It’s a chilly, rainy, late autumn Saturday morning in Nashville and my couch, with the auburn afghan my beloved Aunt Patsy made for me draped over its shoulder, is staring me down. Hmm, bacon, eggs, hash browns, complemented with a world-class Bloody Mary? Proceeded by setting up camp for College Game Day and pleasantly wallowing away the morning in pigskin bliss? I abruptly interrupt the thought, take a deep breath and head to the studio for my 9:30 am Saturday Hot Yoga Class.
“Just get to the mat, Dave, just get to the mat.”
In Sanskrit, it’s called Trikonasana. In English, Triangle Pose. It’s the ninth of the twenty-six poses that make up the Hot Yoga Series and referred to as the “pinnacle pose” of the practice. For the better part of twenty years, it’s often been the pinnacle pose of pissing me off.
“Come to a wide leg stance, left toes in, right toes out, inhale, belly in, lift chest, bend right knee to a ninety degree angle, windmill arms, right arm on back of knee, left hand toward ceiling. Hold, breathe, hold, breathe, hold, breathe, switch.” Every instructor has their own unique delivery but essentially the monologue is the same every class and some days I just don’t want to hear it. Other days, I can breathe through the pose, and the dialogue, with relative ease and acceptance. Today, who knows?
Being of average height and stocky frame, I’m not exactly an optimum candidate for the cover of Yoga Journal, especially with this visceral ring of Play-Doh that has stubbornly taken residence around my mid-section since entering the back nine of life. Jimmy Buffett once sang, “Watch Out For That Gravity Storm” and man, he was right. That being said, I feel pretty good all in all and though most of my fellow practitioners are younger and much more flexible, I remind myself, as another sage, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
I unroll my mat, sit cross-legged and begin to get in rhythm with my breath, doing my best to keep my thoughts positively self-contained while staying in the moment. And I do have my moments. Moments where I fully understand that yoga, defined, means union. Moments where I’m in complete flow with my thoughts, breath and movement. Moments where, in unison with my fellow practitioners, I’m out of my head and what my fellow musicians would describe as “in the pocket.” I love those Saturdays.
I’m in complete flow with my thoughts, breath and movement.
On other Saturdays, I feel as if I have a piano on my back, a monkey in my mind and I could be a stunt double for The Thing. I’ve learned to love those Saturdays too. The twenty-six poses remain the same every class, but the story I attach to the execution of any pose, on any given day, is up to me. I try to temper expectations in that regard as I find, even with the benefit of a consistent practice, what I refer to as “story boy” often takes over, leading my thoughts down a rabbit hole of judgment and self-condemnation.
“What are you doing here? You’re too old, why are you wasting your time? You look like an idiot doing yoga, who are you kidding? Who do you think you are, Laird Hamilton?”
I’ve noticed “story boy” lurking around when it comes to writing too, in fact, while writing this article. “Who do you think you are writing about yoga? You’re too old, why are you wasting your time? Nobody cares what you think, you’re not a writer. Who do you think you are, Somerset Maugham?
In his timeless classic, The War of Art, Steven Pressfield refers to this as resistance, which is often just some leftover coping mechanism from long ago that we think protects us. It’s a crock, and once I start writing, all that chatter evaporates and I’m back in the flow. Even if what I’m working on is not very good, at least I’m writing and doing so with a smile on my face.
“Just get to the desk, Dave, just get to the desk.”
I was first introduced to Hot Yoga in Denver. As a by-product of many years of basketball, racquetball and assorted activities, I was coming off a torn meniscus in my right knee. Gratefully, a simple scope was all that was required. The surgery was seamless and though the odds of a full recovery were good, my doctor advised me I might want to explore some exercise options that were a bit easier on the knees. When one of my friends, a formidable athlete and former all-state wrestler, suggested Hot Yoga Saturday morning, I somewhat reluctantly agreed. Given the cold, snowy weather that greeted me that Saturday morning in Denver, I probably would have blown it off. However, I trusted my pal and I didn’t want to disappoint him. His history as a wrestler crossed my mind as well.
Instead, as advised, I packed my gym bag with loose-fitting workout clothes, a towel, a large bottle of water and drove to the location, just outside the urban core of the Mile High City. This was the mid-nineties, long before yoga had become mainstream so this location was far from many of the spacious spa-like studios of today. This space was more warehouse than ashram, and the instructor, Mitch, standing 6feet 2 inches tall, was a chiseled stud of a dude and a former marine. He was an imposing presence and as he gave me a once-over, I thought he was going to order me to “drop and give me twenty” right there. I would have done so immediately or tried to at least. Instead, he said very kind.
“Good for you for being here. The hardest part is getting to the mat. Do what you can do, stay in the moment and breathe. This is not a competition. Don’t force, allow.”
Well, I allowed it alright, I allowed it to kick my ass. The heat, the intensity of the poses, the frustration of not being able to do a tenth of what the rest of the class could do. It was exasperating, frustrating and humiliating. I loved it. I laid there in the final Shavasana, appropriately called the Corpse Pose, drenched in a pool of sweat, completely tapped but smiling.
It was exasperating, frustrating and humiliating. I loved it.
Mitch was there to greet me as I exited the studio, “You made it and you did all the poses!” offering a fist pump of congrats.
“Well, I did own that Corpse Pose didn’t I?”
“You made it to the mat, that’s the key. Just make it to the mat.” he reiterated.
I loved that Saturday and the many Saturdays that have followed. Outside of owning the Corpse Pose, I’m not sure if my practice has improved over the years but I’m way past giving a hoot. I go to yoga for the sweat, for the community and for the way it helps me deal with “story boy” whenever he shows up. Whenever I travel, I always find a yoga studio to anchor myself in the area — along with a locally owned bookstore and sports bar. The shared connection always provides a sense of home.
Today, in Nashville, I don’t know what to expect from class, or how I will greet
Triangle when it comes around. I do know I‘ll do my best to embrace the unfoldment and remember to simply breathe in and breathe out. Grateful, that once again, I made it to the mat.
Remember to simply breathe in and breathe out.
Photo by Melissa Levy.