removing the mask
In my forty-two years I have never been a morning person. Being from Boston, I have a pretty direct yet quirky personality, and a playful sarcasm that is the root of my sense of humor.
I am a hard worker and will give two hundred percent at a given task, but I am also pretty lazy when I am home. I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.
My relationship with exercise has been an inconsistent journey that ranged from binging on workouts, protein shakes and weeks of detoxes to late night drinking, processed foods and surfing the internet until ungodly hours of the morning. I have looked and felt great at different times in my life, but have also had periods of being out of shape and a little depressed.
After reading this about me, it may not surprise you to know I didn’t care for yoga the first time I tried it. The amount of discipline required is out of my comfort zone of pausable workout DVD’s, greasy pizzas, and rich amber lagers. Attempting to keep alignment correct, the breath steady, and my focus balanced sends my ADD and OCD completely over the edge.
It may also surprise you to learn I am a yoga teacher.
I stumbled upon the practice when I needed it most. I was a stressed out, corporate drone living on fast food and adrenaline while chasing an ever elusive dangling carrot shaped in society’s definition of success.
The first time I tried yoga I was an uncoordinated mess that gasped for breath while my body trembled for a long sixty minutes. My mat was saturated in sweat comprised of beer, nicotine, and a lifetime of bad decisions. My naive ego egged me on whenever I looked around and passed judgement on all the bendy, fit, and graceful bodies that surrounded me.
“Who the hell do they think they are?” I asked ego rhetorically. “Screw them and their blissful grace.” Yet while I bantered back and forth, calling everyone in the room unquestionable names, I secretly wanted to be like them. I was innately aware these people were tuned in to something that couldn’t be seen. The ‘feel’ of the yoga space was much different than that of a gym; there was an absence of something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.
The overwhelming positive energy was undeniable. It was something I never experienced and I somehow knew the blissed out looks on these bendy bitches’ faces was connected to what was happening in the studio. One didn’t need to understand what a Chakra was or be 'metaphysical' to feel the vibe radiating from the space. I didn't understand the “how” of their focus and bliss, I just wanted it. That motivated me to my second class.
I did pretty good the second time. My initial nerves of being an “outsider” were considerably subdued and while I set up my mat in the back of the room so no one would see me fall out of balance standing in mountain pose, I had a different approach to the practice. I wanted to absorb the sound of everyone’s breath, the instructor's soothing tone, and more importantly, the insanely infectious peaceful energy that would soon fill the room and hug me.
We moved, breathed and put our bodies in different shapes in unison. And for the first time, I became aware I was completely present in the moment. I wasn’t rushing to get to a meeting or running through my mind a list of things I needed to get done. I was just “there."
The final moments came and the instructor placed us in Savasana for final relaxation using only her words. As we lay on the wood floor with eyes closed, bodies and minds open, the instructor gently guided us in to a meditation. With every breath, I felt myself slip more in to relaxation, another place that had eluded me over the years. I couldn’t tell exactly what she said during those brief minutes because the only thing that stood out was her saying it was okay for us to let go. “Just let go.” she said, “Know that it is okay for you to just let it all go.” And that is when I started crying.
I had no idea why, after all these years of choking down my emotions, I felt it okay in this room full of strangers to have an emotional release and sob. But it happened and felt so good. She was right, it was okay to let it all go. I hadn’t realized I had been holding on so tightly for so long to so many things that needed to release until she spoke those words. In those few moments of release, I felt incredibly safe and knew I was going to be okay.
As she brought us out of meditation and class ended, I briefly obsessed over how the other people would judge me once I opened my eyes, and how I would cower out and run to my car, but for some reason those feelings melted away and I didn’t care what people thought for once in my life. When I finally opened my eyes watching everyone gather up their mats, I realized there wasn't judgement. In fact, a couple of the people closest to me smiled peacefully when our eyes met as if we had an unspoken connection.
As I walked to the exit, the instructor appeared, and smiled as she placed her hand on my shoulder asking “how do you feel?”. The only thing I could say that wouldn’t send me into another sobbing emotional release was nothing at all. I smiled and let out a big sigh as my eyes teared up. She squeezed my shoulder, smiled again and said “good…good” and walked away.
From that day on, I explored the roots of Yoga while trying to balance my demanding career. I didn’t always get to class and I would just meditate or do poses in my living room, but it was that “baby step” process that brought me to where I am today. I realized through a slow process of letting yoga in my life that slow processes are one of my processes. I am now aware that I do it with relationships, purchases, etc. Everything is a baby step. If I rush, the foundation doesn't harden completely and the structure can potentially fail. If I had rushed allowing yoga in to my life, I would have resented it. But that is my process. Everyone is different and yoga has shown me my individual processes are okay.
As yoga became more permanent, I began to let go of things I had thought defined me such as my career. I believed I needed to climb a corporate ladder and make big bucks. And that how I looked and who I knew were the important things. I realized one day after a long practice that in my twenty year career I acquired a lot of things, but my search for success in the corporate world made me completely miserable and it was time to say goodbye.
Yoga has this way of taking us on a journey to the deepest regions of our self. It helps strip away the seemingly protective layers in order to see our true, perfect nature in contrast to the stories we have been telling ourselves. Once the layers peel off and we realize how insanely perfect we are, there is no real need in wearing societal masks any longer.
It was at the end of my career when I made the decision to teach yoga. I want to help people learn to breathe, move, and focus. To help them become aware of the present moment again. Most importantly, I want others to know that it is okay to let go of all the stuff that doesn’t serve them any longer.
I am not going to lie, it is physically demanding. It challenges the constructs we create for ourselves in our minds and in the material world around, and it has no time for banter with Ego. It can be an uncoordinated mess that leaves your body trembling for what seems the longest sixty minutes of life.
But when you show up fully for your yoga practice, your yoga practice shows up fully for you. It is not going to be an easy journey but it will definitely be worth the trip.
Even if you are not a morning person.