Read this first: Part One: How Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Led Me To Yoga
After Dr. Moira Fitzpatrick prescribed “Yoga” on her prescription pad, I trusted and obeyed her suggestion, and found myself silently struggling, muttering, and swearing in my first yoga class at Urban Yoga Spa in downtown Seattle. I didn’t know what dogs, camels, or eagles were; upward, downward, sideways, twisted, I felt uncoordinated and lost.
My teacher, “Gordy” looked and sounded like a rock star, resembling Huey Lewis, with a soft direct gaze, and a voice so smooth and sexy it was on the verge of inappropriate for a public yoga class. Before I even got to my mat, I was failing at focusing in yoga, and the more he talked about calming the monkey mind, the more I got distracted by his velvety voice and good looks that my naughty monkey mind could barely pay attention to this thing called yoga.
Everything about the yoga was going wrong. First, it was a frickin’ hot room, like almost 100 degrees, and I started to feel irritated, like the time I went on a business trip to New Orleans with my boyfriend and I gave him the evil eye if he even thought of touching me. Rockstar Gordy suggested we stay in the heat, to cultivate something. Isn’t cultivating something you do in the dirt, like gardening or at a farm? This yoga jargon was killing me!
I hadn’t even started any poses and I was drenched in sweat. And, I was in a room with 70 other students who looked like sculpted dancers, ripped gymnasts, and cirque du soleil performers.
“Dr. Moira, how the hell was this supposed to help me feel better about myself when all I felt was inadequate, clumsy, stupid, and lost?“
Hottie Gordy welcomed the class and rattled off something philosophical, quoting Bruce Springsteen:
At that moment, I wasn’t finding the humor in my overheated state of body and mind.
SOMEDAY WE’LL LOOK BACK ON THIS AND IT WILL ALL SEEM FUNNY.
In a moment of discomfort or pain it can seem really hard to believe it will be funny someday down the road. and here I am now, remembering myself over twenty years ago, able to laugh at how ridiculously challenging my first yoga classes were for me.
When I took my first pose, child’s pose, with my ass high in the air, my buttocks nowhere close to resting near my heels, with everyone else looking so peaceful, comfortable and relaxed, I felt totally exposed and vulnerable.
How was I failing right from the start, in what looked like an easy pose?
Who in the hell thought to start a yoga class, which is supposedly a prescription to relieve stress and anxiety, in a totally embarrassing pose with your ass in the air? I kept thinking: “Why can’t I get my butt down to my heels?”, “God, I hope I don’t fart”, “Why is this so hard for me?”
That was just pose number one. Yup, I had a masterful monkey mind.
THE STRUGGLE TO BREATHE…AGAIN.
Here I was again, struggling to breathe, and this Huey Lewis doppelganger had the nerve to keep repeating “Just Breathe.” Do you know how demeaning that suggestion is, using the word “just” in front of an activity that is already challenging? Let me tell you, until I started yoga, I really did not know how much I sucked at breathing. I knew my CFS affected my breathing, but, until this yoga class, I didn’t know it was because I was doing it wrong. Besides swatting my ass at birth to force my lungs to “BREATHE, BABY, BREATHE!”, there is no one in my life, no parents, no teachers, who gave me breathing lessons. And, now Master Yogi Gordy was telling me to “just” breathe, like it was the most natural most easeful thing my body could enjoy.
Like a perfect new yoga student, my comparison game was STRONG. I searched the room, observed all the other freely breathing bodies, while my lungs felt like iron, my breathing shallow, and the more Annoying Gordy coaxed us to breathe, I hyperventilated and felt the room spin.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT BATHROOMS?
I eyed the exit door and planned my escape. Less than fifteen minutes into the class, I bailed. I could have left in silence but, for some reason I lied and quietly announced I had to go to the bathroom, to a room of strangers, and looked straight into my first yoga teacher’s soft gaze, framed with his thick, wavy Jim Morrison hair.
When I left that hot, humid prison, I gulped a huge breath of air, like being rescued from a drowning, at least what I imagined felt like that desperate first breath after not being able to breathe.
I hid in the bathroom, splashed cold water on my face, behind my neck, under my armpits, and sat on the toilet, with the lid closed, and cried with my head in my hands. I sweat so much I didn’t have to pee. I lied. I didn’t have to “go” to the bathroom. I just wanted to run away.
