If this post-semester time of cleaning my house is my Lent, then here’s my confession: I have not done a full, one-hour yoga class since December.
I realized this last Friday, when I bought Brooke Boon’s book Holy Yoga, which contained a DVD. I laid my mat in front of the TV, popped in the DVD, and did nearly an hour of yoga. That’s when I realized that I haven’t done yoga in eons.
This realization, of course, made me feel like a failure. A fraud. I’m trying to write a book about yoga and Christianity, but when life gets tough in the middle of a busy semester: I’m out. I give up. I neglect the yoga in favor of the To Do List. I don’t practice what I teach.
Or so I thought.
Then Kylie woke up with a headache. I found him sitting in pain on the couch, massaging his temples.
“Lie down on the floor,” I said, placing a pillow on the carpet. “Face up. Put your head on this pillow.” I sat behind his head and began massaging his temples. The floor held his body, and I rubbed his head. I massaged until I saw his stomach relax and begin breathing fully. He let out a huge exhale.
Watching his body exhale fully was like watching a miracle. He did not notice the change in his breathing—he was paying attention to my fingers on his scalp, paying attention to the relaxation of his stress. I watched his breathing.
I watched the stress leave his body.
This is the yoga I have been learning: the yoga of stress management. The yoga of mood management. When I have a 12-hour day on campus, I make sure I lie down on the floor of my office for 20 minutes. On campus, I don’t have someone to massage my temples, but I do have my breath. I begin by sighing deeply three times at the beginning of savasana.
When I am overwhelmed in the middle of class, I force my exhale to be longer, reminding myself that I am the teacher. That I am a good teacher, and I can wait an entire breath before responding to student comments.
This year—right now, this summer—marks ten years of teaching for me. Ten years of teaching a variety of things.
My first few years of teaching were tough. Teaching high school English, I worked 7am to 7pm regularly, breaking only for lunch. I only survived because I loved my students. I hated the stress. Later, when I learned yoga and savasana, I told my mother that if I had laid down on the floor of my classroom after a day of teaching, before the afternoon of preparing, I probably would have lasted longer.
Today, I recognize that my new impulse reaction to stress is to breathe. In this way, yoga has changed my lifestyle. I have been practicing yoga for the past five months—it just hasn’t looked like the yoga you’ll find in the yoga studio.
Actually practicing Hatha yoga (the poses) will certainly support the changes yoga has wrought in my lifestyle. But that is for another day. Today I celebrate the role yoga does have in my life.