A version of this essay was originally published in Womankind Magazine (Issue 20, May 2019). The full essay is published here. Writers were invited by Womankind to complete five days of daily yoga practice and record a diary of their experience.
Day 1: I hate yoga.
Yoga conjures in me such a visceral reaction that Womankind’s challenge intrigued me: could I find out what lay behind this anger?
After some gnashing of teeth, petulance and prevarication, I haul myself onto the floor and follow a yoga flow practice sourced from the internet. My Labrador’s fur, until now seemingly irrevocably embedded in the carpet, suddenly coats every inch of me and is distracting my inner calm as it travels into my nose, eyes and mouth. I’m frustrated, annoyed, uncomfortable and bored. Every joint is crying. I hate yoga.
Day 2: “You should be doing yoga.”
In this phrase lies the probable cause for my yoga rage. For over ten years I have been managing an aggressive, incurable form of auto-immune arthritis. I have tried yoga a few times over the years (and yes, tried properly by practicing a few times per week for months at a time). I have tried everything you could possibly suggest to me. And I have found what management techniques work best for me – medication, reduced work hours, diet adjustments and running. But still, yoga is the ‘silver bullet’ most frequently, didactically and condescendingly pressed upon me as something I “should” be doing. And, because I’m stubborn and contrarian, this guarantees I won’t do yoga.
Except today, because I said I’d do this challenge. I roll around, begrudgingly. And I notice, begrudgingly, that my tight muscles and painful joints breathe a little easier afterwards.
Day 3: My arthritis pain is bad today and I’m nursing interior emotions that are jangled, broken and delicate. The last thing I want to do is be present in my body and risk feeling this pain more. I also can’t control my brain’s wanderings. Today’s yoga session leaves me disjointed and anxious, so much so that I go for a run to recalibrate myself.
The only time I find stillness is when I can drown my thoughts in music accompanied by the rhythm of my footfalls, when I exhaust my body so much that I can only focus on forward movement. Emotional and physical pain wait for me when I am invited to be present in my body so existing in a state of distraction and abstraction is my solution. I am scared by what yoga might ask me to find.
Day 4: Today, yoga continues to ask me to do things that I find almost impossible. Not physically, but intellectually. When my teacher gives an option for a stronger pose, I take it. I shouldn’t. I have to fight my own competitiveness, my own desire to be top of the class, and acknowledge that the softer, gentler option is what I need today (and maybe far more often than I allow).
I’m observing the women – for they are all women – who are apparently finding bliss here, while I can’t. We are all white. I am troubled by the appropriation of yoga into something very white and very privileged and very bound up in consumerism and exclusion. I am repelled by how some people portray yoga in social media: faux-spiritual, indulgent, costumed, performed. As a disabled person, I notice how inaccessible the spaces and practices of yoga can be. I see this yoga as very disconnected from its history, culture and intent and I want to see more white Western practitioners engage thoughtfully with this and differentiate themselves from a type of yoga that has become branded and exclusionary.
But I also know, truthfully, that my ego is bruised. I feel as though I’ve tried to part of a clique and I’ve been rejected. When people give themselves over to yoga, when it becomes such a core part of them, I find myself wondering what it is that they’re craving. Why do they get it and I don’t? Is it me that’s missing something? Or them? Or yoga?
Day 5: I don’t like to admit this, but today I find myself creating moments of yoga-esque movement and groundedness. I’m moving into my joints: slowly, gently, waking them up with tenderness. I’m noticing when my heart races and my chest is filled with fluttering birds and I drink in deep breaths and feel safety and lightness return. I clamber down onto the floor and end up lying still, able – for once – to hear my body’s call to move only as much as it takes for my steady breath to gently touch each swollen joint.
It is not for me to determine the nomenclature with which this should be labelled. It doesn’t need to be. It’s just intuitive rolling around; a time to find stillness and listen to – rather than escape from – myself. For me, there will be no #dailypractice, but I will try to keep treating my body and mind with the gentleness I’ve found in these past few days. Maybe then I can