A friend convinced me to try yoga years ago.  I was in my early 20s and I told her yoga wasn’t for people like me.  Happy people do yoga.  Healthy people.  Bendy people.

I was none of those things.

I may have even gestured to the solidity of my well-worn Doc Martens. I’m pretty sure I was wearing some dark shade of grey that was too big for my sandwich-fed frame. I know I rolled my eyes and scoffed through my nose when I repeated her request back at her, “Yoga?”

“Please?,” she’d asked.

I probably rolled my eyes again.  But. This girl.  I’d loved her as my best friend since she’d moved to my state from California in the seventh grade. She was born cooler than I’d ever be, but she was seated next to me in art class and she spoke to me. More than that, I made her laugh. The key difference here is that she laughed with me, not at me.  And her laugh was great.  She still laughs like that; like sunshine coming in sudden on a gray, dull day.  My less than graceful acquiescence, however, included one stipulation: “Fine. But they better not Om or whatever the hell.”

The class was crowded.  It was hot.  I had the wrong clothes. My stretched-out sweats were too thick and too heavy and I kept catching my toes on the billowing pant legs. In a sort of self defense, I snickered at my own ridiculousness.  Do what with my what? Turn how?  Put my hand where?  The yogis present were so serious, or seemed so to me. Their faces were focused, their seemingly grim and solemn stares forward were intimidating. I know now I was a terrible disruption, my guffaws and groans were too loud and self-serving.  Even so, how some of them managed to give me the cold shoulder while doing down dog still perplexes me. My friend gave me hard glances every so often as a reminder to keep it together. I’m certain she regretted bringing me along before the second sun salutation. I closed my eyes to keep myself quiet and I mustered through until the end of class. When the low, hard, resounding “Om” began to burst from the deep underbelly of those around me, my eyes popped open and my friend’s gaze met mine. My face probably registered the equivalent of words I’m not encouraged to use here. She burst out in a loud laugh. The same kind of laugh that would get us in trouble in art class when we were middle schoolers. Any semblance of decent behavior disappeared and I swept up my borrowed yoga mat and fled, gasping for breath, tripping over the yoga mats of those poor interrupted yogis trying to finish their class and find peace.

For more than a decade, whenever it came up, I laughed about “yoga” and “yogis” and told my story about fleeing the Om. But, as I’m still learning, life has a way of bringing things round again and again.

A few Septembers ago I finally caved, again, to a different friend’s request to join her in a yoga class. She’d been asking for more than a year and I think she was shocked when I finally said yes. Why did I say yes? Because I was hurting. My body was tired, all the time, and I was tired of workouts that felt like beatings and seemed to be getting me nowhere. I’d managed to lose weight, but my moods and my mind felt like a muddle of things. I was stuck. So I agreed to go with her. And it was hard. I had to focus on my breath in order to get through it. Again, the others in the class intimidated me. It felt like I had stumbled upon a class of ALL the beautiful people and I promptly placed my mat as close to the exit as I could. But, at the end of the class, they didn’t Om me away. So I went back.  And I kept going back. I learned to wear actual yoga pants that didn’t catch at my feet. I began practicing with my eyes closed, not to keep from laughing but to keep my focus inward.

Three years into practicing, I still like to keep my mat to the back of the class; or as near the exit as possible.  I still close my eyes when I practice. But I’ve found yoga to be transformative in my life physically and mentally. I also found out that those serious yogis almost always come up after class with smiles so beautiful and genuine that I am often reminded of light and how much of this journey of mine has been helped along by my friends.  And now when I encounter the Om — which I do regularly — I surprise myself by joining in. I’ve learned not to flee it and to add my own voice. My contribution is a bit tentative still, but enough to share in that vibration.

— Rebecca Brock

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