The life lessons I learned from yoga

2014-01-12 13.54.50
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I stumbled into my first yoga class at the age of 19, diet and exercise obsessed, too exhausted that day to face the gym’s cardio machines.

Oh. A yoga class! That sounds easy.

By the fifth down dog it was clear that I couldn’t have been more mistaken. Though I see the irony now, it was my ego that kept me from rolling up the mat and slipping back out the door to the judgement of a machine rather than my mind itself. Finally the postures wound down and we found ourselves laying face up on our mats in the chilly aerobics room. As the teacher spoke about honoring our bodies and caring for them like the precious gift they are, I strained to listen over the sound of my heartbeat echoing through me. The ephedrine I had taken with my breakfast of exactly one cup of cheerios with a half cup of 2% milk (not skim because while I was unhealthily obsessed I wasn’t a MONSTER) was threatening to make it explode. I wondered if she could hear it too because clearly she was talking to me. Hot tears began to slip from the corners of my eyes and back behind my ears to the borrowed mat, as if the sweat I had left behind wasn’t enough.

A few days later my boyfriend was home for a visit and upon seeing a couple of pills on my dresser demanded the bottle. He flushed them down the toilet. I let him.

That was fourteen years ago. One state, countless teachers, two pregnancies, and several thousands of yoga classes ago. A lifetime really.

The lessons I’ve learned in that time extend far beyond the mat.

Just show up.

Man, if this part isn’t a real bitch. Lining up childcare, not having to be at work, not being too tired/hungry at the wrong time/hungover/sick/injured, finding clothes, not veering off course and ending up getting ice cream and watching the sunset because it’s the first time you’ve been able to hear yourself think in 8 days. There’s an endless stream of reasons I can come up with not to make it to class. But I’ve never actually made it all the way to my mat and decided to roll it back up and take off. Ok, once I made it that far but had convinced myself an hour before I was due to teach, that my toddler’s football shaped swollen neck was a sure sign that he was dying of leukemia and broke down sobbing to the only student that showed up. I didn’t end up teaching that day. (Spoiler alert: He’s still alive and it was an ear infection.)

It seems so insultingly simple. Just show up. Stop making excuses, and get down to the business of it all. I’ve come back to this so many times at so many junctures; as a parent, as a writer, simply as a person pretending to be an adult. Not a single thing is going to pan out if you don’t just lace up your boots and act like you’re ready to kick ass and take names.

If nothing else, it’s way harder to back out of something when there’s a whole bunch of people who’d notice. Or you’re ass up in a room full of strangers. Depending on your hobbies.

Do it for the doing.

So many things we spend time doing are just a means to an end. Entire days can be dedicated to doing the things that get other things done. However, in yoga, the doing is the thing. There are no tests, no competitions. No medals, accolades or prizes. Just one posture after another, all for the simple sake of doing them. Of course that’s not to say practice is without benefits. Time on my mat keeps me from feeling like a decrepit old woman. It stimulates my brain, and often, I come away with some of my best ideas of the week. There are plenty of reasons to do yoga, but like cooking, gardening, painting, throwing pots, or whatever, they don’t lie in the end result. They are woven into the fabric of simply doing.

The errands and obligations and crap we’d rather not do will always take time away from the things we’d prefer to spend time on. But sometimes shifting focus from the outcome to the action takes the drudgery out of the day to day. (Still, you’ll never see me at the grocery store with both my children at 5pm on a weekday.)

Sometimes it sucks. But it always ends.

In ashtanga, each posture lasts five breaths. Five inhales, five exhales. Whether you love the pose or it makes you want to swear at the elderly, count to five and it’s over. The predictability is what I fell in love with; the safety of always knowing what you’re walking into, and that once it’s over, you’ll be walking out. Life outside of yoga doesn’t offer that five breath security, but you can sure as shit believe that this too shall pass. Impermanence, whether it be the impermanence of discomfort or joy, is a guarantee. And while in some ways, that’s a terrifying thought, it only seems fair. Nothing lasts forever, in the cold November rain. You take the good, you take the bad. You take them both and there you have…

Ok. I apologize. I’ve gone off the rails. But I did just come up with the idea for two new pieces. Life Lessons I learned from 80′s ballads and Life Lessons I’ve learned from sitcoms. I already have this one. I’m thinking this is a new series. I’m not drunk. Really.

You’re never going to know everything. Don’t let that stop you.

I taught my first class after only practicing for a few months. I’m sure it was awful. The teacher at the gym where I had wandered into my first class ever was going on maternity leave. I’d attended every class she’d taught since that day, and with no one on deck to take her place, she asked me. I wanted to say no. I’m sure I argued that I didn’t know the first thing about teaching a yoga class. She told me I knew enough and the rest would come. Fourteen years later, it’s still coming.

Sometimes the things I don’t know overwhelm me. The books I haven’t read, the questions I don’t know the answers to, and the concepts I can’t wrap my brain around crash like waves and threaten to drag me out to sea. It’s so easy to stack them up and measure myself against the pile. But if knowledge is power, so is the knowledge that there’s always more to learn.

Speaking of which, I’ve learned that anyone who says they know everything there is to know about a subject is either a filthy liar, or a pompous bag o’dicks.

Relaxing feels best when you’ve earned it.

If you had told me 14 years ago that the best sleep you’d ever had was a ten minute long nap on a 1/4 inch thick sheet of rubber spread out on hard floor, I’d tell you that I’m very sorry for your misfortune, but what did you do to end up prison? Shank someone in the neck with a pencil? Yet, that’s exactly how I’d describe several savasanas after particularly intense practices. Some, I remember with more fondness than I do most sexual encounters of my early 20s.

So often going to bed feels like pressing pause. There’s always something left to clean, someone left to email, some project left to finish. Rarely do we lay down at full stop. Obviously telling yourself to shut off your brain is futile. But the days when you push a little beyond doing things “just enough”, it becomes a little easier.

You are stronger than you know. 

You just are. The end.

2014-01-12 13.54.50

amateur comedian, professional bullshitter. will take pay in baked goods once already rich.

  • Courtney

    Love it Sara – I think you’ve described the many mixed thoughts and emotions of our day to day lives so eloquently in this piece. And I think you’ve convinced me that need to quit my excuses and get back on my mat!

  • Jessica

    So….where do you practice?