Although this blog has featured many a subject, from where I’m traveling to what I’m eating to what I’m feeling, it has never seen a single post on yoga. Yoga: an activity I do, on average, at least four times a week. Yoga: a practice that has grounded me and empowered me through the most trying years of my life. Yoga: a philosophy, a life style, a devotion that has captured my heart and emboldened my spirit. I dedicate a large portion of my life to the practice, and yet, I’ve never been able to write about it. Perhaps the task of writing about something so intricate and so vast intimidated me. Perhaps I feared that if I shared the details of my practice with readers it would lose its intimacy. It would no longer be my practice. I realize now that those fears were unfounded. Writing about yoga and sharing my questions, insights, and processes surrounding it is part of the practice, too. Even so, had I attempted to pour my thoughts onto the page the way I pour sweat onto the mat, I would not have been capable. I wouldn’t have been ready.
Now, I know that the lessons I’ve learned and the work I’ve done throughout several years of practice have been in preparation for this—for creating a new union, a new yoga, between my practice and my writing. What brings me to the page to write about yoga now is something that will take me to my mat later—
In August, I’ll be starting a yoga teacher training program here in Tucson, and I had applied for a scholarship to help me pay for it. The application process was emotionally and creatively challenging, requiring much self-reflection and soul-searching. By the time I completed my essays, I felt I had bled onto the page and bared my heart, raw, red, and throbbing. But I also felt empowered, for responding to the prompts had helped me articulate and understand my own motivation for doing the teacher training, and even more importantly, for practicing yoga at all.
When I turned in my application, I knew that doing the teacher training was the right path, the only path, I could take in this place and time. Still, this choice had been marred by my own self-doubt surrounding my drastic change in careers. I had spent three years studying and working my ass off so that I could be a diplomat or a foreign correspondent or a prestigious something or other, and here I was, after all that turmoil, choosing to become a yoga teacher? Blah blah blah. It was a big deal for me. It was daunting, and I had the idea that if I received this scholarship, it would be a sign that the universe affirmed and condoned my decision. Getting this scholarship would be my validation.
In the following weeks, I would send a prayer to the universe every time a thought of the training or the scholarship came to mind. I would shoot affirmations up into the cosmos: “I got the scholarship. I deserve the scholarship. I got it, I got it, I got it.” And yet, it was not my prayers or affirmations that confirmed in my heart that I am heading in the right direction. It was—big surprise—the practice itself.
It happened unexpectedly, in a Bikram inspired hot yoga class that I had gone to on a whim. We’d hiked the room’s temperature to a steamy 106ºF, and I’d just done something I’ve never been bold enough to do in any yoga class before: take off my shirt. It was hotter in the room than it was outside, and sweat was dripping into my eyes, so I simply had no choice. I needed to let my skin breathe, and I needed something to wipe the sweat from my brow. The shirt had to come off.
After a particularly intense standing sequence, the instructor has us rest for a moment to return to our breath. I lay there on my mat, a human swamp, breathing heavily, heart beating like a war drum, and listened to the teacher. He was talking about hormones. “You know,” he said, “when the body reaches this temperature, it releases the same hormone that is released during sex.” I don’t know why, but this line filled me with joy. When I practice, I am making love, I thought, and the divine universal Spirit is my partner. I started to cry. As we pushed up and back into downward dog, tears of happiness mixed with drops of sweat. I was overwhelmed by the exhilarating, life-affirming feeling that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. On my mat. In a sweltering studio. Making love with yoga.
Bliss. Sweet, sweaty, burning bliss.
Photo by Abby Cochran, Windy Point, Tucson, AZ
Last night, less that a week after this experience, I received an email that said I did not receive the scholarship for the teacher training. Thirteen people had applied, and only one scholarship was available. The studio did offer the remaining 12 of us a large discount on our training, though, and I gratefully accepted. Still, the news filled me with sadness. If this is supposed to be a sign from the universe, is this an indication that I am making a mistake? The obvious answer is no.
My validation for choosing this path cannot, and does not, come from any external judge or standard. That affirmation can only come from within, from my own heart and my own practice. I may not have gained the approval of an unknown scholarship donor, but that is completely irrelevant. I know I am meant to do this, and yoga helped me learn that. Yoga, with all of its challenge, sweat, discomfort, and power, taught me that the only source of validation that truly matters is that which comes from within. I am my only source of self-love and self-actualization. And I am exactly who, what, and where I need to be.