“Imagine there is a fire beneath your heels, so lift them high and use your knees to pull your triceps in towards your chest. Now the flames are rising towards your butt, so lift that, too. Keep looking forward until your toes have no choice, nowhere to go, but up. Stack hips over shoulders, find balance, and soar. Crow.” —Susan, owner & teacher at Power Yoga Buffalo
Fans of The Smiths know that there is a light that never goes out. The Gaslight Anthem injects a different meaning to an old image when they say, There was a fire that wouldn’t go out, until it consumed the walls and roof of this house. Recently I have challenged myself to consider the fire of either creation or destruction that is within me.
On November 1, 2010, I attended my first yoga class at Power Yoga Buffalo (PYB). It was love at first downward facing dog. Since then, I have attended faithfully and manage to practice nearly every day. I was hooked by the perfect blend of ass kicking, top-notch instruction, sweet encouragement, laughter, hands-on assisting, poetry, modern music, and some chants, too. Truth be told, I am not sure which has been more profound—the psychological or the physical benefits of this practice. Either way, I know that I have enjoyed improvements in managing my internal monologue and thus my time, behavior, and self-doubt.
Thanks to my personality and professional training, you could say that I am compulsed to incorporate all new information into my current body of evidence. This is tempered with romantic, whimsical tendencies. Yoga has helped re-kindle my creative spirit and not need a reason for everything. It probably seems silly that I needed to pay someone to tell me to breathe, drink water, and give myself permission to do something purely because I want to. Newsflash: I needed it.
At the beginning of each class, I dedicate my practice to a very specific purpose. Likewise, my intention for this post is deliberate—to share the words of wisdom of my three principle yoga instructors. I have managed to enact these simple principles, thus empowering myself to fully wake up and enjoy right now. I prefer this to my previous preoccupation with either the past or the future. I am grateful to have discovered a light within me that has been cultivated to a roaring flame with the help of Susan, Jamie, and Megan. If this was easy, everyone would be doing it…but if it was impossible, no one would.
(Previously unnerving) things I have done for the first time since November 2010:
- Practiced yoga
- Trained for and finished the Buffalo half-marathon
- Enjoyed season passes to Shea’s theater
- Had faith that my relationship with my mother would get better (and it did!)
- Enrolled in a scuba certification class
- Chose the clinical research track for school; wrote and defended my project protocol to experts and colleagues
- Became certified to immunize
- Attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time.
- Accepted the fact that while my boyfriend is not the best housekeeper, the squalor that we lived in is partly my fault
- Held (and am holding) myself accountable for both good and bad qualities
- Accepted that my list of friends has thinned out over the years, and that is perfectly okay
- Injured my iliotibial band in August; dedicated my attention to gentle rehabilitation
“Remember: you can choose to suffer, or to simply be. Everything in this life is temporary. Realize that and ask yourself, why shouldn’t I be fully present for the best and worst times?” —Jamie, owner & teacher at PYB
The way I see it, there are four ways to approach nearly any obstacle in life, (1) Choose to suffer and make it through, (2) Choose not to suffer and make it through, (3) Quit because it’s uncomfortable and forfeit getting stronger today, (4) Quit because you’re going to get hurt if you don’t. Different circumstances may warrant a single individual to pick any of these paths at a given point in time. But, short of saving oneself from injury, why not make it through? Better yet, why not bring joy to everything we do, to accept the discomfort of a given situation in order to reach the light at the end of the tunnel?
I have learned to approach the hands-on portion of my education (six 6-week rotations) with enthusiasm, regardless of practice site. (Note: Kristin is a pharmacy student.) On the first day, I present to the site with an open mind and no expectations, allowing me to pursue all endeavors with equal fervor. So far, I have received positive feedback from colleagues and patients, which leads me to believe that I have been present and enthusiastic, regardless of preconceived notions or preferences.
Yoga has provided a lot of insight about how I treat myself. For example, when I find my “edge” in terms of flexibility or strength, I breathe deeper into the pose until I fall. This is a vast improvement from my first month or so of practicing when I would look at my neighbor and feel inadequate. Being aware that I compare myself to others has changed the way that I handle classically stressful situations like school, board exams, or social disturbances.
