year and all of the holidays around the solstice celebrate hope and life and light in darkness. The holidays remind us that the darkness is only temporary, that it's going to pass and that spring will come back. It's a big metaphor for the hard times in our lives. They won't last forever. There is always hope. Change your perspective. Open your heart to the good.

Thank you to all of my yoga teachers for setting me down a better path. Thank you for shining your lights into my darkness.
 

16 comments:

Betsy said...

I go to yoga for a lot of the very same reasons (although I've been shamefully neglecting my practice of late). Can I tell you that while I've never had a problem with camel, when I go into frog, I dissolve into a mess of tears? Apparently I hold my emotions in my hips and they aren't good ones. Nothing says peace like sobbing on your mat with your legs bent at awkward angles.

christian said...

Thanks for sharing this. I think when we inject routine into our lives and stick with it, it opens us up in ways we don't expect. For me, I completed a 30 Day Writing challenge and some days it was honestly the last thing I wanted to do. I rebelled many MANY times. For me, it was an exercise in vulnerability. I HAD to write and post on my blog even if it wasn't "perfect" and some days I um...didn't. I think we are all afraid that we suck at something. But when you at least try I believe you get rewarded with something you never even knew you needed. I love that you are willing to share the more tender stuff. So happy that you are feeling better!

Alison said...

In all my (years?) of reading your blog, I'm not sure you've ever made me cry before--but you got me with this:

"Many of my relationships just weren't what I wanted them to be. I wanted people to love me who didn't. I wanted others to be proud of me, to show their love differently, to be different. I wanted kind words from people who couldn't offer them. I wanted to prove to some of the people in my life that I wasn't what they believed and that I didn't deserve how they were treating me. I wanted to change a lot of people close to me."

A-FUCKING-MEN, sister. Thank you. THANK YOU. This coming from the girl whose mother pushes diets on her even though she's a recovering anorexic who STILL has issues with food. Who gets asked, "How's your diet going?" (when YES, I want to lose weight--but I'm focused on HEALTHY eating instead of another insane diet!) instead of "How is your novel coming along?"

Whose boyfriend of nearly two years still hasn't said the L word.

Sometimes you just want to hear that people care about you. That they're proud. That you're important and worthy. Shit.

Not that it helps you with those other people in your life--but I love you and your blog. So there's that ;)

Melanie said...

I'm proud of you. I'm proud of you for the sake of your health and happiness, but I'm also proud of you for the sake of your daughter. As the mother of a 27-year-old daughter, I can tell you for sure that your yoga practice will have a positive impact on your toddler. You probably are aware of this on an intellectual level, but when you get to be my age, you will have more of a spiritual understanding of just how important it is. Believe me, it is VERY important. So congratulations, you're doing a great job for yourself, and for your little one.

Dawn said...

What a beautiful endorsement of yoga. For three years I've been saying, "This is the year I will try yoga," and then never tried yoga. Maybe 2013 will be my year.

Vic said...

Do what you are supposed to do, not what you want to do, until what you want to do is what you are supposed to do.
I've always got a gold star for you.
Thanks. This post goes in the life changing reflections book.

Diary of Why said...

This is exactly how I feel about yoga. I love watching people progress from the holy-shit-I-can't-do-it phase to the so-this-is-what-it's-all-about phase.

I've been doing yoga for years and there are things I still can't do (camel, crow, and don't even get me started on handstand) and feel like I might never be able to do, but I've come to accept that this is where I am and what I can do, and that's ok.

Love this post.

JoeinVegas said...

I am impressed that you are trying that - good work!

kerry said...

You have no idea how much I love this post.

Melanie said...

I like what Vic said. It's kind of like saying "Fake it 'til you make it," but it sounds much more profound as opposed to sounding flip and unimportant.

Erin said...

Really needed this right now. Yoga is so powerful and amazing, I really need to get back into it, as things haven't been easy around here lately either. Thank you for the reminder, and for sharing your experience!

Michelle said...

Miss Victoria,
Your post inspired me. I used to do yoga and I used to get so much from it. For whatever reason I quit and I keep thinking I want to get back to it. I forgot just how good it made my soul feel, not just my body. Thank you for the reminder.

JJ said...

WL-
Thanks for all you do, and for sincerely putting your struggles "out there." I am rethinking yoga. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, etc.

Steph said...

I love this post.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas.

Green said...

I just want to comment on "hot rope of freshly cut grass." Because I need you to say more about that. How do you envision that? I think it's the word "rope" that's throwing me off - are you seeing one blade of grass or a tuft of grass in a clump, or ... ?

Also, dude, yoga. I was always the fattest person in yoga, and walking in was the hardest part. It's not supposed to be competitive but everyone was always making sure they were doing better than the fat girl. And get yourself a pretty headband - everything is on sale right now.

mcgrimus said...

Green,
You read that wrong. It's "freshly blown glass" and it was one of the things about the article that made me go, "Ahh! Nice."

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