Dear Denise: I Miss Our Yoga

For Sara. Thanks for reminding me.

I’ve written this post three times, now. I keep writing, deleting, writing, deleting. It’s fairly symbolic of the larger problem I have with yoga lately.

I’m stuck in this cycle of self criticism, doubt, frustration, and comparison. We all get stuck in these cycles from time to time, mine just currently manifests itself in my yoga practice. Your’s might appear in your outlook on motherhood, a career, or a relationship. We’ve all got our stuff.

I take full credit for the problem. I know I’ve let other people invade a purely personal space and fill it with their beliefs, goals, and abilities, leaving me grappling to keep up. This isn’t just about what I can or cannot do in comparison to someone else, it’s also about literally allowing others to mentally take up residence in our brain and let what they are doing inform what we are/should/could be doing.

I’ve been practicing yoga before I knew yoga was supposed to be cool. It started back in high school.

My senior year I went out for cross country. One afternoon, I was running our school’s course in preparation for an upcoming meet when all of sudden I fell to the ground. To make a long story short, my newfound love for running revealed a knee problem I’d had since birth but didn’t realize until the strain of daily practices caused it to rear it’s ugly head.

The surgery was more brutal than I expected.

I always laugh a little when people see the scar on my knee and ask if I had ACL surgery. I laugh because so many guys had ACL surgery in high school and would whine and wobble around like they had been shot serving their country or something. No. My knee surgery was total reconstruction and left me in more pain than I’ve ever experienced. There was a period where I couldn’t walk all together, made even longer by my atrophied thigh muscles.

As I recovered, I discovered something. Or, I should say, someone. This is the point in the story where I need to tell you that if you laugh at who that someone is, I will reach through the computer and slap you. Your mom may have toned her tushie with her, but for me, Denise Austin was my first yoga instructor. And I loved her.

Long before there were arm balances or standing splits or hot vinyassa flow, there was me, a yoga mat, and Denise.

I couldn’t even fully walk yet, so I’d sit and I’d breath, and I’d move when I could and I’d return to the sitting and the breathing when the moving got too painful to continue.

Slowly, I fell in love. I fell in love with how yoga made me feel. While running has always been a freeing experience that was both wonderful exhausting and challenging, yoga was so refreshing. It was strength building in a way that didn’t feel like punishment. It taught me to breath and move and feel in a whole new way. It felt…good. It brought this whole new awareness to me of my own body. I was not only noticing myself for the first time in many ways, but I was noticing myself in a positive way.

I was fully rehabbed by time I went off to college, and I returned to running. But now I also did yoga. I took Denise with me to college, and my roommate and I would occasionally pop one of my Denise Austin yoga VHS tapes in our player and bend and move and breath in between classes or in the evening.

It wasn’t something I thought about or made a priority; I did it when I wanted to and enjoyed it as something I loved without any expectations. It was something completely beautiful and free.

Somewhere along the lines, though, I’ve lost my yoga. I’ve lost it in the noise of other people’s practices. Going to yoga classes, doing yoga with other people, and having constant access to what everyone else is doing/can do, can be both inspiring and a little soul crushing. In a way, it takes your practice and makes it just another practice in the sea of a thousand other practices.

I miss those old days with Denise. I miss doing yoga just because I loved doing yoga; not because I had a yoga goal, or because I felt like I should, or because I wanted to improve.

I miss the simplicity of it all.

There is a new awareness, these days, that I don’t particularly like. I’ve never had “yoga clothes,” but now I’m aware that I don’t look yoga. Most of my workout gear comes from the junior section of a department store I used to work at during college. I’m aware that I don’t fit the Lululemon-yogi type. But I’m also annoyed that there even is a type. When did yoga become this completely contrived, run of the mill, everyone looks the same, everyone is doing the same thing, Stepford-sport?

I’m also aware of the competition. The drive. The need to do more, better, faster, stronger, higher, hotter. I’ll admit that part of my problem with this is personal. I tend to shut down around people that are uber competitive. Like, just sit down, already. We get it. You’re a winner. Whatever. But more than that, yoga has always been so refreshing because it’s always been something that met me right where I was, and never asked me to be any more. I didn’t have to try harder or get better because it just was what it was. And that was enough.

Lately, I find myself in this vortex of wanting to improve my yoga practice, so I’m hard on myself, so I practice to be better, then I’m angry with myself when I don’t master poses, which takes me to a place of frustration and self loathing. It’s about as un-yoga, un-fun, un-enjoyable as you can imagine.

I miss Denise. I miss her pep, her positivity. I miss my mat in a quiet room with no thoughts other than just doing something I love – just because. Just because I want to. Just because it makes me feel better. I miss how personal my yoga used to be to me.

Yesterday, I rolled out my mat on our patio in the sun and the breeze with the birds chirping and the sounds of my boys playing intermingled in with the gentle clanging of wind chimes. I had no expectations. I had no preconceived plan on what I would “work” on. I just did yoga. I let my body lead me into poses that it needed. I let myself just enjoy the moment. I didn’t require anything of myself or my yoga other than to just show up.

I heard Denise, in the back of my head, in her cheerleady-slightly cheesy voice saying “refresh your body with yoga!”

I smiled. Because I did. I refreshed my body with yoga.

My practice has come a long ways since those early days, and I don’t begrudge the new knowledge and experience that time has brought to my practices. I still enjoy taking yoga classes, having a positive yoga community, and personal yoga goals. But I need to find a way to keep it as my own. I need to find a way to allow the voices and visions of other people to filter through my mind as reflections of their practice and not mine.

From time to time, I just have to go through and unfollow all the amazing yogis I follow on Instagram. Not out of spite or anger or jealousy, but because my practice isn’t about them. It’s about me. It’s the one way I can get back to those early days when I would show up with no other expectations to be me, to do yoga, and to leave refreshed.

Refresh your body with yoga.

My body. My yoga.

2 thoughts on “Dear Denise: I Miss Our Yoga

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