My mat has forced me to realize and confront how I act when I am challenged or at peace—do I let myself experience each moment fully, or do I tell myself I can’t do it? The key here is realizing that right now cannot be extrapolated to any other moment in time. What I mean is, if I can’t fully achieve a pose (or manage my time or control my portion size) today, doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try, nor does it mean that I couldn’t do it yesterday or won’t be able to do it tomorrow. Practicing yoga has helped me to be more appreciate of what I can do, which in turn, means that I treat myself with a kindness and reverence that I have lacked at previous points in my life.
“You always tell yourself a story. You’re not strong enough or thin enough or any number of other insufficiences. What happened to wanting to be an astronaut or a doctor and actually believing you could do it?” —Susan
In the past, I did not see myself as attractive or particularly skilled at anything. I would say that I liked the following: running for non-runners, writing for non-writers, painting for non-painters. What does that even mean? There was no good reason for me to feel shame or humility for things I like to do. The solution was simple: stop. I still don’t call myself a runner or a writer or an artist. Instead I say things that are true and precise, such as “I like to run with my dog Casey” or “When I have free time, I like to paint.”
On a similar vein, yoga has not made me lose weight. It has, however, changed the way that I look at and respect my body. I still see my little muffin tops. Now, I pinch them with a baker’s gentler hand instead of self-loathing. I’m not afraid to wear tank tops anymore, even though I have previously labeled these as “skinny people clothes.” The magic comes in me saying, “Enough of self-deprecating thoughts, JUST BE.” These attitude shifts have given me the courage and confidence to leave my house wearing a tank top without the added protection of a hooded sweatshirt.
“My job as a yoga teacher isn’t to save you from discomfort, it’s to be here in whatever capacity that you need me. There is no rush to advanced poses. You think something life-altering is going to happen, but all you find are stinky feet, what your butt looks like from underneath, and the intricate pattern etched in your slippery mat.” —Susan
I have overcome a great deal of fear, insecurity, and self-hatred in the past several years. I didn’t feel attractive for the first two decades of my life because I was constantly comparing myself to other people or basing my self-image on my perceived attractiveness. On questions of intellect, I felt self-conscious because a number of people who read my blog are English majors, some are even MFA candidates. Others are Ph.D. students whose rhetoric can run laps around mine. Really, though, who cares? I have two choices: remain silent because I believe that my words aren’t fit to read, or make myself vulnerable to criticism that could improve my language skills. The choice is obvious….dear world, feel free to point out my poor diction or my dangling modifiers.
If you have taken the time to read all of this, I challenge you to realize your power and influence over your surroundings. Perhaps more importantly, focus on knowing when to be the candle and when to be the fire. Regardless of circumstance, the most important part is that you show up and are present. Focus on right now. Use the light within you to bring warmth, purpose, and intention to everything you do. If there is no purpose, only suffering, then evaluate your current endeavor and motivation thereof. There are two choices at that point: change your attitude or change what you are doing, but if you do neither, then you might be squandering your light.
Yoga is not simply and purely defined by what happens when I am on my mat. It’s about the candles, lanterns, and torches that I light when I’m not in class. Ninety minutes of dedicated yoga practice, however, does provide time for me to be quiet and focus on myself as though through a microscope. This has been an active learning process that has fueled positive change and the conclusion that one candle loses nothing by lighting another, and there is a fire within me that I will nurture so that it doesn’t go out.
A note from Dena. This is a guest post from my dear friend, Kristin Kielar. Kristin is a pharmacy student who lives by the mantra, “don’t stop moving, don’t stop learning.” She resides in upstate New York where her free time is filled with outdoor adventures, caring for three dogs, resisting the urge to get more tattoos, and preparing colorful meals. Kristin’s long term goals involve moving to the American southwest and having a small, sustainable farm where no homeless dog will be turned away. You can read more about Kristin’s adventures at her journal, bite sized yet fierce.