take me to church (actually, don’t; i’ll take myself)

My yoga practice is, well, let’s call it spotty … at best. I will go through months where I’m on my mat pretty regularly, several times a week or even daily. Then, I’ll have months where even the thought of mountain pose makes my stomach go into knots and the idea of exercise in general gives me actual anxiety. (Oh, how I wish this wasn’t the truth, but it so is.) I am firmly in the midst of some of those latter months.

So, this morning, when I woke up sore and tight, with tense muscles from my neck down to my lower back, it was surprising to me when I felt pulled to get on the mat and do a few cat-cows. Which led to some child’s pose, a little downward-facing dog, a handful of warriors and a couple of triangles, for good measure. I got off the mat feeling not only less tense and more limber, but also feeling pretty grateful for wherever the motivation that got me there came from.

It’s a rare thing for me to turn to yoga for its physical benefits. (I am speaking of asana specifically, but am using the word yoga as most westerners understand it.) I understand that is an odd and probably controversial opinion, but it is my truth. I came to yoga many years ago as a young mom who needed to find a little sanity among full-time parenting a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old. My dear friend Paige had recently given me a bunch of her no-longer-needed VHS (OH, YES!) exercise tapes and, among them, was a yoga video by I don’t even remember who. The first time I pushed the tape into the VCR and began to move my body into unfamiliar shapes, I felt unexpectedly at home. My breathing slowed, stress melted, I liked the feeling of being a little bit ‘hippie’ (it was 1999 and there weren’t yet yoga studios on every corner), and, even more, I liked the feeling of taking care of myself in this way and carving out a little time that was just for me, at a time when pretty much nothing was.

This is the yoga I’ve practiced ever since. It is private, it is quiet, and it is far more about my mind and my well-being than it will ever be about my body. My yoga is so personal that, excepting my husband, I rarely choose to practice with anyone else. I almost never go to a studio. I almost always practice in silence. My yoga time is a sacred joining of my own breath to my own movements. It is, for me, about turning inward and connecting with myself. It is my church.

The truth is, I couldn’t care less about reaching the floor in forward fold or keeping my heels on the ground in down dog. I choose to not engage in the shape-comparing, cardio-inspired, fat-scorching competitive experiences I have had so often in what I’ve come to call ‘Western yoga classes’. I do not see yoga classes as social experiences and I am no more inclined to join you in a yoga class than I am to join you at your church; if you ask, in both cases, my answer will almost always be a polite ‘no, thank you’.

Mind you, I have no issue with anyone’s attendance at hot/power/core/bikini-bod-ready yoga classes. And I make no judgement of anyone’s judgement of their hands’ inability to clasp behind their back–nor of anyone’s desire for their hands to do such things.  I’m just saying, that’s not why I’m sitting my ass on the mat in lotus pose, when I choose to.

Maybe that’s why it was so surprising to feel called to the mat this morning to tend to my hurting body, as opposed to my wild mind. Because I pretty much never think of my yoga as being about physical fitness … and today I sort of did.

Whether this means I’m evolving my mindset or changing my position on what yoga is for me remains, I think, to be seen. But in any case, it felt really nice to care of myself in that way this morning. And that is something that, from my early, wanna-be hippie days of VHS yoga-ing, has not changed one little bit.