About eight weeks ago I was longingly looking into the "Mind-Body" studio at my gym, wishing that one day my body would be up to taking a yoga class. Damara, the group fitness instructor, came up to me and said, "You should take that class." I replied, "I will, one day." "No, you should do it now," she said. I launched into my explanation that my Lyme Disease has left me so disabled that I couldn't possibly do yoga. Damara told me that the instructor is amazing, and that I should just pull her aside and tell her about my disability and that I'm a newbie. I went into it with a good attitude: that I would do only what I could, when I could, and that was fine. No hurting myself, no pushing myself into pain, no worries about not keeping up. I stuck to that, and found the class surprisingly enjoyable. It challenged me in a good way.
I went back to that class and another led by another instructor that Damara recommended, and now, I'm hooked. My body is getting stronger more rapidly than it has in years, and I'm seeing some surprising (and welcome) strength gains. Lifting free weights triggers the pain in my arms, but evidently my body can handle supporting its own weight most of the time. If this was all I got from yoga, it would be enough. In fact, watching my husband's face as I used my arms to lift myself to sit on the kitchen counter would've been enough. But I'm finding that the yoga practice I'm beginning is changing my life in profound, unexpected ways. It's thrilling. I am certainly becoming more mindful, and calmer -- yoga reboots my nervous system. I had a good example of this one recent weekend, when I was feeling very irritable and discontent for many reasons. Since it was my Sabbath, my usual options for blowing off steam for prohibited for me: I couldn't call a friend, write a journal entry, escape via TV. My husband was at synagogue, so I couldn't talk things out with him. I didn't have an immediate outlet for my restlessness, so I unrolled my yoga mat and started doing the little bit of yoga that I know. 35 minutes later, I felt significantly less tense.
Through yoga, my senses are deepening: I am acutely aware of how the breeze feels in my hair, or how the sun warms my skin. On the best days, everything feels more vivid, like when "The Wizard of Oz" movie changes from black and white to technicolor. My existence is becoming more colorful. I'm also definitely noticing differences in how I relate to other people. My compassion is growing. I get annoyed less often (but we don't talk about yesterday!) The other day a car cut me off when I was trying to cross the street in a pedestrian crosswalk. The driver accidentally sped through the intersection, realized it, and made some kind of "sorry" gesture. Instead of getting pissed and giving her stink-eye, I found myself waving and nodding "it's ok" to her. Whoa! What have you done with Sarah?
For all these reasons, I'm enthusiastically trying to practice yoga regularly and learn as much as I can about it, with all the zeal of the recently converted. It certainly is not just about the asanas (postures); yoga is geared to strengthen people in the areas where I'm personally weak: mindfulness, judgmentalism/criticism of self and others, contentment, being reactive, etc. This point about the holistic nature of yoga became very clear to me recently, when I hung out with a friend who is currently training to be a yoga teacher, but was acting distinctly non-yogic. Where I saw the improvement in myself is that I reacted to her harshness with compassion and sadness for her, instead of any feelings of judgment or superiority. We are all on a journey, and hers has been especially difficult lately. I was in one of the really shitty situations she's reacting to harshly, and I was able to explain how I've been able to approach the issue with more compassion to the offending person as I've grown older.
No authentic spiritual discipline is all pretty, in my opinion, and that includes yoga. My practice is bringing up all kinds of psychic sludge that I carry, and my little brain is looking for e-s-c-a-p-e. Illegal substances? I want them with an intensity I haven't had in years. Inappropriate actions? I want to indulge in them. I have spent more time thinking about foods I abstain from than I care to admit. Honestly, I feel like a petulant toddler, if toddlers had PMS. The cool part about all this craving is that I understand why it's coming up; uncomfortable things (the aforementioned psychic sludge) are coming up, and greeting them is unpleasant. My mind is trying to distract me, "Nothing to see here! Move along!" Very importantly, I'm acknowledging these things and working through them instead of numbing out. Pretty nifty!