By Eleanor Self
My yoga story is still mostly ahead of me, but this is the story of just getting to that first class.
A wise woman once said, “You’ve gotta go there to get there.” Actually, the wise woman was Hannah, and if you’ve been in her class, you know she’s said that WAY more than once. But it’s true. If where you want to be is not where you are, then the only way to get to where you want to be is to go. Go there – the place you want to be. That applies to life in general as well as yoga. You’ve gotta go there to get there.
But on the way to going there and getting there, you will encounter obstacles. There will be detours and there will be some points along the journey where you just can’t seem to get there from here. Sometimes those points are in your own head.
That’s where I was in November of 2013, stuck at a point at which I just couldn’t get there, stuck in my own head. I wanted to start a yoga practice, but it was way too scary for me – just walking into a yoga class with no idea what to expect. I was sure everyone would resent my presence, and I was more than sure that the anxiety I would endure would be more miserable, more tormenting than anything thing that could happen on the mat.
Just to try to get some familiarity, I booked a private lesson with Brooke. My plan was to start going to group classes right away. But that “right away” turned into a year and a half.
The road to starting a regular practice was a lot more twisted than the few blocks straight up Gallatin Pike. Many times I tried to go back for a class but was overwhelmed by the feelings that I didn’t deserve to do it, that I clearly didn’t belong there, and I would ruin it for everyone else by just being there. You name it, I thought it, and over and over, I let it shut me down.
Here are some of the road closures I found in my own head and the detours I took to get around:
“You know how you get lost – even places you’ve been before. If you try to go you won’t even find it.” I started driving the route home from work that takes me by the studio. I would make a point to look at the building to prove to myself I knew where it was. I pulled into the parking lot from time to time to prove to myself I could find it consistently.
“You’re too scared. If you do go, you’ll just have a crippling stomachache and you won’t be able to do anything.” I started visiting the HYEN website. I posted questions on a local listserve to see if anyone had been there and what they had to say about it. I Googled Hot Yoga of East Nashville and just looked at reviews and anything I could in an attempt to reduce the strangeness and curb the jitters. The web perusing didn’t help a lot, but I did find that awesome unlimited 30-day Groupon.
“You will be so conspicuous walking across that parking lot. You don’t even know how to carry your stuff.” I made it my business to find out how to carry my stuff. I Googled “celebrities going to yoga” just in case there were pictures of famous people walking into yoga class. There are. Starlets and reality notables seem to favor holding a rolled mat or towel in the crook of one arm with a water bottle in that same hand and then keys or phone in the opposite hand. I did a trial run in the kitchen to see if I could do that. I could.
“The other customers will hate you. Thin, healthy people don’t even want to look at someone who is out of shape and overweight. If you go, they will all be mad at you for ruining their day.” Through this whole time, the same quote seemed to pop up everywhere “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Over the course of that year and half, life peppered me with that quote. If I turned on the TV someone said it. If I checked Facebook it was posted in a cute little frame. I overheard it in conversations, saw it printed everywhere. Eventually, I believed it. I stopped trying to be responsible for the happiness of people who don’t even know me, but might be more content if I don’t cross their sightline.
“Maybe someday.” By June of 2015, the expiration on the Groupon was still far in the distance, but I joined a weight loss and fitness challenge which required 30 minutes a day of physical activity. I tried going for walks around the neighborhood, but I was just too scared to keep it up. Inside the yoga studio was the only place that seemed safe enough, and offered the accountability of the challenge, which meant I had to do it now.
I gathered up my stuff to go to yoga, but a couple of steps from the door I was overwhelmed by the negative thoughts and just lost all energy. I kept repeating this attempt for a few days. I started feeling like I needed to give my son some sort of explanation for the behavior he was seeing. I told him, “ I want to go to yoga but some days I feel too afraid and some days I feel too depressed.” He did what was probably the best thing he could have: he gave me a pleasant but puzzled, “why are you telling me this?” look as if what he was seeing wasn’t actually even crazy.
I decided I would keep making this attempt over and over. I would keep going to the door, or to the car, or a block down the road, as far towards a yoga class as I could, as many times as it took because, surely, this would not go on forever. Through the end of 2013, all of 2014 and the first half of 2015, small pieces had fallen into place and I really felt like any minute there would be some great positive inspiration that would boost me out the door. Unexpectedly, it was one really bad day that finally did it.
June 16, 2015 was a really horrible day at work – upsetting and just miserable. I felt depressed and hopeless as I began my commute. I went through my routine of attempting to go to yoga with no expectation that this day would net any more progress than usual. I headed for the front door, bracing for the wave of negativity to hit and shut me down. It didn’t happen. I already felt about as bad as I could, and in a strange way that protected me from feeling any worse. I reached the door, went through it and kept on going until I made it inside a yoga class.
Yes, I did feel just as conspicuous crossing the parking lot and in the class as I expected to, but I had finally made it there! And it was worth it. I made it through the 90 minutes of 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises. I noted feeling a sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t easy, but it felt good to conquer my fears, cancel out the worries, and cross all of the obstacles to get there. And I kept coming back.
The physical changes I’ve experienced have been remarkable. By the time my Groupon was used up I was hooked. I had started the month exhausted and in pain from my forehead to my feet. Now, all my aches and pains were resolving and I felt strength and energy building.
Turns out my worries of not being accepted were unfounded; people were either friendly, or engrossed in their own practice, mostly friendly. After a few classes I began to understand what “group energy” meant and to feel like I was a valuable contribution to the whole.
I’m finding the yoga practice itself not to be unlike the process it took to get here. The growth happens in the repeated failures, which afford me the opportunity to show myself grace and start again… over and over until the failures don’t feel like failures at all. They’re just opportunities to practice. Sometimes the process feels really good, sometimes it really doesn’t. Often the things that don’t feel good, mentally and physically, are what move me forward.
I’ve heard so many great quotes from all the yoga teachers, too many to list them all, but I started with one of the first things I heard Hannah say and I’ll end with a recent one from Adam, “Don’t let your final expression be you bailing on the pose!”
The reward is not really in the final success, but in the stubborn, continual trying.