Why I will do yoga until the day I die

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Yeah, I know. That’s a big statement. Especially for me.

I can have some bandwagon tendencies. I jump on and ride along for about six months until a more interesting wagon rolls on by. For a while, thought I needed to buy a potter’s wheel, I looked for apartments to rent in South Africa and went through a phase where thought I really needed to be able to read hieroglyphs.

This is different. Yoga is a keeper. This is a lifelong practice for me and if I ever stop doing it, someone needs to kick my ass back on to the mat because I’ve temporarily lost my mind.

Yoga taught me how manage my panic attacks and anxiety, it has lessened my depression and made me a much happier person. It’s made my marriage stronger and has given me the supportive community that I’ve always wanted.

And then there is the physical stuff.

When I was 11 years old, I broke my back. I was working on a film called Rambling Rose, and in a freak accident in the school room, I crushed three vertebrae between my shoulder blades and I got whiplash in my lower back. It’s not even an interesting story, I pushed myself back to get out of a chair, the wheels got caught, I fell backward, hit the wall and snapped forward. I’d really rather tell you I was saving kittens from a burning building, but I like you – I don’t want to lie.

After five days in the hospital, they put me in a metal brace and drugged me up on codeine, so I could finish the film. Then, I went home to recover and had to use a wheelchair if I needed to walk further than a few steps. (If you want to hear more, and the reason opiates and gorilla costumes don’t mix, all that is in my book.)

In time I healed, but some issues remained. I had nerve damage and lingering pain. My left foot would drag when I got tired and the lightest touch to my lower back would cause spasms to shoot down my legs. I was generally stiff and sore, I couldn’t get anywhere near touching my toes. But, I just accepted pain was part of my life; I was grateful I could walk. My back pain was manageable. It was mostly fine.

Then, at the age of 30, I walked into a hot yoga studio. Thanks to my anxiety, I had spent an entire therapy session devoted to discussing whether or not I could survive a yoga class. I felt panicked about the people, the heat, the physical postures I knew I couldn’t do. But I got myself in the front door and found a whole community of men and women with open arms – ready to welcome my messed up body and chaotic mind. They all had jacked up bodies and minds when they started, too.

Everything changed.

I started to get flexible. 20 years of back pain melted away. And with it, a whole lot of emotional pain dissolved, too. It wasn’t instant. It took time. But it became clear that yoga was making me stronger – mentally, physically and spiritually. Yoga gave me back my spine, in more ways than one.

I was ready for a life with a “bad back.” I was prepared for the constant ache and various restrictions. One of those things I shouldn’t be able to do is this:

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But here I am anyway.

It changed my normal. It changed what I could expect from life.

Yoga is not about being flexible or having cute yoga pants or chanting in some language you don’t understand. It’s about learning to get distance from the incessant chatter of that inner critic jerk who wants to ruin everything. It’s about the courage it takes to be willing to show up, just as you are, and have that be good enough.

Some days who I am is a person who is overwhelmed by the world and needs to spend most of the class in tears, lying on my mat. And that’s good enough, too. Yoga is where we learn to let go of what is no longer serving us and sometimes that process is emotional. Having a melt down in class is pretty much a  rite of passage. Everyone else is dealing with their own stuff so no one really notices, but it’s still nice that tears look a whole lot like sweat.

Yoga is not about being “good”  – it doesn’t matter that I still have a hard time getting my forehead to my knee in Dandayamana Janushirasana after seven years of solid practice. I’ll probably get there eventually. I’ll still be doing this when I’m 84; seven years is nothing.

I don’t take compliments well. I shrug them off and explain them away, inadvertently flinging a kindness back in the face of the person saying it.  But when someone praises my backbend, I do my best to fight that habit and simply say thank you. Because it’s the purest and most genuine way I know to express gratitude – to my spine, to this practice, and to this life.

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If you are interested in yoga and have any questions, please ask in the comments! I always recommend going to a class because teachers can help you with proper alignment and any modifications you might need. At the studio where I practice, we have men and women of all ages and body types – new people are always welcome! 

If going to a studio is not feasible for you – check out Yoga with Adriene. She has free YouTube videos that are fantastic for all levels. 

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16 thoughts on “Why I will do yoga until the day I die

  1. Last February, I made the decision to leave the yoga teacher I’ve been taking classes with on and off for almost seven years now. We met each other in a studio that he co-owned, and then when he moved to private classes, I felt that the environment he cultivated had become very toxic, in stark contrast to the philosophy of yoga and his own expressed desire to live a life of compassion and kindness. The teacher always seemed to encourage competition and comparison, always finding ways to comment on the shape of my (short, curvy) body compared with those of my (tall and thin) classmates. I have always struggled with food, my weight, and maintaining a consistent practice, and for two years before I decided to leave, I struggled with leaving. I wanted to leave, but at the same time I wanted to stay, because yoga was one of the few times I felt I was able to encounter my most authentic self.

    I have not really unrolled my mat since leaving. Right now, I believe I am trying to find a new path to center. It may be a new style of yoga, a new form of movement. When I find it, I wish to be like you and practice it until the day I die.

    • I think it can get really difficult if you are tied to just one teacher, because you think that if you leave them, you can’t do yoga! But the yoga is really just all about you, you don’t need anyone or anything else. Sounds like it was a good choice to leave – yoga is not at all about comparison. Just the opposite! I hope you can find something that works well for you.

  2. A few months ago a friend told me I should do yoga because it helped him a lot to calm down. I told him that I tried for a month years ago and it didn’t work. He said that a month is not enough to see the improvements. At that time I was SO anxious that I needed something that worked fast, but now I guess I could give yoga another try. Thank you for your article.

    • There are lots of different kinds of yoga, so maybe you can try something new. Different studios and different teachers might offer a better fit. It is certainly not a miracle cure, it takes commitment and work, but it has made such a difference for me. Best of luck to you!

  3. I’ve never done yoga before and always believed you needed to be super-flexible and bendy to do it, so it’s great to hear that this isn’t the case! 🙂 I’ve always tended to shy away from any group exercise, but having read your post, it definitely sounds quite an individual thing. I’ve got hip-misalignment according to my physio, and he recommended yoga and pilates for strengthening. I may have to investigate the classes at my gym! Just looking at the picture of you bending backwards makes my back twinge! Ha! 🙂

    • Ah, yes, one of the enduring falsehoods of yoga. That’s like saying “I can’t take piano lessons because I don’t know how to play Mozart.” Going to yoga is how you get flexible! Hope you check out some classes – let me know how it goes!

  4. Looking for things to do with my (shiny new) girlfriend.

    Seriously: she still has new girlfriend smell.

    We’ll have to check out a (safe, non-judge mental, super-dooper ridiculously easy) beginner’s course some time.

    • Yay for a shiny new girlfriend.
      Jeremy and I practice yoga together and it is spectacularly wonderful for relationships.
      Happy downdogging to you both.

  5. I have done yoga a few times and always really enjoyed it. After reading this, I feel like I need to make more of an effort to find a regular class and turn it into a habit. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

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