Back in London, not long after I got out of hospital (probably not long enough, if I’m honest) I was feeling restless and frustrated from lack of exercise, and I decided to try out a new yoga class.
Spoiler alert – I shouldn’t have gone. And I should have known that from the off, when I called to ask what the class was like and the teacher described it as a workout. I tried to explain what I wanted from the class – relaxation, stretching, seeing if any of my yoga muscles still worked – and he told me to come on down, try the class and see.
I was still pretty weak at the time, and I didn’t know what I would still be able to do and what I wouldn’t. I didn’t necessarily know this yet, but what I really didn’t want was to be pushed.
I tried to explain my situation to the teacher, but he didn’t really get it, and throughout the class he kept telling me to push a little harder, reach a little further, hold for just a second longer.
It was not a spiritual experience that helped me tune into my new limits and capabilities, it was physically and emotionally painful.
For some reason, it took me a while to figure out I felt this way, and I went to three more classes, hoping it would get easier. It didn’t, and I also realised I was supposed to be paying £15 a session, not the £10 I thought. Apparently I’m willing to spend £10 on self-punishment. But £15? That’s too far.
Anyway, fast forward almost a year, and I went into a Melbourne yoga studio aptly named The Yoga Place and signed up for a 30-day trial. At my first class, I explained to the teacher – an American woman called Tammy – what had happened. She listened, she nodded, and her immediate response was: “it must be really overwhelming for you to even be in here.”
She got it. I almost cried right there and then – it was like she had read my mind, and just having her understand that I was overwhelmed made me instantly feel less overwhelmed.
She told me that I had already taken a massive step today, that I could follow the class as much or as little as I wanted, and that I could rest in child’s pose or just watch and be inspired by everyone else.
Tammy started the class by having us all put our hands to our hearts, feeling the beat of blood pumping around our bodies. Then asked us to focus on our breath.
“You have a heartbeat,” she said. “You have breath – isn’t that an amazing thing?”
Now, in the past I have tended to see my yoga classes as exercise with relaxation attached – mostly as a way to build strength of the body and mind. I was never much into the airy fairy spirituality stuff. But with Tammy, I was 100% on board.
The class went well, I kept up with most of it, struggled a bit with parts and sat out entirely of others (half moon pose? Not happening).
Since then, I’ve been to classes taught by Grant, Louisa and Sally, and I go back to Tammy whenever I’m free on a Friday.
I have explained my history to all of them. They all understood. I told them all I don’t have great strength in my legs. They all said I can do as much or as little as I feel like. I told them all I don’t want to be pushed. They all said they would never dream of it.
I don’t know if it’s my new approach to exercise as a whole, my old age or just hipster Melbourne rubbing off on me, but The Yoga Place has just the right amount of spiritual wankery for me.
At some classes, you get a little card with an inspirational mantra on it, basically telling you you’re great. And, you know what? I believe the card.
Sometimes in shavasana, you get a little spritz of something scented on your face. Delightful.
Last week, while I was lying with my eyes closed, Luisa put a little bit of incense stuff on my forehead and temples and gave me a small head massage. Bloody loved it.
My thighs just aren’t quite up to all of it yet. I still can’t stand on one leg for very long. But I’m getting better.
I AM a divine magnificent expression of life. I WILL have many wonderful new experiences. Divine order might not be ever present in my life just yet, but there certainly is plenty of time to do all that I choose to do.
And I have a heartbeat. And I have breath. Isn’t that an amazing thing?