This is written by guest blogger/yogi and good friend Will Hommertzheim. Will was my neighbor when I lived in Kansas. We met in the winter of 2010 at Orange Sky Yoga Studio.
I AM ANGRY AT YOGA!
I refer to it as if it was a living entity or something, but I will come back to that. Right now I’m sitting on a tractor somewhere in the middle of nowhere in southwest Kansas. I haven’t seen a car drive by in probably four hours. Other than me watching the occasional hawk circle above, I have nothing to do but sit here and be alone with my thoughts for the next eight hours. My phone beeps and I get a message from Cassi telling me about this Yogi Monologues bit she is doing on her blog and she asks if I would possibly have the time to write about a particular experience that I have had with yoga, or some thoughts that I have regarding yoga. Time and thoughts…I think I can oblige.
Two months ago I’m standing in the middle of my living room trying to rearrange my furniture in a way that will allow me to roll out a yoga mat in front of my television. As I’m sliding the furniture back and forth across the floor I’m thinking aloud and muttering things under my breath like: “f**k that yoga studio I’m never going back ever again”, “f**k that yoga instructor I don’t need her or those people anyways”, “I’m sick of hearing the same f**king music in class”, “I’m sick of f**king hand stands”, and “I’m sick of f**king yoga!” I have been practicing yoga for two and half years, I am furious, I am thinking about quitting, and I have no idea as to why?
I stumbled across yoga about a year after checking out of an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. I had spent that year prior to yoga basically trying to figure out who I was for the first time in my entire life, I was twenty eight. To say things were pretty touch and go at first would be a drastic understatement. But as time passed, the fog began to lift and I was starting to see things a little more clearly. After a year of living clean and sober, I made the decision to try and go back to college and get an education. I moved to Manhattan Kansas where I would eventually become friends with Cassi, but at the time I only knew two people there. I was content at first because the situation was new to me, but it did not take long for me to start getting irritable and restless. After an evening of venting my frustrations to my two friends, who just so happened to practice yoga, they suggested to me that maybe I should give yoga a try. They said if nothing else, it would at least get me out of the house and maybe I could meet some other people that were closer to my age. I had heard about yoga but other than that knew nothing about it. I had always been kind of curious as to what is was all about, so I decided I would give it a try. I went to Target and bought some cheap flimsy aerobics mat, a beach towel, and the next day I walked into a yoga studio for the first time in my life. My life has not been the same since.
Over the past two and a half years I have been practicing a vinyasa style of yoga. It is a very physical practice that focuses little on the spiritual and meditative side of yoga. From what I have heard and seen, this is not uncommon for yoga in western culture. It was exactly what I needed! I fell in love with it immediately and as I have done with so many other things in my life, I dove in head first. I began showing up at the studio every day, sometimes more than once a day, I was hooked! I would travel to yoga weekend workshops, go to yoga festivals, take trips out to Los Angeles and go to as many different yoga studios and teachers that I possibly could. It was wonderful! I think the thing that made yoga so appealing to me was its ability to take all of that irritability, restlessness, fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, and whatever other crap was running through my head at that moment, and make that all go away. I experienced that the very first moment I stepped on to my mat. Other benefits followed shortly thereafter. As I said, it was a very physical practice so naturally my physical appearance began to change. I lost weight and gained strength, and along with that self-confidence which not only helped me in my yoga practice but also in my everyday life. I can do things now with my body that I would have never dreamed possible. I mean, when I first started taking yoga classes I was fifty pounds overweight, out of shape, and could not even touch my toes. What does any of this have to do with yoga? Well nothing of course, but it was a nice side effect. The thing that kept me coming back to yoga though, was the mental peace and clarity that I would get EVERYTIME I practiced.
So why was I standing there in the middle of my living room rearranging furniture pissed off at yoga? Simply put, yoga was no longer doing for me what it used to. I felt that I was getting nothing out of it anymore. The one thing that I loved about yoga, the peace and clarity, was no longer there. I had a serious problem. I would have to force myself to go to the studio and practice. And even though I was there on my mat physically, mentally I was somewhere else. I was ANGRY! It was affecting me so much that my yoga instructor approached me one evening after class and asked if everything was alright. I told her no, and then she asked me why. I believe my exact words were “I feel that I have plateaued” with regards to yoga. Mentally I started going backwards. I decided I was going to start doing a home yoga practice by myself. It seemed to work at first and lasted maybe a couple of weeks, but then I was right back where I started. So it was at this point that I made the decision to take some time off from yoga. I did not go at all for a while and would go running instead to try and quiet my mind down, but it was not the same. School ended for the semester in May, so I went back home and that is why I am currently sitting on a tractor in the middle of nowhere. There is not a yoga studio within 180 miles of here that I am aware of.
Being alone with your thoughts or lost in your head may be perfectly normal and fine to most people, but for me, it can be a very dangerous place and I will try to avoid it if at all possible. But that is the situation I am dealing with at the moment, and I am trying to make the best of it. So when Cassi asked me to do this, I decided to focus all of my energy and thoughts towards this whole situation surrounding me and my yoga practice to see if I could possibly identify the problem. I was having no luck at first, and to be honest, it was starting to give me a headache just thinking about it. I really did not have one good thing to say about yoga and felt that I was not the person she should be asking to do this. There was even a couple times where I thought about just calling her back and telling her that I would be unable to do it. I went round and round in my head and kept coming to essentially the same question every time. The question being, “what do you want or expect to get from yoga?”. I could not answer it, I had nothing! It quickly became clear to me that I now know nothing more about yoga than I did two and a half years ago. So what the hell do I want?