I didn’t know this was part of yoga too, facing myself off the yoga mat. At the time, all I felt was consumed in my inadequacy, humiliation, and embarrassment. I wasn’t aware about awareness yet, to notice I was in my habitual pattern of pressing the eject button.
One thing about me, which I discovered has been both a strength and a detriment to my health, is that I’m stubborn and, I don’t like to fail. After my Eat, Pray, Love session in the bathroom, I resuscitated myself enough to step back into that steamy class of torture.
I mustered up a pep talk: “If I don’t finish this class, I won’t know if there was something to this yoga prescription Dr. Moira just gave me.”
FINISH WHAT YOU STARTED
I walked back into Sergeant Gordy leading fast-paced warriors, crows, eagles, wheels and pigeons. I faced the wrong way, took lots of breaks in my ass-high-in-the-air version of child’s pose most of the class, because Compassionate Gordy said we could “take child’s pose or down dog whenever you need a break.” It wasn’t EXACTLY a break or relaxing in my body but, at least compared to all the other crazy contortionist poses, child’s pose felt doable. Pigeon looked promising, and peaceful, in other people’s bodies, but, for me hips, it was painful pigeon. This yoga class was turning out to be one cruel form of self-inflicted pain, pose after pose.
But, how is it that all of the other students looked like they were actually enjoying it? What did they know that I didn’t know?
I was determined to make it to the end, even if my 90 minutes was mostly a combination of high-ass-child’s-pose and running away to the bathroom…once. No judgment. I only ran away once.
Note to teachers: Downward dog is NOT a relaxing, restful pose…for beginners, especially for women or anyone who has not yet developed upper body strength. I TRIED to rest in downward dog when Teacher Gordy suggested it, and all I thought was “Fuck..You!” Sorry for all the swearing, just keeping it real. As a yoga teacher now, I vow never to say “Rest in downward dog.” Seriously, REST in downward dog???? That can be a recipe for scaring away a brand new student. It’s a fucking hard pose making your arms, legs, and whole body shake…and if you’re like me, it can make you swear more than you ever have in your life, especially when those five breaths in down dog feel like an eternity! And, spoiler alert: downward facing dog, adho mukha svanasana, DID made me stronger than I thought was possible, especially when I thought I was doomed to a life of feeling weak and tired. Is it an amazing full body pose? Yes. Encouraging, relaxing, restful pose for new students or someone struggling with CFS? Hells…to the no.
YOGA IS WEIRD
DEFINITION – Weird: mysteriously strange or fantastic.
Without describing my complete sense of disorientation in every single pose, like an untrained dancer stumbling to learn new choreography in a Broadway audition, overall I really sucked in my first yoga class. Not only was I exhausted, you know, from my CFS, but, I stepped into a Power Vinyasa class, not a beginner’s gentle yoga class, but, a Hot Baptiste Power Vinyasa class which totally…kicked…my…ass.
Then, something mysteriously strange and fantastic happened: savasana. Ten minutes to lay on my back and be as still as possible and do absolutely NOTHING. Now we were talking about RELAXATION. The beauty of the sweat and laying on my back was that the tears streaming down my face all blended in, plus everyone’s eyes were supposedly closed. No one was watching me anyway, and honestly, I was just too tired to care. Something was spilling out of me and I didn’t know what it was. I was spent. I was emptied out. Whatever monkey thoughts or worries I had, I was just too tired to do anything but lay there and cry.
And, God, I felt amazing at the end of that class. As we all rolled up our mats, and avoided slipping on the puddles around the room, my first power vinyasa yoga teacher, Gordon Ferguson, stood at that open door, to freedom and fresh air, high-fiving all 70 students, telling them “Good job!”, calling each one by name. With his kind puppy dog eyes, palm to palm, he smiled: “Great job, Amelia! See you tomorrow?” I nodded yes, dumbfounded he remembered my name too.
That was the beginning of falling in love with yoga, which had me swearing, crying, lying, and smiling in bliss all within the same class. And, the first time I experienced firsthand, that sometimes you need to really suck before you can shine.
Stay tuned for Part Three