that it’s-ok-to-be-in-this-body feeling

line graffiti of a person sitting in lotus posture, hands raised overhead, a lotus drawn over their hands

Yoga graffiti in Valparaiso, Chile -- click on the link to see more of Karsenault's images

Good morning — happy Wednesday!

Last night was my second day at this yoga class that the mr. and I signed up for, and I’m still sleepy in the aftermath. Saturday we went to our first class, and I completely crashed afterwards — came home, ate a little lunch, started to read a book in the sun and bam, out like a kitty in a sunbeam. I even napped, which is something I so rarely do.

Last night: same story. Came home sweaty and energized and chatty, ate some pomegranate seeds, drank water with lime, then ate a bit of dinner. Read my book, listened to some jazz, and by 9.30, was nodding off.

What do I want to say about all this, besides telling you my post-bikram timeline? First, I can tell you that I never would have pictured myself in a bikram¬† yoga class. My sense of this class was always that the folks in them would be super competitive, super skinny-fit, super judgmental of newbies who didn’t know the moves and weren’t in perfect shape. I imagined a place where people were passing out all the time from the heat (you know about bikram, right? hot yoga — you do the same 26 poses in an hour and a half in a room that’s heated to 90-something or 100 degrees) and hurting themselves because the instructors pushed them too hard. I imagined something totally american and competitive, not having to do with traditional yoga practice at all.

And what I’ve found, in my extensive research of two classes, doesn’t quite match those assumptions. ‘Course, it still feels like something totally american, this practice that’s always about pushing yourself to do it better, more, and, of course there are the super skinny-fit and practiced people, but that’s true at any gym or exercise class. There are also folks of other body shapes and sizes, folks of varying levels of experience, people who don’t balance during tree pose any better than I can yet. There are the people who take a break and just rest on the mat in the sauna-like heat while the rest of the class continues. Sometimes people will leave the room, take a break. The two instructors I’ve worked with so far are will encourage and push, and they do not shame anyone who can’t or isn’t doing a pose all the way. They pay attention to their students, checking in with folks who seem dizzy or in need of a break, and always encourage us to pay attention to our bodies.

That last is kind of a big deal — that’s the only reason I’m taking this class (well, that and the mr.’s wanting us to have a class to do together). It’s intense for me to be in an exercise class and not straining to do everything exactly perfect the first time, not beating myself up because I can’t lift my leg up and out and stand balanced for a minute, yet, nor can I do a backbend to the floor, yet. Once upon a time, these beginner’s limitations would have kept me from returning to the class — I would have been too embarrassed not to be perfect. It’s something new for me to be able to be in a group of strangers and dripping with sweat (when I’m not dancing, that is) and watching the other people for guidance rather than to measure myself against. It’s a big deal to be paying attention to my body, to say, it’s ok not to stretch all the way into this pose right now if what she’s saying is that the first thing I need to do is learn to balance on a locked knee, and that if the knee isn’t locked, I’m not in the pose yet. Pay attention, I think, and just breathe.

It feels so good to sweat as freely as I do in this class. It feels good to not be ashamed of my body, it feels good to be moving and stretching and learning. And last night, during one of the many asanas we do during the second part of the class (the first part is mostly done standing, and the second part is mostly on the floor), I remembered the other important reason to exercise hard: it gets me all the way out of my head.

At first I was thinking about how I’m doing this class for the folks in my workshops, because it will clear me out, it will stretch me from week to week, and I’ll be able to be more focused and present. This, I think, is true.¬† And then I realized I wasn’t thinking about much, just about moving from pose to asana to pose to asana, just about how stretched and tired I was, just about each push and rest. That’s good: it’s good to get to the place where I literally can’t spin about all the things I haven’t done, need to do. To get to the place where I can only be in that moment.

Here’s what I wrote on Monday, after the first class:

This weekend, F! & I went to bikram yoga — bikram, the cult of all yogas. It was devastating, but we did it, and I’m still achy. I thought, while I was doing it, what’s the big deal (except for the heat, of course) — I thought the yoga part was going to be hard (note that most of the poses I only did about halfway). And here it is two days later and I can still feel the poses in my back, my shoulders, my thighs. The sweat felt good, and being in a place where everyone was drenched with sweat — like being on the dance floor three-quarters of the way through a really good night, when no one cares anymore about how good they look, how coiffed, how put together; they only care about the music, about moving, about really getting inside and against the beat of every song. We get hot and lubricated, our muscles and joints loosen, we’re there: and when I’d look in the bathroom mirror, when I’d go in to splash my face, I’d see that same reddened bleached sweaty pleasure that I saw on Saturday — without the music, but still, I’ll go back.

I don’t go dancing enough these days, so I haven’t been getting to that amazing place, that place where everything is just my body moving and panting and my awareness that there are some other people around me moving and panting, where I’m drenched with sweat and utterly open and slick with joy. And it’s something, isn’t it, to be able to get to that place of centeredness, that it’s-ok-to-be-in-this-body feeling, without the distraction of loud driving music.

Is there something that would put you in your body in a joyful way today? Can you take 15 minutes or a half hour for that, at least? Or could you write about it for 10 minutes, if you can’t put your body there today?

Thanks for the joy you’ll bring others today, and the way you let others bring joy to you…and, always, thanks for your words.

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