Competitive yoga and the ever elusive art of standing still

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A few weeks ago I cried in a yoga class. As I lay sweating on my sticky mat I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter and, between stifled sobs, battled with the voice screaming at me. A voice that simply questioned;

How did I become this person?

To me, exercise is about getting your heart rate up, not lying around listening to chanting. The mere prospect of putting on workout clothing makes me feel vulnerable and exposed so why would I want to further contribute to this by doing something I’m not ever sure I understand? After all, anyone can run, but I had no idea what an upward facing bow pose would even require me to do! I hate to be out of my comfort zone. And I would never describe myself as spiritual. Shallow, yes. Selfish, definitely. Superficial, all too often. Never spiritual.

I will admit, I had some very wrong preconceived ideas about what the practice was and who it was for and so, until now, yoga had never really been for me.

And then, after a year and a bit of the full time job that being a parent is, my sister in law offered me the opportunity to spend a cold and wet Saturday morning ‘laying around’ in 40 degree heat, child free, for an hour and a half. And didn’t care what I was required to do.

And so, dressed in my Topshop leggings and an ill-advised long sleeved top, I found myself here. My preconceptions accompanied me to the class and, as I lay down on my mat I began my interrogation. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m the worst in the class? What if I have to chant?! But, as always, these superficial fears were accompanied by something deeper; What if doing this makes things different?

Because, ultimately, I am terrified of change.

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I’m terrified of anything new. The unknown. Too comfortable with the familiar.

At once the teacher proved every thought I had ever had about yoga wrong (I have included a link so you can see why. Wow!). She was strong and powerful and reassuring and fun. And the class nearly killed me!

But I stuck with it. The trouble was, my sister in law is good at yoga. I, on the other hand, have the shortest hamstrings known to man. As she moved through her sun salutations and on to arm balances I saw her step up to the challenge. I, on the other hand, had found my comfort zone and was stopping there.

And then, mid-way through a Sunday morning session, I heard the word, ‘headstand’. And a little voice inside me squealed with delight. I had secretly been practising headstands alone in my bedroom for the past week. I could do headstands!

In an attempt to appear modest, I moved to the wall with the rest of the class. I took a deep breath in, placed the crown of my head firmly on the floor, pushed my bottom in the air and began to walk my feet towards my head. But they simply wouldn’t lift. And, as I started to force the matter by pushing off the ground, another little voice spoke up; you can’t do it, not here in front of all of these people.

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The rest of the class passed in a blur. All I can recall are those words. And the feeling as I lay there on the mat. I was angry for my judgments. Scared of letting them go. And frustrated at allowing myself to become this person. Someone ruled by judgements. Someone ruled by fear. Someone standing in the way of the change they claim to desperately need. And as the tears burnt hot in my eyes I began to forgive and look forward…

Because sometimes it is easier to root your hands and feet firmly to the ground, lift your hips and push your stomach skyward than it is to stand still.

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