Finding the Earth
When I started attending public yoga classes in my early twenties, the instant gratification was what kept me coming back. I had been practicing some form of hatha yoga since I was 15 with my voice teacher, but the movement we did was nothing like the fast-paced, sweaty movement of the public vinyasa classes I took in a little Brooklyn studio. I had practiced gentle movement geared towards connecting body and voice - subtle movement. The warm room, the beautiful teacher, the big, expressive movements: it was intoxicating! And I could actually do all the movements! I would look around the room and just copy what I saw. And the “deeper” I went, the more accomplished I felt. Here was this physical activity that I excelled in. Finally.
I had always been incredibly flexible, but physical activity that required strength was difficult. I had stamina, but I could not for the life of me gather strength. Even as a child everything hurt. I suffered from severe anxiety and always felt like the earth was crumbling out from under my feet. (I still feel that way sometimes). So when I walked into that yoga class and was able to “perform” every movement, it was like the weight of a lifetime of failure had been lifted away. I felt like I belonged.
Many of you reading this will perhaps relate. If you have a great deal of body mobility, you’re most likely also quite sensitive. You were probably drawn to yoga for similar reasons. Many of us have unbelievably tight muscles. This happens when our muscles grip in order to protect our mobile joints. When we continue to practice in a way that over-mobilizes our joints, we are adding fuel to the fire. In other words: if we move into our full range of motion without the proper musculature to support us, we lose stability. We often think poses need to look a certain way or feel a certain way because of what we see in the yoga-sphere (social media plays a big role in this) or often even what we have learned in classical “alignment.” I did this for years. The more flexible I was, the more I was praised in public yoga classes by well-meaning, encouraging, sweet teachers. It kept bringing me back and I kept getting injured over and over again. Outside my physical practice I felt out of control - obsessing over food and failed romantic connections, desperately grasping to anything that might make me feel better. And then one day for one reason or another, something clicked and I found the earth. It was as simple as bending my knee in triangle pose. I believe this changed everything.
“Grounding” is one of those yoga catch phrases we hear all the time. People ask for it in class, yoga teachers love to throw it around. It’s even all the rage in popular culture right now. What does it mean to be grounded? It is exactly what it sounds like: connecting to the earth. I realized that I had been disconnecting from my own body in order to achieve yoga poses because it made me feel good in the moment. I wanted bliss. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be anywhere other than in my own experience. I was locking out my joints and moving way past my own reality because I hated my reality. Reality was life and life was, more often than not, painful. It’s easy to be present when everything is sunshine and rainbows.
So I began my process of coming to terms with the fact that life isn’t fair and sometimes it sucks a whole lot. With the guidance and help of a couple of beloved teachers I began to understand that in order to begin to heal, I would have to harness my own strength. I understood that I had been practicing yoga for all these years without ever actually being present. It started with simply unlocking my knees and elbows. It was not easy and it looked messy. I trembled a lot and my practice all of a sudden became quite boring to look at but my breath came alive. My muscles came alive. I believe my heart did as well. Something awakened in me that I had not experienced before and yet I knew as an infinite truth that it had come from within me. It was life. I was experiencing life in all its beautiful messiness. All the trauma and heartbreak and pain was, and is still there. I’m not fixed. But I finally am starting to understand that I don’t need to be.
Today I can practice some of those big, expressive poses again. But I have found a way to expand from the earth instead of trying to strive towards a different body/experience/existence. It’s an exercise in trust - trusting that the earth literally has my back and it’s okay to surrender to it and let it have me. And I practice it every day.