What I'm Not Supposed To Think About In Yoga

During yoga, my mind wanders, races, drifts, and engages in other metaphorical activities that it shouldn't. Really, the mind is "supposed" to be calm, but "should" and "supposed to" should really not be part of my vocabulary, as (according to mindfulness practices) I should try to notice and accept what I observe without judgement. If you know me well, you know that there is no way that this is possible. The faster the pace of the class, the more likely I am to be able to "stay with the breath," though even in these classes there are many still moments in which I anxiously ruminate on ...

1) Mat Placement: This is one of my most significant decisions, as it has to be made very soon after entering the studio. This decision will affect my experience of the entire class. Yet it must be made without appearing to require too much thought, otherwise other people might judge me for where I put my mat, or worse, for taking too long or staring--though of course if those who arrive early are resting in their respective states of zen (as those who arrive early are wont to do), it is unlikely that they will be disturbed by my indecisiveness or will judge me for overanalyzing my options.

           Earth Studio @ Tranquil Space (Photo Credit: Tranquil Space)

           Earth Studio @ Tranquil Space (Photo Credit: Tranquil Space)

The front is always out. Only people are are yoga teachers themselves or those who arrive late end up there. Actually, that is probably only true half the time. There are some incredibly calm, self-assured people who have no qualms about being in the front row. The second row is no good either, and most of the time it doesn't fill up until just before the teacher closes the door to begin. The back row will suffice, but only on the side, and only if there are no other side spots available. When there are no other edge spots available from the 3rd to the penultimate row, a back corner spot is the best option, but on the side away from the cubbies, as I don't want to be THAT PERSON that everyone has to step over just to put his/her bag away, and, later, to retrieve said personal belongings, especially if many more people will be coming in. But if I end up in front of the blankets, people might come too close to me at the beginning to fetch one or circle around my mat at the end to put them away. Then there is the issue of personal space. I'd guess that the majority of yoga practitioners understand that it's best to spread out across the whole studio before cramming themselves between two other people's mats, but there are just enough people who don't understand this principle to cause me to worry each time that someone arriving on the later side might squeeze in beside me and therefore ruin my practice. (I know, I know, it would be my fault for not being able to chill out, but I would still blame that person.) So I have to arrive after a few people have already settled in, but not too long after that, to claim a spot along the wall in the 3rd to penultimate row, with the penultimate row being the optimal placement.

2) Centering: I'm thinking that the time that constitutes "centering" is the time after the teacher reads the announcements to the time he/she opens the door to let in the latecomers. This can be the most difficult part of the entire practice, as you are supposed to breathe and "let go of things" (at least that is the most common message for this time) and probably not run through your Very Important TO-DO List. Of course, there remains the possibility that a latecomer may squeeze himself or herself into the space next to me that is really quite small but just wide enough for another mat. I am supposed to get super relaxed with this kind of uncertainty? The unpredictability of this time represents just one of the many reasons why, when my last mat was whisked away by an unknown suspect, I purchased an extra-wide one to replace it. This way, even in the unlikely event that someone does place a mat too close to mine, it is likely less close to me that it would have otherwise been, thanks to the extra width. See, even those "squeezers," as I think of them, leave a few inches between mats, and this distance is going to remain a stable social norm, even if I have a wider mat, thus allowing me to be less close to that person than I otherwise might be. And this whole breathing thing, well trying to breathe one way is hard enough. I'm supposed to transition to a different kind of breathing? If I am breathing AT ALL, well, then, it's a good day.

3) Vinyasa: Vinyasa means "flow," or at least I think it does, and this is the part of the class with the most movement. A teacher will call out the poses, and the idea is that you follow along and do those movements while maintaining some kind of magical alignment of breath and movement.

People start to perspire. Outer layers are removed. The room heats up. And I wonder if we are going to be blessed with air, or suffused with stuffiness and sweat. I know I am supposed to focus on my own breath and movement and just be in that awesome flowy state in which all extraneous thoughts vanish, but that happens about once a year.

