I’m sitting in the dark on the porch swing outside my house, starts twinkling–Big Dipper is right overhead, and yes indeed, summer is here. The breeze wafts over the scent of the lilac bushes lining alleyway I just walked down, sweat-drenched, yoga mat slung over my shoulder.
For a long time I’d thought of yoga as something pretentious, at least in the states–something rich white people do to show off how flexible they are. In some ways this is true. I went to the $5 community class at Hothouse Yoga (usually pretty darn expensive for a lowly baker/simulated patient like me) into a class of all-white college-aged students, most wearing designer outfits. This used to bother me. I remember going to a yoga class at Luther three years ago and finding the whole situation ironically stressful. I would fret over my downward dog and wonder why my wrists hurt so much, then I’d scowl over at the curly-haired girl who brought her own yoga mat (most of us just used the ones in the studio, as dubiously sweaty as they were) and made a point to get into the deepest lunges, the best tree poses, and to be all-around smug.
Or maybe that was just my perceptions.
This class, too, had its all-stars…and the one shirtless man in the front who breathed extraordinarily loudly and pushed himself too far…but I found myself not caring. I happily walked in with my shaved head, my normal old t-shirt emblazoned with “Got Libros?”, my old running shorts, and my somewhat wobbly midsection and found that I did not care if I messed up or was behind the “regulars” of the class or if I needed to take a break. I didn’t feel flustered if I stumbled over from tree pose…I just grinned and planted my foot back above my kneecap.
What had changed over the past three years? I had changed, slowly, quietly…and it was only when I was in downward dog, sweat-drenched hands slipping over the mat, that I realized it. I feel at peace, happy…wow.
I feel like I should explain the “hot yoga” phenomenon, because it sounds miserable, at least to heat-hating me. They basically put you in sauna for an hour and you do yoga and try not to die. I was anticipating sweat, of course I was, and I brought my waterbottle to compensate, but I’ve never sweated like this before. Within the first five minutes of the warmup poses, sweat was tricking down the side of my face. Soon my entire arms glistened with wetness, and then my entire body was absolutely soaked. I am eternally grateful for my short hair so I could dunk it under the faucet in the bathroom immediately after class.
The purpose of hot yoga is, presumably, to let you get into deeper stretches, and hey it worked. Ms. I-Can’t-Touch-My-Toes did manage to wrap her digits around her big toes with relatively straight legs tonight. Then I suppose there are the benefits of sweating out all the blech in your body. When I did step out into the starry night with my mat, I felt like I was floating down the street. I hovered down the ped mall, full of students done with finals, drinking, eating meals, sitting on benches with cups of frozen yogurt, preteen girls doing gymnastics on the springy floor of the play area by the library, people on iPads studying at Bread Garden, an old man playing blues guitar.
I walked past the blossoming trees, petals falling like snow, and under the leaves on the trees that just a week ago were nothing but buds, past dandelions which seemed to have burst from yellow tufted flowers to the halo of fluffy seeds in less than a day. And I never saw this happen. The change came and I only noticed the shocking disparity between what was and what used to be not long ago.
Where was I three years ago? In such a different place than I am now. Even three months ago I was in a completely different place, though my outer circumstances haven’t changed much. And where will I be three months from now, three years from now? Maybe I’ll be in a low place again. Maybe I will be looking back and realizing how something inside blossomed without me seeing it. So past me, three-months-ago-me, things did get better. Things do change. And no, you didn’t have to go to a wild party or run away across the world or lose ten pounds. You were stepping forward and sprouting quietly amidst all your sorrow and chaos.