“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” I’ve heard this statement from several yoga instructors. It’s proven to be true: anytime an instructor cues a twist from chair or any lunge posture, I groan, don’t want to take the posture, then I take the posture. And I’ll admit, I’m counting hard, wanting to move onto the next posture and get out of the twist. It might be due to the brief painful twinge I get in the surgical scars on my abdomen, or the pain I get from my left shoulder; you know, the infamous shoulder injury from my stubborn self slamming into a six-foot-tall person blocking home plate, said person thinking there was no way that my five-foot-two self would slam into him.
Whatever the reason, twists are postures I dislike. Give me standing splits, tree, sleeping swan, hi to low push ups, I’m loving the hell out of it. Instruct me to take a forearm balance, I’m going to be all giddy in my ability to rise up without assistance. Handstands, I’m going to take, but I’m making no promises that I’m going to get my feet up in the air, and I’m okay with that. Half the time I make them on my own, two-thirds of the time I get them with an instructor’s assistance.
But twists. Getting my armpit down over my knee isn’t something I’ve accomplished yet. Reaching behind myself to bind takes a patient, seasoned instructor and several minutes. I’ll give credit to my instructors who assist me in these postures: they patiently and carefully work with me, and always tell me I did a good job, even if my progress is miniscule. And hats off to the ones who know me well enough to know that’s where my work is and always come to adjust me into the posture more fully every time they cue the damned things.
“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” Twists are cued during practice, and I sigh, and attempt them. I rejoice when I make progress, and I rejoice when they’re done. Maybe I view them as I do scrubbing the bathroom: it’s all part of life. They come up in practice, and I’d rather not be doing them, but I do them.
I’m auditioning to be a yoga instructor at a local gym tomorrow; having been requested by the owner of the gym to demonstrate my teaching abilities with a twenty-minute cardio yoga session to a full class. I’m jumping at the chance, and wrote up a sequence yesterday morning. Today, a friend met up with me to help me practice teaching the sequence. In between run throughs, we conversed over drinks and food, occassionally taking a break to people watch and walk around. When I ran through the sequence twice without error, we called it a day. Walking to the parking structure, he offered me a ride to my car on the second floor. “I appreciate it, but I’m just going to take the elevator.” My legs were sore from a two hour workshop I had taken the day before, and I was tired. The doors to the elevator opened. I stepped in. I pushed the number two button. The elevator began rising.
Brrrrrrr. Clunk. Clunk. Shudder. Stall.
You know, this only happened about two hours ago, and I don’t remember what came out of my mouth in that moment. I do know, however, that if I heard one of my children say any of the words I said in rapid succession, they’d be tasting soap in their mouth for about twenty years.
I pressed the door open button. Nothing. Door close button? Nope. The one button, the two button, the three button. All the while, the walls of the elevator were closing in on me, and my mind flashed back to a conversation I had with a friend in a hotel elevator in which he told me that most elevators have mirrors on them, so as to be less claustrophobic.
The elevator in that parking garage had no mirrors.
I am severly claustrophobic.
My mind scanned through several panic fueled thoughts, all centering around me dying in that elevator. The sports tank top I had put on that morning for the purpose of enjoying just how comfortable it is suddenly shrunk three sizes. My throat was closing up, my chest tightened up. I couldn’t breathe. My mind felt like it was in a paint shaker, the thoughts riccocheting around.
Then a memory rose to the top: at thirty-three, six months pregnant with my youngest child, I had been rushed to the hospital when my heart wouldn’t stop racing and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Taken to a room immediately, I was hooked up to a fetal monitor, a blood pressure machine, an EKG. Repeating my symptoms to the nurse, I stressed how fast my heart was racing. “Sweetie, look at the monitor,” the nurse said. I looked. My heart rate was registering at a steady seventy-three beats per minutes, a very normal rate. “Anxiety lies. Remember that. Then find one thing, any one single thing you know to be factual. Put your hand on the bed rail and squeeze.” I did as I was instructed. “How does it feel?” the nurse asked and I answered, “It feels hard.” “That’s right. You know that’s a fact. It’s a hard plastic bed rail. Focus on that, because you have proof that’s the truth.”
