Thoughts on practicing yoga

photo credit: me

My neighbor, let’s call her Leah, has been teaching Tina and me yoga in our yard. She’s a dance and yoga instructor at a local high school, and just so happens to have received one of her degrees from UNC Greensboro, the area I grew up in.

During the pandemic, I saw her practicing yoga in her backyard. It was usually early in the morning when I took our girls out to tinkle and poop in the yard. I always felt a little awkward. Like my presence or our dogs presence might disturb her zen moment.

But those were all internalized paranoias. She was perfectly secure within her own space.

A few months ago, we were talking and she asked Tina and me if we’d be interested in her teaching us yoga on occasion. And we both said yes.

We don’t do it every weekend, because of conflicting schedules. I’ve done it four times and Tina has been able to do it five times.

The take aways from it are monumental. Leah is an amazing teacher. Her voice and guidance through the poses is nothing shy of what one needs in that time for the entirety of the time.

For instance, there’s mountain pose that we do early in the sessions and all you do is stand, feet planted a few inches apart, eyes closed, palms out facing forward, and you just stand there for about a minute. That’s it. But it is one of the most amazing feelings one could feel when Leah is saying things like, “Let’s feel the uneven ground beneath our mats and accept it. Accept that the ground is uneven. Let’s plant our feet and send roots down into the soil. You are a strong mountain, and imagine you the sight of being at the top, looking out at the view.”

The sessions tend to go from a moderate stretch warmup to some easy poses like mountain to some vigorous poses that make you want to cry to an easing back out to simpler poses and finally a part where you just lay on your mat and accept the world around you, flies buzzing, cars zooming, wind blowing, air conditioner compressors humming, butterflies bouncing through space, sun shining, your own smell or feelings.

It is addicting. The difficulty in the middle is always very challenging for me. Not in a sports fanatic, high velocity way. But in a way that is both mind calming and body challenging at the same time. It’s a lesson in pushing your muscles to their limits while finding the brain space to breathe and be calm.

Our sessions have lasted almost an hour and a half each time.

The first time we did it, it was a little chilly so we set up downstairs in the studio. Leah asked if her two young girls (7 and 10) could join us. Of course! We weren’t paying and we love them, too, so why would we mind.

We unrolled our mats and started. Within a minute, the two girls got bored. One went out to read a book outside. The other kind of dawdled around on the sofas and in the space while we continued. At one point, she went to a piano and started banging on the keys. One would think that this would be annoying, and it kinda was, but not entirely. It became a part of the session. And we ended and I was still in a zen place with soft feelings.

After the second session, we were ending the session and when Leah said, “Take a second to thank yourself for taking the time to practice today. In your mind, be thankful to those around you.” I choked up. I started crying and I couldn’t hold it. Whatever we did had released emotions and anxiety that lived in my body and was released through the stretches and exercises.

Each time I do it, I experience a different level of emotional release and brain softness. That zen place you’ve heard about is a thing. It’s a calm bliss that sticks to you for a few hours or the rest of the day.

Yoga, in my history, was demonized. But so was Catholicism and rock-and-roll. Rock-and-roll not so much in our home, but definitely at school. There was a traveling group that showed a video about backmasking and Ozzy Ozbourne biting heads of bats and stupid shit like that. The Devil clearly influenced the music that you love, so DON’T listen to it!

Fear mongering. If you paste hell and damnation on it, you’ll get people to behave how you want.

I remember hearing that my high school girlfriend’s mom practiced yoga and it challenged me. Yoga was a practice associated with a competing religion. It was to be shunned. It was from the devil.

A quick glance on the internets will render results that many denominations eschew the practice, because of its Hindu. roots. It’s a shame really.

I think all people of all faiths and non-faiths could benefit from this practice. We live in a fast-paced world with so many distractions. Kids especially. To take an hour to an hour and a half and devote it to calming movements that push the body in ways that are simultaneously difficult and beautiful … it’s a gift to oneself.

Last weekend, a friend, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s kids stayed in the studio space downstairs. When the kids were walking to the space, I asked them how was the drive? How was traffic? Neither of them knew because they were on their phones or game consoles. In my head, I was like, “Dude, how could you not look out the window when driving into this amazing city?”

It would benefit a lot of people who spend too much time in front of a TV, computer or tablet. Someone like me.

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