Tonight I went to a yoga class that was pretty high on the trauma scale. I haven't done yoga regularly since my funemployment stint in 2009/2010. But I did go back to the Basics class last week on a day off work and loved it - it was exactly what I needed. That class is offered during the day, so I looked at the studio's website to see if there was an evening class offered for people at the beginner level.
Yoga for Athletes is on Wednesday evenings and is listed as beginner or intermediate level. I wasn't sure I was buying the beginner part, so I called the studio earlier today and asked for advice. They said the class isn't geared for beginners, but that I should try it, that the teacher gives modifications for the poses, blah blah. I was skeptical, but I felt like I really needed it. I've been struggling with several things lately - pain in my body, my weight, depression, being present. Yoga has been helpful with those things in the past. Lately I haven't really known where to turn, so I was kind of counting on it again.
Well, I'm here to say that class is straight up contortionism. I was so uncomfortable. It's incredibly advanced. It's also pretty much vinyasa (a little faster paced, focusing on putting poses together so there is more movement versus getting into a pose and then just holding it) which I always thought I wouldn't like and it turns out I don't. There were only about six other participants, but they were all very athletic looking. They were rail thin and wore the skin-tight yoga clothes (except for that one guy who went shirtless), and they all seemed very at home. I hated it.
I wore baggy shorts and a Blazer shirt, and I struggled the whole way through. I sweated like I was in a sauna (nope, not hot yoga) and couldn't have felt more out of place. The teacher started by saying, "Oh boy, we have all levels in here today!" and repeated that several times throughout the class. She also seemed to zip through instructions as if she was only accommodating those that could keep up. Which was everybody but me. It was like that the whole time.
Total humiliation. I kept my eyes trained on the floor in front of me so I wouldn't look at the other people and their perfect bodies, or, worse yet, see them looking at me. Time dragged; I started wondering if it was a two-hour class instead of the 75 minutes that was advertised. My focus was on trying not to huff and puff too loudly, and my thoughts were on why people have to be such snobs. Truly - is that necessary? How hard would it have been for the teacher to throw me a bone of encouragement, something to let me know that I was ok, and, somehow, I belonged. A few times I started little mental pep-talks to get me back on track, but ended up abandoning them in the face of such embarrassing failure. As for the vinyasas, I tried to hang with them, but near the end I started to feel tears coming so I got out of whatever pose I was attempting and just sat on my mat as they finished up. I would never go back.
During the last few minutes of a yoga class, you just kind of lay on your back on your mat and they turn the lights down, and you're supposed to just lay there and think about how great you look in your yoga pants or something. When the time came, I got on my back and closed my eyes and wondered if there was any way I could salvage the experience and learn something from it. I had the thought that I was frustrated that the teacher and the other participates weren't making me feel like I belonged, but that isn't something I want to leave up to other people to decide. I belong wherever I want to be. I thought about the jogging I do and how utterly out of place I look on the local high school track. And I thought about how I learned how to surf a few years ago while struggling with obesity, and I couldn't have looked more out of place than during that process. I thought about my surf teacher and the things we learned together. And then I thought about the yoga teacher - dreadful. And I thought about how I wanted to handle the whole thing now that it was almost over, how I wanted to frame the experience in my mind.
I decided that I wanted to approach the teacher after class and practice being humble and vulnerable. I wasn't going to tell her I knew I was rotten; I didn't want to be self-deprecating. I wanted to tell her that I'd struggled and felt out of place. Not so that she could be aware or learn, and not even so she could comfort me, but so that I could be aware and learn - feel my feet (a surfing reference) on the ground and just stay with the difficult feelings without running away or distracting myself by the next activity or by placing blame (and, it turns out, the power) with others. So tough.
When the class was done, I took longer than the others to clean up my area and put the blocks and such away. I went to the teacher and waited as she finished up another conversation, and then offered a few statements to the effect that I think the class is over my head, and that it was hard to be in there. And if all of the tiny miracles that got me there and got me looking to learn something from the experience and got me away from trying to just put it behind me and forget about the whole unpleasant deal weren't enough, another tiny miracle happened. The teacher met my honesty and vulnerability with her own. She told me about her own steep learning curve when she started practicing yoga. She told me how hard the class really is, and said that one of the women in there is the owner of the studio, and another one was a yoga teacher. She said I kept up very well with the others. Then she told me a quick story of how she's going to learn to ski this winter and she knows she'll be terrible at it and it will be embarrassing. But, she said, sometimes that's how you learn. And then she told me to keep coming back.
I'm still kind of overwhelmed with 100 different things about the whole experience. And honestly, I'm not sure I have it in me to go back to the class again. But I'm really grateful that I tried it, and I'm grateful that it gave me so much of what I need right now.