(Em)bracing ourselves

It’s all gray skies and thick August air in Chicago today. When I walked my son to his bus for his second to last day of summer camp, there was a trace of Fall sneaking through the low clouds. The air wasn’t cool but it wasn’t warm either. The summer feels like it is prepping for its inevitable goodbye.

Next week marks my two-year anniversary move to Chicago from Connecticut. Two years? I remind my husband, who not only looks like a different person; (he used to have dreadlocks down his back and is now shorn and clean cut); but he is a different person. We both are. Our hair, our bodies, our lifestyle, along with our relationship, our yoga, and our careers look nothing like they used to.

Two years ago I thought I would take a break from teaching yoga full-time. Instead of sitting in front of yoga students which is what I did for nearly eighteen years, I sat for hours on my living room couch alternating between writing a memoir about a pivotal time in my life and staring at the pale green walls of a city apartment wondering when my life would feel familiar again. (The memoir is on hold for now, but stay tuned for an excerpt to be published soon.)

I applied to graduate school. I knew how to do school. I stopped telling people I was a yoga teacher because it felt like everyone I met was one and it mattered to me that I differentiated myself from the pack. I didn’t consider myself an exercise teacher which was how I perceived most people thought of yoga nowadays.

I got deferred from the grad program. Not rejected, not accepted. But deferred. Something, after getting over my initial hurt, I considered poetic since I was coming to terms with the fact that deference was my usual MO. I always had a way of attracting people who had a penchant for saying to me “I will take care of it.” The truth was that graduate school was me grasping for a new shiny identity to replace the one I had temporarily felt estranged from.

But today, right now, two years later, things feel different. Aside from my living room walls that are now bright white, and the couch that is facing a different direction, and my fading angst over finding a more prestigious if not stable career—I have made peace with where things are. Arriving at that was not a sudden or even linear event. It happened gradually. No longer comparing my present with my past took traction. It took facing feelings I could no longer avoid. It took seeing how to brace myself for life’s unexpected blows would take training, patience and willingness to grow things within myself that I may have never really had to. It took riding a rhythm of effacing to the point of transparency to becoming thicker skinned.

As usual, my ego made my transition so much more difficult than it needed to be. This obstinate layer of myself stomped around carrying on about needing to feel more important, without stopping to see that I had bypassed the stuff of my life that all my years of yoga were pointing me towards all this time. I learned I was good at softening. I appreciated developing the inner muscles I needed to make eye contact with people even amidst feeling squeamishly uncomfortable in my new life. When my ego trip subsided, my shame and need to hide or embellish became a thing of the past.

Ram Das said something like there is a great relief that comes when we use our hands for something other than holding up walls. Commensurate with my arriving at a quiet, undramatic acceptance, I stopped drinking. I stopped smoking pot. None of these choices felt like disciplined restraint. They came from a much sweeter place. “I deserve this glass, this puff suddenly evolved into “I deserve not to have this glass, this puff.” I stopped looking away from what was hard to look at. The old structure no longer felt true anymore. I stopped deferring the large tasks of my life to my husband who for the better part of our marriage had the skill set I never credited myself with having as much. And soon, there was this incoming rush of intimacy, a closeness that I had been missing since my move. Today, my marriage feels the most alive and exciting and healthier than it has ever felt.

I enrolled in a writing course, a year-long meditation training,  a beautiful online workshop that challenged me to put down my armor and do the work. I started putting butter in my coffee and adopted a regimen of supplementation that now requires a pill box organizer. For the first time in my life, I opened my eyes to money management and numbers. I embraced my teaching life commensurate with changing my Instagram profile, planning an international yoga retreat, and creating a new vision of a higher level yoga training. I know there is no promise of these things delivering what I dream. But I practice tensing the mental fortitude necessary to ward off my doubt and flex whatever necessary to not for a single second give energy to the old parts of me that didn’t believe I could. If discipline is called for, its applied to the moments I am caring and generating a more positive infrastructure. Rather than doubt, I ask how can I help myself be better?

My body weighs in (no pun intended), it craves and pulls me to try things I have rejected or never considered embracing. Weight training feels to me the way asana felt twenty years ago. There’s something about holding weight in my hands. About learning to pull my weight in a simple but profoundly humbling pull up. My husband once taught that the word guru in Sanskrit can be defined as weighty. I think about that every time I hold this cannon like 16-kilogram kettle-bell over my head and manage the shaking that comes with that.

“Control the negative,” my trainer says and he’s referring to the moment I lower the weight down. But I find it hard not to think of how that bit of advice is life long wisdom.

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