I've started a new journey. I haven't been feeling like myself lately, but it's hard because I'm not totally sure I know exactly who "myself" actually is anymore. I'm trying to figure everything out, and I decided that my first step would be personal growth in the form of downward facing dog and child's pose.
I've chosen a small yoga studio, tucked away in a neighborhood near to my home. I park my car, and grab the yoga mat my friend let me borrow. It's bright blue, with an LA Dodger's logo on it. Suddenly I'm self conscious, hoping nobody will notice the logo and ask me something sports related, or talk to me at all. As I walk into the building, I tug at my shirt, just now noticing how tight these leggings are and how little the spandex covering my thighs leaves to the imagination. I'm too vulnerable already. This was a mistake.
I'm greeted by a woman at the front desk, she's cheerful and friendly, showing me where to go and where to store my belongings during class. I've ambitiously signed up for a deep stretching class, committing the next 75 minutes of my life to my own self improvement. It's daunting, I take a breath and swallow the air, pushing it into the pit of my stomach.
I'm quiet, because everyone else is. They are mindful, focused, and so... zen. There's a sense of community, and it scares me. I avoid eye contact and quietly begin rolling my mat out on the floor. It's dark in here, and it smells like people. Not a bad smell, just a mixture of rubber mats, hot breath and sweat.
As I unroll the mat, the Dodger's logo appears. I quickly cover it with one of blankets that the studio provides, along with other props like straps and blocks for support. I'm doing my best to stop anyone from knowing anything about me right now, and I'm afraid the familiar logo will provide an opening for conversation. I'm the outsider here, and I don't feel comfortable letting anyone get to know me yet. I sit on the mat, legs folded over one another, already reminding me of my own inflexibility. I take a deep breath and observe my surroundings.
The woman next me to has a buzzed hair cut, and the confidence to match it. I bet she can touch her toes and bend her body into a pretzel. I think I'm a little jealous of her. I notice her straight back and even shoulders, I follow her lead and I sit up a little straighter.
Another woman, across the room. She looks to be about my age, she's very friendly and is surrounded by a group of her peers, fellow yogis. She is happy, and relaxed. I begin to wonder why I don't feel like that. Maybe it's because I haven't shut my eyes yet. Maybe it's because I came here to work on myself and all I'm doing is watching other people. Maybe it's.. oh never mind.
The room fills up with more and more people. The crowd is a mix of ages, shapes and sizes. But everyone is calm and the energy in the room is positive and forgiving, save for the tightly wound ball of anxiety in the corner, me. I try to shut my eyes and stop feeling so self conscious, but it's hard. I see people around me practicing on their own. They bend back and forth, twisting around like a stretched out piece of chewing gum. Their breath is steady and their bodies are responsive.
My body won't do that.
I think back to my old body. The strong legs of a runner, lungs that were trained to fill up effectively, arms that weren't always begging to be covered up. I used to run for hours, miles upon miles each week. Chasing after something that I think I found after three years of daily runs and two successful half marathons. Now I can't even run a mile without my body betraying me, cramping up and giving out. My running clothes don't fit anymore and my GPS watch hasn't even been plugged in in over a year. My strength is gone and I'm the only person I can blame. I stopped taking care of my body the same day I stopped taking care of my mind, and I stopped taking care of my mind because I was too busy trying to take care of my heart.
Our teacher enters. Greeting the students she recognizes and pausing briefly to smile at me. I think she can tell I am uncomfortable. Can everyone? I start to regret even coming here. There's no way this place can offer the kind of help this chick needs.
Class begins and the teacher guides us through the practice. Long, deep stretches that test my body in new ways. I feel energy in spaces I've been ignoring. The backs of my legs, the length of my sides, and the pocket in between my shoulders. As class goes on we are reminded to focus on our breath, drawing it towards the areas of our bodies that need our attention. I'm not in pain, but it is hard. I push through, breathing in and out, letting sweat drip down my temples, and before I know it we are in our final savasana a resting pose that allows for reflection and relief. We stay like that, and I feel my mind and body finally shutting off. I become aware of every muscle, every beat of my heart. I reflect on my strength, on the fact that I just pushed my body in a way it hadn't been pushed in a very long time. I feel warm, but in a good way. Like a little fire has started in my chest and it's filling up the rest of me. I forget about the woman with the buzzed hair, and the other popular woman. It's just me on this mat and in this room. We are asked to sit up on our mats, bring our hands to our chest and chant together in unison the sound of "om", connecting us to our bodies and signifying the end of our practice.
"The light in me honors the light in each of you." She says. I feel my eyes fill with hot tears. I've never heard anything so simultaneously beautiful and meaningful before. There is light inside of me. Why has it taken me so long to find it?
Class is over. I sit, speechless as my peers roll up their mats and gather their belongings. As I begin to remove the blanket from my mat, the teacher addresses me. "Oh, I just love your mat, you must be a huge Dodger's fan!"
I turn my head and smile, "No, I borrowed it from a friend, it's not mine. I know nothing about baseball! But it's nice to meet you, I'm Josie."