I am distracted by other people: how proficient they are, how jealous I am of their flexibility, what they are wearing and how expensive it is, how sweaty they are, or worse, how dirty their mats are, how well their clothes fit, how inflexible or misaligned they are. If I am in the back row, I worry that I will fulfill the back-row stereotype (that my imagination, with only minimal evidence, created) of not being able to keep up, taking too many breaks, or needing a prop when others don't. In other words, awful as it is, this is what I think: that if you are in the back row, there is a reason you are in the back row. This morning I was in the back row (as the other desirable edge spaces were already taken), and was self-conscious and fearful the entire time of succumbing to the stereotype. And I probably did, though I wanted to explain to everyone that I had done a class yesterday, and that I was low on energy--though in reality probably nobody even noticed that I sometimes went straight back to downward facing dog (a not-really-resting-pose resting pose) rather than flow through a vinyasa (which requires more energy), or that I needed a strap to do the pose in which you hold your leg straight out in front, grab your foot, balance, and twist. This barely happened with a strap, and it certainly wasn't going to happen without one. Of course, there is also the dilemma of when to actually listen to my body when the teacher gives everyone the option of flowing through a vinyasa or skipping it in favor of child's pose or downward facing dog. I have seen people listen to their bodies. It baffles me how they do it. Most of the time I push through and do a vinyasa, so as not to appear weak, or tired (which would indicate weakness, either physical, psychological, or both), though today I had simply had enough of vinyasa-ing and retreated into child's pose more than I care to confess, though I know (rationally) that this was a wise decision and one that I shouldn't waste any more time thinking about.

4) Asanas of the Month: I sometimes really enjoy Tranquil Space's pose of the month. This month it is side crow. I can now do side crow, albeit briefly. SIDE CROW WIN. This should not be a source of pride, yet it is.

Last month the asana (pose) was Noose. I think everyone found this to be miserable. The one before that was revolved extended side angle. I think that is simply too many words. My body won't do this one. So for the entire month, the entire month, there was this one pose that I had to try to do every time I took a class that made me feel incompetent. OK, I should just get over it and accept my limits, but it still made me mad EVERY SINGLE TIME. I'm sure there is a lesson here. I just probably don't want to hear it!

5) Inversions: I can reliably do a couple of inversions now, including shoulder stand, headstand and tripod headstand (pictured above). I can't do forearm stand or handstand, and I don't know if I should ever even aim for these. Most of the time, when a teacher offers time for an inversion, I am eager to get into a headstand so that I can feel good about myself for being able to do a headstand. (You must understand: When I get upset, or mad, or feel pathetically un-athletic or out of shape, I tell myself: "I can do a f***ing headstand," and I feel better.)

But when I am too tired, as I was today, to do one, inner turmoil brews. I don't want to be THAT PERSON who poops out at the end. But I do want to be, at least in theory, the person who listens to her body and gives it what it needs. I want to be the person who is confident enough that she can do a headstand to know that she doesn't have to do one EVERY TIME just to prove that she can. And if, while upside-down, I see someone doing something cooler than a headstand (which I inevitably do), then I can't even feel all that good about my headstand. It's true that yoga is not a competition; in fact, it's supposed to be the exact opposite. Alas.

6) Savasana: I like to put my legs up the wall. (This, of course, is premised on being next to the wall.) But I don't like to be the only person with legs up the wall. I did that about a month ago, and it felt weird. I also know that I am supposed to let my mind clear up and just focus on the sensations I feel in my body. But they are boring. Seriously, most of the time they really are quite dull. I feel the floor. I smell sweat. I hear every little sound, both inside and outside the studio. I notice the footsteps of the person walking around with the lavender aromatherapy spray. Boring, right? I try to get comfortable. But most of the time I end up wanting a pillow. A few minutes pass. And then the teacher usually says to roll over the right side. The right side doesn't feel good. I feel my bones press against the floor. Then we roll up to a seated, cross-legged pose, eyes still closed, and end. And then I have to decide if I am going to clean my mat, and if so, if I can get to the spray easily, and if not, if people will think I am gross for dripping sweat onto it and not cleaning it. Most of the time the cleaning just removes some of Schroeder's hair, so it isn't really worth it. When I finally gather my belongings and put away the props I wish I hadn't needed but try not to feel bad about needing, I revel that I am free, free to think about all the things I shouldn't think about without the added pressure of knowing that I shouldn't think about them.