“I’m going to yoga tomorrow morning. Want to go with me?”
The words are foreign.
There was a time in my life, like, 12 years ago, when “yoga” and “Lauren” were synonymous with one another. Purple sticky mat and lithe little Lauren were one and the same.
I had my certain spot in the yoga room I veered to whenever I opened up the mirrored doors.
I had my select yoga gear (it was actually just a handful of ratty shirts and long pants that I reserved for asanas) that got more mileage than my beat-up Corolla.
I had my favorite postures, namely camel and forward fold, and felt a ridiculous amount of giddiness whenever approaching these movements.
Yoga was my life. And that is no simplification. I was a posture, the posture was me. Funny how today when my friend and I attended a class in the wee early hours of 9am (My body creaked! My joints cracked!), it was the first time I set foot into a studio in, oh, hmm, maybe, was it 6 months? 8 months? My daily attendance has dwindled to a bi-annually event.
I could say that I gave up my yoga mat because I was getting tired of doing the same postures over and over again. I was a Bikram and Ashtanga devotee, and those of you who know those two styles of asana can attest to the fact that there is always a set flow to each practice. Every time. No deviation.
Part of that is true, that the rigidity of going from pranayama to half moon to backward bend and so on was making me feel complacent. But in reality, the expectations of being a yogi were getting to me. Seriously getting to me. And not just physically, but mentally as well.
Some background: I was a long distance runner for as long as I can remember and took up Bikram yoga because I needed my body to heal from all the pounding and abuse I racked up from the miles on the road. After my first sweaty class I was hooked because I realized I was a natural yogini. Shorter legs, longer torso, extremely flexible–I could already do the splits without much prompting and in a heated room I could do even more. Being the perfectionist and goal-oriented person I am, I continued my yoga journey in hopes of creating THE PERFECT ASANAS EVER. When teachers proclaimed to “let your body guide you, only do what you can do today,” I internally scoffed. No, I was going to push the limits of my flexibility. I wanted to mimic the Chinese contortionists fellow yogis claimed I looked like.
After five years of continuous classes, hitting the hot studio once or twice daily, I was close to achieving the “I have no bones in my body” ideal. Full camel. Standing splits. Full backward bends. Guillotine. Nothing was off limits. But for what? My joints ached because I was actually over stretching the ligaments. I was constantly thirsty because I wasn’t drinking enough water to hydrate after being inside a 100 degree room for 90 minutes everyday. Physically, I was tired. My body was crying out for me to stop.
Mentally, my brain was also crying out for me to stop. My identity was wrapped around how flexible I was, how “cool” it was that I could do splits on command. Yeah, it’s a fun trick once in awhile, but the pressure to be “that uber flexible and so amazing yogi gal” was mounting. I didn’t know who I was apart from my purple mat.
So I just stopped. I threw away my yoga clothes. I cut up my yoga mats. I cried. And cried. And Cried. It felt like I was discarding a part of myself. It was cathartic and necessary, yes, but also very similar to the purging process alcoholics go through when weaning off the bottle. For many months after I was an emotional wreck trying to figure out what my next sports mission would be.
I tried other activities. I saw a CrossFit video and thought Fran seemed easy, so I tried doing a pull-up and realized all I could do was just hang there. I tried rolling around in a jiu-jitsu gi and became dizzy after warm-ups. I felt like I was failing, failing in being a powerhouse in some other kind of sport.
That was when God showed me this: Is my body really just for sport? To receive medals and acolades for? Or is my body meant for more–to honor Him, to do His will, to do His work?
It was a total paradigm shift. Yoga was not my life. Sport was not my life. Jesus was my life.
So I approached new activities with no expectations, no restraints, no labels. And you know what? I HAD FUN. I didn’t have to be “that super strong girl” or “the girl that runs really far and really fast.” I could just be me. I laughed with my husband as he tried to teach me how to put on gloves and box. I jumped around with excitement when I was able to do 10 push-ups in a row. I cheered with friends when I finally achieved a 1.5x bodyweight squat. I was having fun because I didn’t need to have my sense of worth, who I am, wrapped up in a certain number, asana, or label.
And by bi-annual yoga class today? All I can say is, it was fun. My friend and I ended up being the only two in the room with the teacher. We laughed during the last savasana (I know you’re not supposed to, but whatever!), we breathed into alignment with the postures, and after, we had a great lunch together and enjoyed one another’s company.
It was fun. It was grand. I got to hang out with a friend, work on my spinal alignment, and basically spend some time just being me. Have I already signed up for my next 90 minute asana session? No. I have no idea when I’m going to another class. Maybe next week? Maybe next month? Either way, I’m entering that room with no expectations and no asana bar I have to reach. It will just be fun. Pure fun.