Have yoga mat, will travel

It wasn’t until the trip was over that I fully processed the silliness of what I just did. Who would travel three hours roundtrip for a yoga class? Yep. This girl. Such is the way I decided to spend my free Tuesday evening. And it was one of the best decisions I could have made all week.

See, I went to the class at the Rochester Athletic Club for Women because my friend, Tracy, was teaching it. I met Tracy through my friend Tara and we developed our own friendship over virtual discussions of our triathlon and marathon training. In my time with Tracy, she’s exuded positivity in a calm and balanced way, someone who can energize you without shouting. And that was an energy I really wanted to be around this week.

So I found myself on the New York State Thruway heading from Buffalo to Rochester to take her evening Moonlight Yoga class. I warned her before that while I love yoga (and have been practicing every day for over two weeks now) I’m not, how shall I say this, good at it. Her text indicated a light-hearted laugh as she assured me the yoga class focused more on relaxation than anything else.

Tracy demonstrates reverse warrior.

I entered the space with a new group of women, realizing it had probably been years since I actually took a yoga class (though I talked about it a lot). I was a bit nervous. I didn’t want to suck in front of my friend who was teaching the class. I didn’t want to be the one doing the lowest level of modification on every pose. And I  didn’t like the fact that I had the chance to look at my reflection in a mirror the entire time. Great for checking your posture and positioning, bad for my self-critical judge who is never happy with the way I look. But as Tracy started the class I was immediately put at ease.

With our eyes closed in a comfortable seated position, Tracy helped bring focus to the room. She asked us to be present, to listen to and be aware of our bodies and to leave competition and judgement at the door, competition not just with outer people but also with ourselves. Competition is not what yoga is about. I exhaled deeply. For the next hour as we moved through stretches, vinyasa, balance and core poses, Tracy reminded us to “just breathe.” That was all we had to do. Just breathe. The rest would come. I fixed my attention on myself, closing my eyes when I could and gazing away from other people. Sure I caught glimpses of what other people were doing, but I didn’t compare myself to them. I went into poses at a level which was comfortably challenging for me. And by the end of the practice I felt energized, refreshed and more open.

And yet this nonjudgmental space made me think about competition. In athletics we compete. We line up at a starting line and know it’s a race. We’re supposed to move quickly with strength and speed and skill through whatever type of course is in front of us. We’re motivated to push harder by the thought of a podium finish or beating our nemesis. If that external competition does not readily appeal to us, there is the internal competition, competing with ourselves to go a bit faster, be a bit better, than the day before.

But there’s a balance to competition. It’s about being comfortable with contradiction. We are strong yet supple. We are fierce yet relaxed. We know when to tap into our reserve of competitive vigor and when to let life flow. In yoga, each pose has a counterpose, a way to bring balance to the body. I sense that other areas of my life also have counterposes, some which I understand, others which are starting to become clear to me. Through it all, the most important thing is to just breathe. The details and the how and the plan? Those will all come in time. My only job, right now, is to breathe and be present.


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