I am in the room. It is already very warm and I am feeling relaxed. A wonderful LivingSocial deal has introduced me to this beautiful, well-lit, airy Bikram yoga studio. Once a week since June I've shown up. Ready to give it my all. And ready for the amazing after-effect of calmness and serenity. Typically, I'm one of the last to rise out of final relaxation (savasana).
There have been many teachers leading this 7:30 class on Sunday morning. It's Bikram so thei instruction is pretty much scripted from the beginning of class to the end. But some teachers bring a lightness with them and crack jokes or try to connect with those taking the class. Some teachers speak entirely too fast or with thick accents which makes me grateful that I know the 26 pose sequence well enough that I am not lost.
On this particular day, I look through the glass wall behind me and try to figure out who the teacher for today's class will be. I start to suspect it is a woman of color. My heart automatically leaps! This has never happened before. I've had young teachers, older teachers, men and women. All White. Maybe one Latino man. And now, not only is the teacher a woman, she's Black. Hooray! I'm excited about class and though she is not my favorite in terms of how she delivers instructions, I'm thrilled to have her leading the class. Just like I'm thrilled when I see other black and brown faces amongst the sea of faces when I go to yoga. There have been times when I have been the one and only. And times when the other-ing that happens in those situations make it so that I never want to return.
I should have been floating on Cloud 9 for the entirety of the class but truth be told, I've been feeling really tired. Worn down even. Severe allergies. 'Round the clock nursing. Life. And in that mental space, it's easy for negative thoughts to start niggling at the edges of my brain. I look at the yoga teacher: gorgeous, young, well-put-together, tight body, painted toe nails. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. And then promptly look away. My eyes? Bloodshot. My hair? Forgot to brush it and far, far too many grays. Clothes? Ill-fitting. Feet? Rough-looking and toenails haven't been painted in eons. Yes, I feel bad.
But in that room, I had no choice but to look at myself. And that's a gift. Because 90 minutes of staring at yourself in 104 degree temperatures, bending and stretching, envisioning oneself going deeper and deeper into postures, summoning total focus will surely soften everything. Open everything. Loosen everything up. And by the time I sealed my practice and uttered my namaste, I felt purged and empowered. I easily pushed those harsh sentiments about myself all the way back to the recesses of my mind. Maybe even out? I easily started to focus on the blessings, counting them one by one and not just paying lip service to saluting the light in those around me but actually feeling the light.
Yoga means a lot of different things to people. And at that, it can mean many different things to one person. It certainly means a lot to me. Folks can say what they will about yoga, but it has been and remains an integral part of my physical and spiritual life and growth.