My Ego Tried to Break My Back


As a yoga teacher, mind-body-spirit book writer, and generally well-intentioned-but-sometimes-annoying person, over the years I've done plenty of jabbering about how important it is not to let our ego trip us up. Uh huh. This morning, I had a profound realization about how my own ego has been holding me back. Big time.

When I lived in Boston, I came to associate people with their home yoga studio. Where they taught or practiced told me a lot about them (or so I thought). I don't even think I consciously realized I was judging like this at the time, but it's clear to me in retrospect that I was. Some of it came from pride. I taught at a few studios, but I also managed my "home" studio, and I loved it. Sure, like anything else home- or family-related, there were times when things about the studio annoyed me but, overall, it was my safe haven. It provided me with a sense of community, and as a single, freelance writer, this is something I was often lacking.

When I moved to L.A., I was a student at a couple of different studios, but I didn't "affiliate" with them to the extent I did the Boston studio. What I now realize I did identify with was being someone who went to a yoga studio in the first place.

Cut to life now, back in my hometown of Sacramento. As a single mom, I've come to realize that getting to a class or workout is way easier said than done. Because of this, I've mainly been walking and doing a home yoga practice to get my movement in. But, the truth is, doing yoga at home just isn't the same (for me, at least) as going to a class. For me, the act of physically going to a class is a reprieve. At home I don't get that.

This reprieve has been missing from my life for a long time now. When I was pregnant, I had too much relaxin running through my system, which meant that I kept injuring myself. At three months pregnant, I had to stop doing yoga altogether. Izzy is now eight months old, so it's been a really, really long time since my last yoga class. This is, by far, the longest I've gone without attending a yoga class since I began practicing in 2003.

In the past few months, my back has taken a beating. I've never been a Person in Pain, and now I'm in a pretty constant state of discomfort-bordering-on-pain. My range of movement is shot. My core was obliterated during pregnancy, and carrying Izzy is pretty much the equivalent of carting a pet monkey around. She's curious about everything (which I love), and constantly throwing herself around in my arms so that she can see in all directions at once. My back is not happy and, as she grows, it's getting worse.

A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me how much I needed yoga beyond what I was getting at home. The only option seemed to be joining the local gym, which also offers childcare. I used to go to this same gym ten years ago, when I last lived in Sacramento. 

But, in the time since then, I had become a yoga teacher. I practiced at studios. It sounds horrible to say, but the truth is that I thought I was now somehow above doing yoga at a gym. What an asshole.

Having no other viable alternatives, I finally signed up at the gym yesterday, and went to my first yoga class there today. It took all of two minutes for me to realize how much my ego had been robbing me of an experience I really needed.

Not only that, but I was working off of revisionist history. Once I got on my mat in that room, I remembered with startling clarity that, ten years ago, it was the classes at this very place that saved me. At the time, it felt like my life was falling apart--my brother was deep in the throes of addiction, and I felt generally untethered and stuck. The only reliable relief I had on a daily basis was the hour on my mat, at that gym. It sounds dramatic, but I truly believe it saved me. It was the single hour in my day when I could just let go and flow. 

It turns out that--unbelievably--the same teacher I had back in 2008 is still at the gym. I adored her. In fact, it was her example that compelled me to teach yoga at a gym myself back in Boston. Her class was such a lifeline for me, and she was such an incredible teacher. Her example convinced me that good yoga could be found at gyms as well as studios. I wanted to offer it to others, just as she had offered it to me. Adding even more to the ridiculousness of my anti-gym thought pattern is the fact that I can honestly say the students I taught in my gym class were the most dedicated and enthusiastic of all my students anywhere. Without fail, regardless of whether it was a blizzard or a holiday or what-have-you, I had a core group of familiar students in class every Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. for two years straight. 

There is so much hypocrisy in all of this, it's almost astounding. It is amazing what the ego can do, in such quiet, insidious ways that we're not even consciously aware the process is happening. 

The last time I cried on my yoga mat was during a class I attended right after the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013. I cried again on my mat today--two times, in fact--for the first time in five years. This time, though, they weren't tears of loss. They were tears of joy at coming home. My life has shape-shifted so many times throughout my adulthood, but the one thing that's been constant throughout is yoga. For me, there is something about being in a room, moving and flowing and breathing with other people that is incredibly powerful. Irreplaceable, really. It's something that can't be mimicked with a home practice. 

Today, I got a piece of myself back that's been missing for a long time now. And the only person who was stopping me from reclaiming it was me.