I found @yoga_girl, Rachel Brathen on Instagram a few months ago and as I scrolled through her feed I was A) in awe of her amazing inversion practice, and 2) loved what she had to say. I quickly learned that Rachel had recently collapsed in an airport and was rushed to a hospital where she had emergency surgery for a burst appendix. When she woke up in the hospital she was told that her very best friend had died in a car crash. The pain that filled her Instagram in those days was paired with the beauty of the photograph and what she ended up capturing was the striking dichotomy about the beauty and pain that is life. I looked forward to her posts in a way that I didn’t with other yogis that I follow because they lacked pretension and she wasn’t every afraid to say “Fuck this, I’m having a shitty day,” or show the ugliness and reality of the emotion she was feeling. I really liked her. And then she married an amazing guy, and a few days into her honeymoon her grandmother died. And when they returned home to Aruba one of her beloved dogs died. This girl, at a very young age, got pain. She experienced the extremities of life and shared it so truthfully with all her followers. I love truth-tellers. I really do.
So when she posted that she was doing an IG yoga challenge for 21 days (the amount of time it takes to make or break a habit) I wanted in. My hesitation came because though I love my yoga practice, and where I am is where I need to be, I’ll likely never be a yoga who posts my daily handstands because they always end with me breaking something, and yoga selfies will never be my thing. I have pictures on FB of my yoga practice that were put there when I thought I might consider teaching yoga as a career but they’ve always embarrassed me. And since I’ve decided not to pursue a teaching path and instead be the student I always wanted to be, I only use them now in online dating profiles because damn they get great reactions.
But I want to do this challenge. This is difficult for me in a new way. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t have any problem laying all my dirty, sordid cards on the table. I believe that if my truth can bridge a connection or help someone going through something similar than it’s worth saying. But yoga I’ve kept a relatively private affair. I practice at a studio where I don’t know anyone, where I don’t really make anything other than small, pleasant conversation with the students and where I love and treasure my anonymity in community so very much.
My practice began fourteen years ago in a black box theatre on the campus of the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minnesota. Tom Darnell, my professor, a midwestern-Sean Connery-type instructed us all through my very first sun salutation and I about died of embarrassment. I wondered who was staring at my butt and if my underwear showed, and we do WHAT now? A push-up?! I hadn’t moved that much in years. Literally, years. Because when I was thirteen I was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and told that I’d be spending the majority of my formative years in a Judy Blume novel. I wore a back brace throughout high school and went from a kid who had competitively danced and figure-skated to a kid who was only allowed out of the brace an hour a day, which I used to shower. You’re welcome. Inside that brace, I stopped moving. I became more and more uncomfortable in my body and essentially forgot how to use it for anything other than completely necessary movement.
All of the sudden in this Introduction to Acting Class I was being asked to inhabit my body again and I was terrified. I didn’t even know what that meant. Wasn’t acting about reading from a script? What did my body have to do with it? The majority of that class was spent practicing yoga, Tai-Chi and Alexander technique. If I recall correctly, we weren't handed a script until weeks before the semester ended. He wanted us to be in our bodies and I wanted to be anywhere else. Everything felt awkward and forced and superficial and I couldn’t stop worrying about how I looked. But I ended up connecting with the sun salutation. For some reason it made sense to me, maybe for the simple fact that I could do it.
Though my practice has waxed and waned over the years, the one thing that has remained consistent are my sun salutations. Though I claim agnosticism, the practice of a sun salutation feels like praying to me, it immediately connects my breath to my body, it wakes me up physically and has developed into my own sacred ritual. It’s a deeply ingrained pre-audition, pre-performance practice and something that became a part of my curriculum when I began teaching Introduction to Performance classes in the hopes that it might affect another person the way it did me. Yoga woke my body up after years of dormancy and even though I didn’t begin to fully express myself physically until years later, it was yoga that was the conduit to movement.
So it’s personal for me. Yoga represents a re-connection to the body that I lost at thirteen, that I was once able to move with grace and beauty. It’s boosted my confidence and allowed me to express myself in a way I never thought I would again. It’s shown me the strength and beauty that the body I often battle with, holds. But I keep that hand very close to my heart. It’s challenging sometimes for me to even take a class without leaving my mat to compare my body to hers, my practice to his, and how many chaturungas I can do without throwing up and those are lessons I’m forced to learn, re-learn and practice each time I step on the mat. When I’m on the mat I plant my feet, lift my toes and can feel my power, feel my strength and see in the mirror not a lack of thigh gap or a pouchy belly but a woman who is strong, powerful and can once again, move.
*I’ve decided to pair this IG yoga practice challenge of #yogaeverydamnday with my own challenge to #writeeverydamnday. I’m going to blog about each day’s challenge and in doing so hopefully learn that each blog post doesn’t have to be 945, 786 words long. You’re welcome.