After a couple of days of sorting through all of the self-pity, fear, anxiety, anger, and bullshit that resides in my head a good majority of the time, I came across a memory from early on in my yoga practice that I had simply forgotten about until now. There was this woman that I would see at the yoga studio every now and again. She had a very strong practice and I imagine had been practicing yoga for quite some time. I did not know her at all and we may have exchanged hellos once or twice, but other than that she was a complete stranger. There was something about her though that I was attracted to immediately. And I am not talking about a physical attraction, this is not to say that she was not physically attractive, rather there was something about the way she carried herself or her demeanor that intrigued me. She was always smiling and just seemed to be genuinely happy every time I saw her. Other than that, all I knew about her was, she was in the military and stationed at Fort Riley near Manhattan. After what I would guess was several months, she was getting deployed or stationed somewhere else. Either way, she was no longer going to be living or practicing yoga in Manhattan and I would never see her again. One weekend I traveled up to Kansas City with some fellow yogis to attend a workshop of Kathryn Budig’s. Her last day of the workshop that Sunday was all about back bending. At the time, I absolutely hated back bends because I was terrible at them! I am not exactly sure that has changed a whole lot since. I was sitting on my mat thinking about how bad this was going to suck and about maybe skipping the class all together. Just then, guess who walks through the door? It was that woman in the military who I had practiced yoga with in Manhattan. She recognized me and put her mat down next to mine and we began to talk for the first time ever. She informed me that she and her husband were literally leaving for her new job assignment that very day, but she wanted to catch a yoga class before she left. I of course brought up the fact that I was terrified of this class and was not looking forward to it. She assured me that it would be fine and told me she would help me get through it. I have never shared this story with anyone, and still have no idea what happened in that room that day, but whatever happened, was absolutely amazing to me! We spent the entire class together talking as if we had known each other our entire lives. That fear and anxiety I had before class simply disappeared. She was by my side the entire time guiding me through poses and helping me with alignment and breathing. Throughout the entire class it was like I could feel an energy or something that just radiated from her! I know that probably sounds ridiculous to most people, but I have no better way to describe it than that. It was as if you could feel and see yoga living and working in her life, and she was just filled with joy to share that with someone else. What a wonderful and beautiful human being! I had one of the most amazing practices that I have ever had during my short time with yoga. When the class was finished, I waited outside the room to thank her. I had to wait a while because she was busy talking to other people who I am positive she had never met before. I swear that people were just drawn to her! When she finally got done and came over to where I was waiting, she reached out her arms and gave me a hug. As we were holding each other, she told me that it was wonderful to get to know me, for me to take care, and that she would miss me. I became so emotionally overwhelmed that my eyes began to well up with tears and my voice even began to tremble. I said I would miss her too and barely got out the words “Thank You”. She smiled as she always did, and walked out the door. To this day I still have no idea what her name is.
That is what I want! I want what that woman had and I want it in my life every day! I initially thought that the peace, serenity, and abilities she had were due to her extensive experience and exposure to yoga. Truth be told, I have no idea how long she had been practicing yoga or what she had done. I remember thinking that it would take years of practice before I could have anything remotely close to that in my life, and even then I might not get it. After reflecting on this experience, I remembered I had gone to a class at the studio in Manhattan shortly before I left about a month ago. There is this woman there who just started practicing and is completely new to yoga. She started probably a month or two ago right about the time I felt the need to start rearranging my living room. I saw her that day and when we got done with class she had a smile and glow about her that reminded me of that woman from the workshop. I asked her how her practice was coming along and if she was enjoying yoga. She immediately responded that it was wonderful, she absolutely loved it, and thanked me for asking. You could clearly see yoga already working through her and in her life!
As I sit here on a tractor barely able to see out of my window because of the dirt blowing outside, I suddenly find myself able to see things with a little more clarity on the inside. It does not matter how long I have been practicing yoga to have it be a part of my life. What both of those women have I can have! Yoga is alive in me at this very moment. That energy, peace, and serenity can flow through me just as it has with so many other yogis. The only way that is going to happen though, is if I can focus on something other than myself long enough to allow it. Like most people, I typically choose to look at only the negative things going on in my life and never stop and take inventory of the positive things that are going on right in front of my face. If I really want to know what the problem is, I have to look no further than the mirror on this tractor to find it. The fact of the matter is that yoga has already given me so many things that I have taken for granted. Yoga has not only improved my physical appearance, but it has improved my overall health. It is one of the main reasons that I am still clean and sober after three and a half years and has literally saved my life! I have been able to travel to amazing places, meet amazing people, and take some amazing classes from some unbelievable teachers that I am in awe of. Being in the middle of nowhere with no place to practice yoga makes me realize how much I miss the yoga studio that I used to practice at every day and my fellow yogis there. The teachers and yogis, all of whom I consider good friends now, I have taken for granted the most and miss them dearly. I really do not know what I am going to do now or where my journey with yoga is going to take me. However, I think a good starting point for me would be to stop expecting yoga to do things for ME ME ME, and instead focus on what I can possibly do to give back to yoga in some way or to my fellow yogis. I do not know if yoga is a living entity or not. I do know that it has been and still is working in my life every day. I am grateful for every chance that I get to practice yoga and have no reason to be angry at it at all. I have never claimed to know a lot about yoga, and probably never will. One thing is for certain though; if yoga is in fact a living entity, I would be willing to bet that it is disappointed in me right now.