When I started my current job at age forty-eight, I was just beginning to get heavy on my chest and abdomen. The primary impact on a software developer is lower back pain that steals the last two hours of the work day. I ran a few miles a week and played tennis with my sons on the weekend, but I could see myself starting the long, slow slide into flabbiness.
The general manager at the company was in far worse shape, having decided to take up golf for exercise. After ruining his back with all that hyperextended twisting, he decided to bring in a yoga instructor. I took a few classes with her, but with zero-period drop-offs for the son that was taking AP chemistry, I couldn’t make more than one session a week.
My introduction to Bikram Yoga was incidental – the studio is next door to the music shop where I took flute lessons until last month.
At this point, I can’t say enough about the discipline. To tell the truth, though, starting it at age fifty was really hell. I was riddled with tissue and joint alignments that had evolved to support my defective posture. Then there were the untreated stress injuries and left-right muscle imbalance from basketball and tennis. I’m also a long string bean, and was just really embarrassed to collapse half-way through the balancing poses held by all the little 5’2” ladies. Finally, I’m a walking bog monster: I drop ten pounds of water weight over the ninety minutes in the heated room.
So I was a train wreck for the first eighteen months. Between aggravating my stress injuries by straining too far in the poses, to just collapsing in the heat, I really drove the studio owners crazy. I still remember the first time I really compressed my gut in wind-removing pose. After the twenty-second squeeze, I uncurled to lie in corpse pose, and I could feel my body reeling as fat was released into my blood stream. Yuck!
Along with the physical challenges were some serious psychological challenges. I’m a really open and supportive person, and there are predators that come into a collective effort like group yoga and just suck energy out of people like me. Some of them don’t realize what they’re doing: they’re just hypercompetitive people that have always taken energy out of others in accomplishing their goals. Some of them are fully conscious of their abuse of people that they consider to be weak-willed. And some are just struggling with the discipline of staying in a heated room while exercising at the limits of the ability. After learning to recognize and reclaim my energies from the first two groups, most of the second year was spent learning to manage the last group. I put a lot of thoughts like “Breathe”, “Just rest” and “It’s OK. Do the best that you can” into the room. Every now and then someone comes up after class to thank me.
Some of the experiences I don’t even know how to categorize. The most intense was when lying down after an deep back bend on the floor. I felt a spark, pretty much like an electric spark from finger to metal, emanating from my liver. Everybody in the class froze, and the teacher stopped and asked “Is everything OK, Brian?”
This last year has been about building strength in the left side of my body. As I got closer and closer to balancing out the poses, I was overwhelmed by feelings of intense loss and sadness. Sometimes those feelings seemed to be related to having a specific person or persons in my vicinity, but I eventually realized that they were coming from somewhere deep inside of me.
I was exhausted last Tuesday just coming into class, and spent the first half of the floor series trying to catch my breath. The sadness was powerful, and I had to hold my breath to keep from sobbing. I finally got back into the postures, focusing this time on the left side of my neck and upper back. Suddenly, I had an amazing sensation, as though the right side of my head was filling up with energy.
I mentioned that I have a spiritual tenant on my right shoulder, something that was waiting for me in my mother’s womb following a six-month miscarriage. I realized that I had forced him out of my mind. He was a little upset, but resigned. The intensity of focus I had invested in activating the muscles on the left side of my body had worked back into the right side of my brain (the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body).
The impressions that I drew from him, regarding the sadness I had been struggling with, were related to memories of the agony he had suffered as his little fetus succumbed to death. Honoring the sacrifice that he had made, I spent the rest of class working out how to supply him energy without renouncing the right side of my brain.
What’s been amazing is the impact on my relationships. I’ve been seized by fear of rejection all my life. That’s evaporated. And the people that rely upon emotional connections to drive their relationships no longer find me to be so needy.
Of course, it’s not just me and my tenant in this situation. One of the things that I’m conscious of is that predators consider humility to be a form of weakness. I’ve been letting a certain class of them get twisted up in the right side of my mind. It’s time to infect them with the strength that comes from loving.