One Guy's Journey to (Kind of) Enlightenment
Since quitting swim team in the 11th Grade to take up drugs and alcohol as a full-time hobby, my body had withered away, my spirit along with it. No matter how much whimsical travel, deep dives into enlightenment philosophy, or beaten-down pairs of Birkenstocks -- I had found myself still uncomfortable in my own skin.
[dropcap type="default"]I[/dropcap]t's hard to imagine a 2nd Century monk donning Lululemon, hopping into a CR-V, and chugging a kombucha before sauntering into the local yoga studio for a hot power yoga class. Call it what you will: cultural appropriation, new-Orientalism, pseudoscience -- ancient yoga tradition has assumed a new identity under its co-opted Western form, one synonymous with fad diets and high-rise luxury condos. Whether that's for better or for worse is up to history to decide. Regardless, I swallowed my pride and bought two weeks of unlimited yoga for $25.
My first class was in an upstairs studio, natural light shining through massive windows and laying rest upon a room full of pregnant women, me…a twenty-four-year-old musician and writer who drank six beers the night prior, and my ballerina girlfriend (we'll refer to her as Gumby).
Now, I already knew that Gumby was going to outshine me. She was, after all, made of green clay. I, on the other hand, was 145 lbs of mostly brittle bone and the occasional tricep. Since quitting swim team in the 11th Grade to take up drugs and alcohol as a full-time hobby, my body had withered away, my spirit along with it. No matter how much whimsical travel, deep dives into enlightenment philosophy, or beaten-down pairs of Birkenstocks -- I had found myself still uncomfortable in my own skin.
Our instructor, Colleen, began the session by inviting us to lie on our backs and focus on our breath.
"Perfect,” I thought, “ I spent the equivalent of two-and-a-half burritos on a sleeping class.”
She deceptively told us that “Yoga means to connect.”
"No it doesn't," I thought, "It means 'union' in Sanskrit. I googled it at a stop light on the drive over. Do not pull that on me, Colleen!"
With her insistence to suppress thought by returning to the breath, I gradually bid adieu to my inner- monologue and wheezed bonjour to a perspiration that seemed to coat every available parcel of my skin. No one was safe. I sweat between my toes, behind my ears, even in the pits of my elbows. Droplets formed at the ends of my eyelashes. I wiped them away in transition from Chaturanga Dandasana to the "collapsing beneath your own weight" pose.
When we stood to Warrior 2, rocking into a gentle lunge, our shoulders begging us to let them drop, I tasted the beginnings of a hurried trip to the bathroom as it gurgled up from my stomach. Instinct promptly dropped me to Child's Pose, and there I stayed for the remainder of my time with Colleen.
Gumby reassured me after class that quitting was perfectly alright. Yoga is a personal journey. You don't expect a newborn to swim the 100-Meter Butterfly when you first throw them into the pool, you can't expect yourself to be rocking Crow Pose in your first class.
I told her that, although I appreciated it, I needed no reassurance. Already, I felt a tremendous weight had been rung out of me. It was as if someone had knocked away all the drywall and allowed my soul to hug the original brick-and-mortar.
That evening, I called my best friend. Somewhat disingenuously, I told him that I was now a yogi and a vegetarian.
“What do you think of that?” I asked. “Does that make me a phony?”
“You know what I've figured out, man?” he replied, “There are some things I like that aren't worth a dime to the cynic. I like staying up late with my brother watching stupid sitcoms. Whatever! Do what feels right....If dressing like some kind of guru and hanging out in prenatal care gives you peace, then do it.”
It's been a week-and-a-half since that first yoga class, and I'm yet to cancel my membership. Every session there is some new enlightenment -- something I never knew needed fixing. My posture, for example, is all carried in my chest, probably from years of swimming Butterfly. My hips, the so-called junk drawer of emotions, refuse to open past what has for years been comfortable. I've even noticed my cynicism beginning to evaporate.
Yoga, in and of itself may not be a remedy for disillusionment or the attainment of enlightenment. However, the virtue of committing oneself -- be it to art, fitness, spirituality, diet, what-have-you -- is more effective than any sedative. Here, I've committed myself to spending weekday evenings breathing in-sync with 15 pregnant women and my girlfriend.
I guess that works.
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