While I was home for Xmas I put an SD card in my old laptop and rescued dozens of old yoga classes I had stored on there, including a handful from my first yoga teacher, who basically raised my practice and changed the course of my life. So I was doing one of these practices (and suffering, I forgot how hard they were) and while we were holding chair for 17 minutes or whatever it was (realistically it was more like 4), Hillaire was saying that you want to burn out all the garbage and then fill yourself with the best stuff possible. And I was like, that’s the key to everything! See, I got hard into yoga when I was 18 and practiced intensely for like 10 years. But then I started transitioning into mountain running, and the more I ran, the less I yoga-ed, and eventually I was only yoga-ing to unravel the tension just enough that I could get back out and run some more.
Since I’ve had OTS and have only been able to run about as much as a normal fitness enthusiast, I’ve been getting more stressed and having a harder time dealing with it, and thinking, what the hell? On the one hand, my nervous system is a bit broken and my cortisol levels are unpredictable at best, but it still seems like I never used to have all this trouble dealing with regular life stuff. In chair pose the other night I realized, that’s what it is. Yoga, specifically pratyahara, is what made me healthy and stable. Then, once I was training full time, the combination of tiredness and joy of all that mountain running became a substitute for it. But now that I have neither, I have to face the cold hard truth that I am not that emotionally stable after all and I’m definitely not enlightened.
Years ago, I was teaching a class in Denver, it was prime time downtown and there was like 82 people in the room, mats were overlapping, folks were even facing different directions just to get jammed in, and the room that was already heated got brutally overheated and I was holding space for 81 people who were in revolved half moon, and 1 guy that was PISSED. He sets his leg down, stands up fully, and wheels around to face me (I was traveling from mat to mat adjusting, like usual). “WHAT IS THIS!? The man who paid $24 to be pushed to his physical limits in Hades, shouts, “It’s WAY too hot in here! And this class is too hard!” And I stood before him with a serene smile on my face and without missing a breath cue, “Tapas is the surest way to pratyahara. Inhale, arms up. And you do not want to miss pratyahara. Exhale, step back to plank, lower through. If you stick with me here sir, inhale, open heart, when you lay down for savasana in a puddle of your own sweat, exhale, downward facing dog, you will feel the best you have in your life.”
To their credit, the other students didn’t miss a beat or a breath either. I traded that life to be in the mountains, and then I forgot what it all meant. And then I remembered, because yoga never leaves you, even when you leave it. Holding chair too long, it all came back. And it’s not just that yoga makes you a better person. I make myself a well adjusted, nicer, calmer, happier person by using yoga as a tool to see life differently. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get my ass kicked by an audio recorded yoga class.