dancing for the other self

I felt like I was wearing footy pajamas, but not the comfy kind, the kind that were itchy and too tight, cinching around the neck and up the butt. I was a bobbing head on a blue fuzzy body.

I guess I could at least give myself credit for getting to yoga class. But I was hardly in a self-congratulatory mood. It had been a guilty, slept too late, haven’t gotten much done type of day. The type of day when your brain seems locked in some sort of compulsive planning chamber and your body baits at all of its old habits. Ok, and I guess the weather was maybe actually starting to get to me.

Yet, there a part of me that recognized how dissociated I had felt from my body after going to the doctors earlier that morning. Since yoga forces me to be in my body, going to class was sure to make me feel at least marginally better. But, as I moved through the opening poses, I felt awash in apathy, hardly even listening to what the instructor Amy was saying. I didn’t care about the state of my PJs; I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep, the kind of sleep that could numb out my rat wheel brain. Lingering too long in child’s pose, I kicked myself for not succumbing to my urge to drink some caffeine before class.

I lumbered like this through the warm up poses and sun salutations, aware that this was one of those days when I no doubt looked like an intro yoga student, despite years of practice. But then Amy had us move through some deep lunges and I started to feel the energy radiate through my body. Due to the tension in my abdomen, I have incredibly tight psoas muscles; as a result, lunges are a cross between excruciatingly painful and exhilarating. I have to be in a pretty good mood to get myself to do them on my own which is one of the reasons why I like going to a studio class. As I breathed through an especially deep lunge, I felt the muscles in my stomach unclench and a delicious surge of energy fill the new space.

Pretty soon we had moved into warrior postures. “Feel the strength in this posture,” she told us. “Not just the outer but the inner.” Suddenly my hot and sweaty thoughts burst into clean cool air. For the first time all day, I saw clearly how hard I had been on myself and how truly useless that was. I saw clearly that I had a choice: I could continue to make myself miserable or I could come into alignment. Though earlier I had recognized that this was one of those days when I was stuck in prison–a prison whose walls I had built myself–I had lacked the strength in my mind to break myself out. Ultimately that strength lived in my body. I had the sudden urge to take off my shirt, almost forgetting that that wouldn’t be appropriate. My body was itching to be free.

After moving us through some deep backbends, Amy led us into a seated position. With my hearting beating, breath full and deep, and newly spacious mind, I was now able to listen to her:

“We all have a big self and a small self. The small self is the self-aligned with our personality, our habits, the limits of our body. The big self is the self that transcends all of that, that’s aligned with all other beings, with love.”

Initially, Amy’s words seemed rather typical of something that you would hear in yoga class. In yoga we are told again and again to let go of our worries, our regrets about the past, our plans for the future, and focus on our breath. Yet of course it’s easier said than done. I will go through entire classes with my mind wandering, despite every effort to rein it back. Yoga always feels transformative but to varying degrees; sometimes all I can be grateful for after class is slightly saner thoughts and a happier body. Amy, however, offered a more nuanced perspective:

“We may try to transform ourselves and let go of all of our old habits and addictions, but that small self, those aspects of our personality will always be there to some extent. However, we can see that, throughout our days, throughout a single yoga class, we are constantly fluctuating from one self to the other. We can acknowledge and embrace both. We can let one dance for the other.”

Coming out class, I was practically bouncing. No longer a head bobbing on a body, I had shed those claustrophobic PJs; my body felt so light and free I might as well have been naked.

But this did not feel simply like the typical ephemeral post yoga elation. Amy had given me an opportunity to forgive myself and also and important reminder: I can constantly be fleeing from one self to the other. Or I can offer a welcoming stage for both to dance together.

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