What is Yoga?
My heart is racing. My breaths are too shallow and too fast. I can’t feel my arms, and my hands are shaking. My eyebrows are no defense against the sweat that is pouring from my forehead and into my eyes, stinging them raw.
Where am I?
I’m in my tiny little apartment in Tallahassee, FL.
What is going on here?
I’m having my very first panic attack.
How did I get here?
I’m here because I’ve had my shoulders hunched up high and my fists up in front of my face for what seems like forever, constantly on the lookout for life’s next suckerpunch.
I’m here because I hate myself for running away from the circus to join law school, even though I knew it wouldn’t make me happy.
I’m here because I’m pissed off at Death. Death, who stepped in the path of my gorgeous, kind, caring boyfriend’s motorcycle and took his life instantly. Death, who is slowly creeping up on my beloved aunt. Death, who is taking my mentor and adopted father piece by piece through a gruesome struggle with a disease I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I’m here because I’m throwing up a big middle finger at Death.
I’m here because I feel guilty for being 1,000 miles away from my screwed up family with no way to help any of them.
I’m here because I have no idea how my life got so fragmented and hectic. I’ve got two jobs, I run an organization, I’ve got a competition coming up, I’ve got finals in two weeks, and I’m absolutely terrified about what tomorrow will bring.
My heart is racing. My breaths are too shallow and too fast. I can’t feel my arms, and my hands are shaking. My eyebrows are no defense against the sweat that is pouring off my forehead and into my eyes, stinging them raw.
Where am I?
I’m on my mat at Inner Power Yoga in Sterling, Virginia.
What is going on here?
I’m practicing yoga.
How did I get here?
I’m here because I spent way too long in a fighting stance. Yoga is putting my fists down and rolling with the punches, because I know that sometimes life is going to punch me in the face. Yoga is knowing that life is going to knock me down whether I’m ready for it or not. And, more often than not, life is going to lift me up and take me on wild adventures, so yoga is unclenching my fists – because my hands are much better suited to holding on for the ride than for trying to block the inevitable.
I’m here because yoga is forgiving myself for making mistakes – even really big, expensive mistakes like running away from the circus to join law school. Even though law school probably wasn’t the right choice for me, and even though I’ll be paying for it until the end of time, I got an education there that I could never have received anywhere else. And I’m here because yoga is really listening to my heart, so that next time I won’t make a really big, expensive mistake, because I’ll be able to admit to myself when I’m only doing something because I think I “should.”
I’m here because yoga is knowing there are things I can’t fight, and learning to accept them. Death is certainly one of those things. Yes, Death took my boyfriend with no notice. Yes, Death took my aunt in January as we surrounded her hospital bed and tried to will it away. And yes, Death took my mentor in June after a long battle with ALS. So, even though I’ll pretty much never forgive Death for cutting their time far too short, I’m here because yoga is grieving and feeling. I’m here because yoga is being thankful that I got to have these people in my life at all, and yoga is being even more thankful that they loved me in return and that they taught me how to be a better person. I’m here because yoga is believing that I can open myself to others now and in the future, because one day Death will come for me, so in the meantime I should love as much as possible and I should use the lessons that my loved ones taught me.
I’m here because yoga is recognizing that guilt doesn’t do anybody any good. I’m here because yoga is choosing to take action to correct things when I am able to take action. I felt that being 1,000 miles away was too far from my family, so I moved back here to be closer to them. And even though this isn’t where I thought I’d be, yoga is being flexible. (And I’m here because yoga is loving your family and being strong for them, even if they are sometimes screwed up.)
I’m here because yoga is realizing that my life is whole and complete, even when some pieces go temporarily missing and things get chaotic. I’m here because yoga is living now, not dwelling in the past or worrying about the future.
Yoga is all of these things to me, and these things are all good things. They are all things that I want to cultivate within myself.
So today, I practice yoga. And when I’m lifting my body up into bakasana with sweat dripping from the tip of my nose, I’m not just lifting my body. I’m lifting those heavy thoughts so that my mind can get out from under the weight of them. I’m lifting my body up every day so that I can stop fighting and forgive, listen, know, and accept. When I’m struggling with my backbends, I’m not working towards opening my heart in the physical sense. I’m working on opening my emotional heart. I’m opening my heart so that I can grieve, feel, be thankful, and believe. Every day on the mat, I work on taking action where and when I can. With each practice, I’m learning to be flexible, to love, and to be strong. As I flow from pose to pose, I feel more and more complete, present, and calm.
To me, this is yoga. And tomorrow, I’ll practice it again.