Dear Anxious Yogi,
First of all, I’m proud of you for signing up and making it to class.
Secondly, I know you’re annoyed to hear that. It’s not hard for you to put on your favourite Lululemon pants and carve out an hour for exercise. But unless you’re huffing and puffing, you don’t feel that holding stretches named after animals and flowers is deserving of a high five.
You didn’t come for a strenuous workout, though, remember? You’re here because your therapist recommended Yoga as a treatment when you were in college—to overcome depression, to get in tune with your body after obsessive dieting, to witness what strength it had left after all the self-inflicted hate.
Years later, you still find reasons to stay mad at yourself, and you remember those Yoga classes you attended as a young twenty-something—how the instructors treated you like gold, massaging your shoulders and draping a lavender-scented cloth over your eyes while you melted into your mat. You long for that peace again.
But it comes at a price. Because I know you, Yogi—instead of gently allowing yourself this time for calmness, you feel guilty for taking it. You have real bills now—is there anything more self-indulgent than shelling out your paycheck for a membership of stretching and giving yourself compliments?
Not to mention, it’s a weeknight and people are counting on you to be at home. How can you lie there and rest on your pretty floral mat, telling yourself sweet nothings, while knowing your husband has to figure out dinner for himself and your dog won’t get her longer outing to the park?
Trust me, girl: your husband, your dog, your bank account—they’ll all be fine. Your mat needs you more.
Lying down with nothing else but your thoughts is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do. So, settle in on the pretty purple mat, close your eyes and let the instructor’s voice take over.
Self-love is when you can distinguish a want from a need and love yourself enough to give yourself the need. Ask yourself, for one hour, can you trust yourself to give your body what it needs?
I know the concept of self-love still seems impossible for you to adopt, even with all the inspiring podcasts and self-help books you take in, one after another. But I see the tension in your face letting up at the instructor’s opening to class.
You’ve never heard it put this way, distinguishing a want from a need and giving yourself the latter. This fresh perspective is clicking with you. Can you give your body what it needs, Yogi? Just for this hour?
I know it’s hard to focus on what your body needs when that guy in front of the room is breathing louder than the instructor is talking, and sounds like a pretentious a-hole. But what if I told you that will be you one day? It will come when you understand the reason you’re here—not for a workout, not to show off your new Lulus, not even to manage your anxiety or beat your depression—but the real reason, taking one of your precious 24 hours to simply inhale and exhale, guilt-free, as loud as you freaking want.
Because you can. Because it’s your right to do things that feel good. The breath is how you will centre yourself over and over again, how you will slow your mind from the messy world and experience peace without even needing a frilly lavender cloth.
When it happens, you will be the fire-breathing a-hole in the room that the new Yogis wonder about, and you won’t care at all. You’ll be giving your body what it needs.
Flow through your poses
When you rise from your mat to mountain pose, take in the reflection of the mirrors. Yogi, are you surprised to see how many girls in class are wearing just their sports bras and leggings? I know that’s intimidating—not because they have rockin’ bods with six-pack abs and cut shoulders, but because they have rockin’ confidence to take their shirts off even without celebrity bodies.
This might be your first challenge to work towards in your practice. What scares you isn’t pushing your body … but revealing it. Other girls won’t think you’re full of yourself, that’s only in your head. Heck, it may be another girl’s challenge not to compare herself or judge.
This is your practice, and it’s hot in here, girl. Take your shirt off and let your skin breathe. Give your body what it needs.
As you start flowing through poses, your mind will naturally quiet down. You can’t help but be fully present when you’re following the instructor’s sequence and listening to whether you’re supposed to inhale or exhale during each movement.
Hear your body
Enjoy this sense of hearing your body, feeling the expansion of Warrior II and the relief of Triangle pose, being in tune with your core and your limbs and seeing what they’re capable of—did you know you could hold Crow pose?
Smile when the instructor pairs a mantra with a move, or reminds you to reflect on your intention whenever your hands come to Prayer at your chest.
When you bend your arms out into Cactus, exposing your heart as your head falls backward, the instructor tells you to give yourself a compliment. This may be hard for you at first, Yogi. You just saw your butt in the mirror during Half Moon and your Lulus are highlighting every curve and revealing every lump. Really, a compliment, now?
But Yogi, there’s so much more to you than your looks. Pay yourself a compliment—for being kind, compassionate, independent, whatever. Start somewhere. Trust me, after some time, you won’t look at the mirrors with those judging eyes, only for guiding your alignment in the poses. You’ll even flow with your eyes closed, as you start trusting your body to go where it needs to go.
Be prepared, Yogi, because just when your mind is preoccupied with vinyasas, the instructor will start slowing things down. She might begin with Pigeon, where you’ll stretch your back leg long and bring the front leg parallel(-ish) to the front of your mat. You’ll be guided to fold over your front leg and sit in the discomfort for a few minutes. Yes, minutes.
While your folded hip tingles, the thoughts and the guilt might come flooding back—your husband coming home to an empty house, the dog couped up and waiting for her daily park adventure, your butt looking big in these studio mirrors. Yoga isn’t an escape from your pain, but an invitation to sit with it. Breathe into it, hear it and accept it.
And then you’ll roll over into Shavasana, resting pose, and release it. One breath at a time. When these feelings come up, you can always give your body what it needs.
Be happy to be you
The calming touch from your instructor’s hands pushing on your shoulders sinks you deeper into this state of rest. After a few minutes, she guides you to roll over to your right side and pause in a fetal position.
Tell your body how glad you are to be in it. Tell your heart how grateful you are that it’s yours. Finally, tell yourself how happy you are to be you, that you don’t have to be anybody else. That you get to see the world through your eyes, with your insight, and experience life through your body.
I know you resonated with that one, Yogi. Because even though you question your decisions, make digs at your physical features and doubt your capabilities, I know that you genuinely like being you.
You like the things you do and the way you see the world. You like that you care about being there for dinner with your husband and seeing the dog’s joy in chasing birds at the park. As much as you love your best friends and idolize your mentors, you can’t imagine being them and not you.
And this one line of devotion, how happy you are to be you, you can accept. This is worth working with and breathing into all the other challenges of your practice.
So get after it. Go all-in. Breathe deeply and loudly. Take an extra Child’s Pose if that’s what your body needs. Wag your damn tail in Downward Dog. Puff out your Pigeon chest and fold into the discomfort.
And take your shirt off, ’cause Yogi, with your breath getting bigger and louder, it’s only getting hotter in here.
Medical disclaimer: This page is for educational and informational purposes only and may not be construed as medical advice. The information is not intended to replace medical advice offered by physicians. Please refer to the full text of our medical disclaimer.
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