How I've Practiced Yoga without going to Class (or even breaking out my mat…)
I used to do yoga almost every day for about a year and a half. I lived in Boston, I walked everywhere, and it was relatively easy for me to plan my class schedule for the semester around my favorite yoga classes and drop into the studio on my walk home. Healthy living was virtually the standard among those I spent my time with and those in the greater Boston area in general, and there was no shortage of places to stop for a healthy meal that hadn't been imported from thousands of miles away and put through hundreds of processing machines before it made its way into your hands. As I mentioned, I walked everywhere, so I didn't need a car and took quite a bit of pride in being someone who wasn't constantly filling up at the pump, using up the precious resources that I know our world is running out of and will run out of if we don't take much more drastic measures to save our environment. Flash forward to early 2012, I moved back to Houston and only two weeks later was signing a three-year lease on a brand new car that I needed because I couldn't walk anywhere in this driving city even if I wanted to. Sure, the metropolitan city had many-a-Whole Foods, but by and large, healthy meals were much more difficult to come by and portions were out of control. It wasn't long before none of my clothes fit and my cravings went from kale salads to fried chicken and biscuits. I'd never known anyone who had made such a radical shift in the way that they ate and exercised other than myself - I was astonished at how quickly I let go of what I'd known and what was important to me strictly because it felt like I didn't have access to it anymore. And, the most painful part of it all was losing my yoga studio and the yoga teachers in Boston that were like no other. I tried and tried to find a place in Houston that gave me that same feeling of community I'd once treasured, but I gave up on that after a while too.
I spent hours upon hours harshly criticizing myself for being the "kind of person" who could let her values slip to the wayside after simply moving to another state. I felt like I didn't really know who I was anymore because of the way these two things - diet and exercise - had taken such a new form in my life, and I guessed I just wasn't "willing" to fight hard enough for them. I tortured myself that I couldn't even maintain a regular at-home yoga practice, that I was one of those people who had committed to something for so long only to be one of those people who couldn't stick to a healthy habit.
I held onto a moment I'd had shortly before moving away from Boston when my practice was already starting to dwindle. I'd become very good friends with a Buddhist yoga instructor who guided me both on and off my mat, and I picked up the phone and called her one day when I was debating skipping class because I couldn't tear myself away from the Marshall's Tupperware aisle:
"I feel so guilty…this is like, the third day I just haven't want to get on my mat," I told her. I keep asking myself if I'm avoiding something, but really, taking a break just feels really good. Is that even okay?"
"You know," she responded, "in my experience, walking away from your mat can actually be part of the whole yoga process."
She went on to tell me about how she, this woman who I looked up to in more ways than I could count, had actually herself taken several years at a time off of her mat, resorting instead to long walks. The time was necessary as part of her journey, and amidst all the loud voices of advertisements, instructors and friends I felt were shaming me into thinking my "break" was more of a "relapse", her words guided me to think otherwise: perhaps the real journey includes resting when we need it. None of us is perfect, nor will the journey be, either.
It's now been almost two years since we had that conversation, and believe it or not, I still haven't made it back onto my mat for regular practice. Yoga will always be an intrinsic part of my life regardless of how much asana I'm getting into each day, because Yoga for me became about listening to myself and forgiving myself. I've spent quite a while in this life forcing myself to embrace some kind of model of perfection that doesn't work for me, so why let yoga, a healing practice, push me in that direction too?
I wrote in the beginning of this article about somehow losing my "values" when I left Boston. Values, while central to most of our well-beings, fluctuate and change, as they should for anyone living on a planet with so much evolution having at once and so many opinions to be heard. The most important value for me, at the end of the day, is to forgive myself for being a human being, to let myself be perfectly imperfect. Yoga teaches us to embrace who we are, to nurture and cherish ourselves. For me, all of that starts with accepting myself exactly where I am today.
I see myself eventually finding a studio and a place where I can rest my down-dog again someday, but while I'm still continually learning more about the world around me, I find it important to let the universe guide me. When I want to put myself in box, the world is usually pushing me to get out of it.
And in letting go of what I expected of myself, of what was apparently "normal" or necessary to live a more perfect life, I continue to discover this:
We are far bigger and brighter than perfectionism would ever allow for.