My Yoga Purge

Something was awfully awry.  I left the toilet seat up (again) and my wife did not repeat the diatribe, one of many, IMG_0020to which I had become accustomed and which had been slowly sizzled into my memory, such that I could repeat it, as if the words were the thoughts of Longfellow, Kipling or Shakespeare, punctuated with the colloquialism, ‘how yu head so tuff’.  Nothing came.

I did not witness the calm that overcomes mass murderers as they are about to do their deed, but rather the calm of a centered person, breath and body in synchronous undulation, the calm of an emerging Yogi.

When it comes time to work-out my wife had taken on the insane habit of heading to Bikgram Yoga Jamaica while I, trying to hold on pathetically to the inexorable ebb of my testosterone headed to the gym to pump iron with real men where we shout and scream, veins popping, muscles bulging, and look askance at how much the other guy is lifting.  This is the world I was accustomed to.  In my head my body could still devour the track with huge graceful strides to win the 100m Class 1 event at Boy’s Champs, or propel a 390 kilo bobsleigh from zero to fast in little seconds at the Olympic Games.  In truth my body had been trying to have a heart to heart with my head for some time but alas, ‘mi head tuff’.

Out of curiosity, I decided to try the practice which had produced this strange woman walking around in my house.  The first few times I went to Bikram Yoga I prayed after minute 1 that I would make it to minute 90.  After minute 90 I swore on the honor and courage of my African forebears that I would not set back foot in that place.  But I went, or was called, drawn, back.  Something strange was happening.  I started to make connections.

It was not the heat in the room that frightened me so much at first, but my fear of the heat.  I had then, not to overcome the heat, but to overcome my fear.  I knew from a lifetime of challenge that beyond fear lies courage, beyond courage lies challenge, and beyond challenge lies change.  I began to breathe.

I am now over half way into a 40 day challenge.  I take what I experience in life into my practice and what I learn in my practice into my life.  What was left of my ego went first, high level athletic credentials matter little in the studio.  A young lady, who calls me Uncle Chris, hits a perfect standing bow pose in her second class, and holds it for 20 seconds, feet visible above her head in the mirror.  I spend the twenty seconds stumbling about like a drunkard making his way home late on a Friday night payday.  But even that is Okay.  I was trying.  ‘To stumble is to be human, to try again is to be a Yogi.’ 

I am reassured by the teacher, and I understand deep in my consciousness, that the benefit is in the effort not in the result.  So different from the ethos that only winning matters in my outside worlds.  One day I will get the pose, but by then I would have learned what I needed to.  Another practice aphorism echoes in the back of my mind as I am in Awkward Pose and feel as if I am going to fall backward ‘trust the process’ and I try, even as my legs tremble as I squat beside a fifty something mother who has done little more than PE in high school but is holding the pose steadily, head up, arms reaching, elegant.  The struggle is never against the person beside you, it’s always against yourself.

Exhausted, I collapse into dead body pose.  Will someone please turn on the fan, its hot, how many poses left, what time is it? Lawd Jeezas help mi!  I am about to have a panic attack, but I breathe.  The teacher, in tune with the class, says, ‘own your breath. If you own your breath, nothing or no one can steal your peace.’  I calm down, like the hollering baby I saw in the airport last week who was only calmed by its mother’s breast, I breathe and am comforted.  The breath connects me to the milk of the universe and I am at peace…’heels, toes, together…sit up.  I am renewed.

I am getting dressed to go to a meeting; my clothes no longer fit.  My waist is now what it was in high school, having been lost somewhere in the yoga studio.  I tighten my belt and smooth out the wrinkles in my pants waist. I am accustomed now to the various comments, ‘how yu so mawga’ from my mother to ‘you look so good’ from a passing stranger.  My wife is smelling the roses and causes me to be late for the meeting.  She is anticipating my own diatribe, I breathe, and it’s all good.  My head may not be that tough after all.

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