By Michelle Hegmon
I am an independent, still-fairly-young woman. I am a professor. I like my job, I like my colleagues. I am happily married. I have good friends. Everything is fine. Everything is under control. I am a climber. I am even reasonably comfortable with my tomboy body.
My friend Peggy pays me a great compliment. Peggy says: Your mother did a good job.
My mother taught me how to take care of myself. Through words and example, she showed me the pleasures of independence and the pain of dependence. I think for myself. This is important. No one tells me what to do.
Erica has just finished her degree. She has also been learning how to rock climb. To celebrate we take her climbing. I am surprised at how good she is; she climbs calmly and with a great sense of body position. Erica has been taking yoga. I say Ive been thinking about yogaI think it might help my climbingbut I dont like being told what to do in exercise classes.
But the yoga classes are convenient, the first week is free, and Erica says she thinks I will like the teacher. Erica is smart; after all, she is an independent young woman.
You go to yoga. You learn downward dog. You are flexible, so it is easy: hands flat, feet flat, butt back. You say Om, even though it feels strange.
You go again to the early class the next day. You go every day. By the end of the week you like Om. The next week you ask if you can try the advanced class.
You are in your first advanced class. You are doing a posture called something like powers of konasna. You dont know the names of postures; you dont know much of anything. What are you doing? The teacher moves your arm a little, he tells you to shift your hand. You feel the balance, you’ve got it. That’s it. Beautiful, he says. Before you know it, you let loose with a great big grin. Oh God. But it’s not really embarrassing. The teacher laughs, with you. Its okay to have fun. You are having fun. The grin relaxes you. You’re having a great time.
You are so excited you ride home as fast as you can. You know this is not yoga-like, but you have too much energy. You talk yoga at your long-suffering husband. You can’t sleep.
You are learning a lot. You realize you are letting the teacher tell you what to do. You are letting him tell you when to breathe. You think about this for a while and decide not to worry about it.
Something good is happening and you’re going to let it happen.
You want to learn more. You listen as hard as you can. You try to remember everything. There is a lot to remember and a lot of Sanskrit that wont sink into your head. You try to incorporate all the adjustments. Downward dog is becoming more complicated. You make a mental checklist: arches, knees, tailbone, shoulders, navel point, etc. You turn into a little ball of stress.
You ask your teacher. He suggests you listen to adjustments and then move on. Don’t try to micromanage your body. This you understand. You instruct your brain to cease micromanagement.
He also tells you to try to maintain a peaceful core presence and let the postures blossom out from there. This sounds good, but you don’t really understand how to do it. You have never thought about being a flower and you dont know how to blossom. You store this bit of advice away to think about later…
Your teacher has phrases, mantras and adjustments he uses repeatedly. Mostly you like this, they are helpful and soothing. But there is one exception: You do not like Wherever you are is fine. You know perfectly well that unless you have incorporated every possible adjustment, and unless you are trying and concentrating your absolute hardest, wherever you are is not at all fine.
Your teacher also says to put your knee down if you need to. You know this makes sense, but you dont like to put your knee down. You make a rule: You will put your knee down if it is necessary to prevent you from making a total mess of a posture. You practice at home so you won’t have to put your knee down.
You are doing Parivritta Trikonasana. Your teacher tells you to pull your tailbone back and moves your arm a little. You twist mightily and place your arm in exactly, precisely, the correct position. “Good, now soften.”
He tells you to let your chest go down a little more onto your thighs in airplane, and then to keep your shoulder blades on your back. That makes it harder. You pull to get your shoulder blades into exactly the correct position. “Good, now soften.”
He helps you get the line of Parsvakonasana. You drop your shoulder and extend your arm. You stare at your precisely angled arm. ” Good, now soften.”
Eventually something sinks in. You try to soften. You let your arm unfold itself, and it seems to move into the right position.
It is not supposed to matter if you like or dislike postures. This makes sense, and you understand the philosophy. Fortunately, it is also not a problem, since you pretty much like everything. But you can’t help liking some postures more than others. You love wheel. You couldn’t do wheel at first, and its still a little bit scary. Wheel makes you feel powerful, like a coiled spring. It also makes you feel like a kid at the playground. You know better than to do wheel when you are not warmed up, so you don’t try it on your own. Sometimes you do wheel in the advanced class, at most once a week. You are greedy for more wheel. Even though you are not coveting a thing, you are sure this is against some principle of yoga. You need to read more. All you can do is try to be patient. Maybe if you do more forward bends you will become patient more quickly.
Downward dog has become very difficult. You are trying to ground through the bases of all your fingers, pull back through your arms, rotate your shoulders onto your back, pull up through your knees and arches, keep your back flat, keep your navel and floating ribs in and probably something else you’ve forgotten. It takes all of your strength and concentration to hold downward dog.
Yoga has gone way beyond training for climbing. You want to know more. You ask your teacher what to read. He suggests Siddhartha and Illusions. You stay up half the night reading. You understand Om a little bit better. After a little while you relax, you quit thinking about whether it is fiction or fantasy or philosophy, and you just enjoy it. Maybe thats the point.
At the beginning the learning curve was steep and exciting. Almost every day you learned something new. Now it has become a little more gradual. You resist the temptation to learn new asanas from a book. It is relaxing to not have to think so hard.
Some postures start to feel different, but you can’t really explain how or why. You don’t get to do wheel as often. One day you think you “get” Savasana.
It is the last day of the semester. You decide to give yourself a treat and go to two yoga classes. It is cold and raining when you get up. You put lights on your bike, put on your rain jacket, and ride in for the early class. You are treating yourself; you are also wet and shivering.
It is the second and last class and you are tired. You are in downward dog, you dont seem to be straining, and you havent been thinking. Uh oh. You start checking, but you seem to be creating space, you have engaged Uddiyana Bandha. You are fine.
You cant get the twist from a lunge so you put your knee down. It doesnt seem to matter, much. It feels like you are blossoming into a twist. You get to do lots of wheel.
Class is over. You dont know how to thank your teacher, so you just say thank you. The rain has stopped, and you ride home gently. You dont talk about yoga. You sleep.
There are no classes for a month, and I still have an unyoga-like obsession with yoga, but it is getting better. Writing helps.
What happened to me? Everything seemed fine, everything was under control. I wasn’t looking for change, but it happended. I trusted my body, I trusted my teacher, I relinquished control and I learned. I learned new ways to learn. I am . . . I dont know. I am a little more likely to believe that wherever I am is fine.