Karen Janowsky

Superheroes in Love

A Yogic Trip Down Memory Lane

This past summer, I was laid off from my yoga teaching jobs, and it made me sad. Teaching yoga was a consistent happy place for me. Even so, I hadn’t realized how integral my “yoga community” of students and myself was to my personal practice. Hence, I lost my impetus to practice on my own. I sort of let it slide away.

I began to do yoga for a couple of reasons when I was about 22 years old. First, I wanted a new way to exercise. I was an incoming grad student; I didn’t have any money for a gym membership, and the gym on campus was always packed. Additionally, there wasn’t much room in my small apartment to do a VHS (remember those?!) of an aerobics tape, etc. The other reason was that yoga still had the reputation for being esoteric and a little hippie/crunchy, so I knew it would make many people I knew a little uncomfortable, and I really do kind of like poking the bear from time to time.

Classes were in a Montessori classroom after hours, led by the mom of one of the kids there. It was me and maybe four other people, and it was straight-up, no frills hatha yoga rather than one of the more trendy “styles” we see today. I even learned how to stand on my head, which is saying something for someone who is far from naturally athletic or coordinated, and has never had much upper body strength. I certainly was getting the exercise goal accomplished. I don’t remember whether I succeeded in confirming my strangeness to people—at least not because of yoga.

About a month into classes, I noticed something, though. My depression and anxiety lessened as I practiced. After about 90 minutes of asanas, breathing exercises, and deep relaxation, I felt better. Nothing had ever worked quite the way yoga did to lift my mood in a way that carried into the rest of my daily life. At that point, I was hooked.

After I graduated, I used to practice with a couple of Kripalu and Erich Schiffman videos. With almost daily practice, my mood disorders weren’t cured, but they were much more manageable. A day wasn’t really complete for me if I didn’t practice yoga. After another year, I was able to lower my blood pressure and keep a sense of emotional equilibrium just by breathing. Yoga still wasn’t the popular commercial enterprise it is now, though. That wasn’t a bad thing in itself, but it did make finding an in-person class to take difficult. Videos were great, but nothing really replaced having a live teacher and fellow learners nearby.

That was why I eventually got certified to teach. It wasn’t because I necessarily wanted to get up in front of people and twist my zaftig body into weird positions, chant strange sounding things, etc. I wanted to enhance my own well-being. As the years went on, that part of my motivation fell into the background as I began to really embrace teaching. I found that really do love sharing yoga with others and made it a mission to help others find the same sense of balance and peace that I had found, if they wanted it. Even on cold, rainy, Saturday mornings when I didn’t feel like getting out of bed to do my job, I was so happy once I showed up.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve been offered a virtual class (hooray!!!). I rolled out my mat a couple of weeks ago to refamiliarize myself with my general routine. The good news is I remembered it, and I really did feel better afterward. I rediscovered why I started in the first place. The bad news is that muscle tone starts to drop after a few weeks of non-exercise. I pulled both sets of triceps and was in pain for about a week.

One of the bits of advice I have heard over and over is, in yoga and meditation, always be a beginner. Be curious about what you can do and how different things make you feel, and don’t strive to do or be something you aren’t ready for yet. Yoga really is about being in the moment, anyway. It’s about accepting or seeing clearly how things are right now, without worrying about what brought you to that moment or worrying about what will happen next. The poses exist mostly to support that state of mind. Well, my burning triceps and sore body certainly reminded me that I wasn’t as well practiced as I had been.

The solution is one that I have taught my students forever but forgot to apply to myself. Meet yourself where you are. Do what you can, and, with time, you’ll notice better health, be able to do things differently, and will probably feel a lot more confident. Take a few deep breaths. Notice how you’re feeling at this very moment.

There have been many times when I have not been the most fit or even adept person in class as the teacher. The only way I could go forward and improve my practice was to accept that and offer the more “advanced” students verbal cues to enhance whatever I was having class do. I was, and need to become again, the guide, not the authority. Yoga is mostly experiential, not conceptual. Self-consciousness is valid, and I have had to accept that was my current state often, but feelings and moods change constantly. No one is the same way all the time. I was not and am not my insecurities.

Same goes for life, including writing. The only way to get beyond self-doubt is to allow it to happen, experience it, and move through it until it arises again (and it will). This is why I maintain there is no such thing as “writer’s block.” I’ve said this before: there are no invisible muses floating around, hoarding ideas. Dramatizing or personifying the things that feel insurmountable puts those things beyond your power to control. They’re outside you. You become subject to the whims of real and imagined oppressors. To move beyond them, we must accept them of parts of ourselves, not deny them realty in our heads. They’ll persist.

Another way to think of it is, whatever you ignore will eventually come back and bite you in the ass.

So then. I start my new virtual yoga job in about 2 weeks with trepidation and a beginner’s mind. That’s where I think we all should start from.