I sat down on the floor of the elevator, and ignoring everything else, I put my hand on the floor beneath me. It was hard. My heart rate slowed a bit, and I could feel air drawing into my lungs. I picked up the emergency line, told the person who answered I was stuck and they told me someone would be there to get me out as soon as possible.
There was nothing to do but wait.
My man scanned over everything I needed to get done that evening, what I needed to do the next morning, what time I needed to leave by in order to make it to the gym on time to give my demo tomorrow morning. I thought of emails I need to respond to, work tasks I need to complete, shopping lists for my son Benjamin’s upcoming birthday party and for my upcoming trip to New Mexico. I thought of friends I needed to touch base with. My mind briefly landed on wondering if I died in that elevator if I’d told everyone I loved that I loved them, and my heart began racing again. I pressed my hands into the elevator floor and reminded myself that the elevator had not shrunk in size; that anxiety was a brutal liar. Then I thought of what a therapist I had seen to deal with my anxiety issues had recommended to me: think of the last time you felt safe. Not surprising, my mind floated back to being on my yoga mat, in one of my favorite instructor’s classes. “If your mind can’t settle, just think to yourself, ‘I’m breathing in, I know I’m breathing in; I’m breathing out, I know I’m breathing out.'”
I repeated that mantra for a few minutes until a clanking, a grinding, and a drop happened, followed by the doors opening three-quarters of the way down to the first floor. The maintenance worker who had gotten the elevator almost all the way back down held out his hand to help me down the temporary step created by the elevator, and I took it and thanked him.
I took the stairs up to my car.
“How we approach things on our yoga mat is how we approach things in our life.” On the mat, when I’m given twists, my mind groans, I wonder if I can get out of it, I wonder if there’s something else I can be doing, anything other than that posture. Then I do the damn thing, hold it and then release it when I’m cued to take the next posture. When it comes up again on the other side of my body, I do the same thing. When faced with a scenario I’d rather not be in: stuck in an elevator, taking a flight, public speaking, eating cooked green vegetables, dealing with a troublesome client, formatting my own books, folding the (damned) laundry, I do the same thing: I groan, I wonder if I can get out of it, I wonder if there’s something else I can be doing, anything other than that thing which I’d rather not face or deal with. And then I do the damn thing and finish it. Even if I don’t want to. Even if I’d rather be sharing a bottle of wine with a friend and talking late into the night. And then when the next thing comes up I’d rather not do, I repeat the groan, the wish to do anything else, the desire to avoid those things that make me tired, sore, stressed, anxious, angry. Then I suck it up, face it down, deal with it, finish it off, and move on.
I didn’t want to be stuck in that elevator today any more than I want to do a twist in yoga practice on any day. Yet I did both; I could avoid the twists during practice, go to the bathroom, go refill my water bottle, take child’s pose, or just not do them. Yet, I take the twists when I’m offered them. Why? Because that’s where my work is at. When in life it gets rough or stressful, that’s where my work is: to learn patience, to learn acceptance, to learn self love, and how to forgive myself when I don’t achieve what I’m aiming for. To learn to not be such a harsh critic of myself. To learn, and learn, and relearn the art of learning to let go of that which I cannot control. Ultimately, none of it is up to me: my client’s behavior, the amount of laundry I’ll have to do, how messy my kids make the bathroom, what sequence the instructor cues during practice. It’s there, given to me by the universe for me to determine if I’m going to face that which is sent to test me, and to determine if I’m going to learn from what was given to me from the day before.
Today, I learned gratitude to those who have come into my life to teach me, whether for twenty minutes in an Emergency Room exam cubical, or an hour on my yoga mat each day. I learned patience in waiting out that which I’d rather not being doing, knowing I had no say in the length of time I had to hold onto something that was rather uncomfortable. I relearned the lesson of being in the moment and embracing joy when those damned doors finally opened. And most importantly, I learned that still, at my core, even when it’s started to hit the metaphorical fan and splattering all over the walls of my mind, that despite fear, despite longing for else, when I am up against a wall, I’m going to do what it takes to come through to the other side.
Much love, Dear Reader.