by Steph Creaturo
My first yoga class – ever – was at the City Gym on Bedford and Metropolitan in Williamsburg, in the all-purpose rec room up the stairs to the left of the front desk. The mat was a super-squishy and clearly of the all purpose exercise variety. There were googly eyes on the floor from the room’s previous tenants – the kids arts and crafts class. I expected I’d be “good” at yoga, like I was at running. Spoiler alert: this was not the case.
I was shocked at how hard the class was. The teacher spoke to me like an idiot. I was annoyed at having to use props; I saw them as training wheels. Where I came from, a hardcore runner ran even when was cold out – none of this treadmill shit. Same mentality should apply here, or so I thought.
I struggled to figure out the breathing. I wore the wrong clothes. I kept slipping on my yoga mat like I had banana peels under my hands. And, my ass was in the air half the time. Beyond being shocked at all the challenges before me, I was stunned my mom (who gently wore me down into trying yoga) liked it. I could not see my mom with her ass in the air. At all.
I left, and I only went back because I paid for eight sessions in advance. (Note: This is only what I told myself. I went back because it was hard and I sucked at it and I wanted to not suck at it. The whole notion of actually “having a practice” didn’t enter my mind until zillions of down dogs later.)
Welcome to the tyranny of expectation. I showed up to class and it was all new – the language the teacher used to describe the body, how the body connects to the mind via the highway of the breath, how the body moved in space, the props, and that heart shit she kept blabbing about. It was overwhelming, intimidating, and awkward. Being a newbie required a level of vulnerability, which is such a hard place for me to be. Awkwardness, insecurity, and even shame, all pop up. And then, of course, there’s trust. Where is this person with the beatific smile taking me for the next 88 minutes? Oh my god, how long is 88 minutes? Apparently longer than ever as I slipped forward the first time. The teacher knelt down and pressed her hands on my hands. “Here’s your hand,” she said as she firmly but kindly grounded each knuckle into the floor. Before my first yoga class, I had never spent so much time on my hands. And because I expected (tyrant of expectation, party of one) to be good at yoga, just figuring out I had hands and what to do with them wasn’t all that comfortable, or enjoyable, or something I wanted to do again.
Once I figured out that was part of what I signed up for, I realized sticking my ass in the air wasn’t all that awkward after all. Or hard. “Cultivating willingness” meant acknowledging that my body is a storehouse – a storage space for every interaction, relationship, and experience I’ve had. There’s a level of control that I didn’t have over my body that was- and still is – mind-blowing. Really pondering how blood flows, how the nerves create intimate conversations along various parts of the body, how bone gets built, the essential functioning of each organ can be mind-blowing.
Past the land of sticking my ass in the air and trying not to slip on the brightly colored yoga mat was an excitement that was buoyed with potential. Despite grumbling about the class, I loved it. I didn’t know why when I tried to put it into words; it was a more visceral feeling. Over time, to this day, I am slowly learning how to build – on parallel tracks to each other — the muscles of compassion, acceptance, and potential; the tentacles of the witness heart; and strengthening and releasing the physical form. Believe me, the tyrant still pops up on all of those trains.