April 19, 2021

Re-emerging is Vulnerable as Heck

Does anyone else notice all that breathing? Or is it just me?
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Since March 10, 2020, I have attended approximately 300 livestreamed yoga classes via my beloved studio, Yoga Pod Boulder. I appreciate the studio owners for pivoting quickly, and I’ve talked about this 13-month experience here and here.

Yesterday, I attended my first in-person yoga class at the studio since the pandemic began. I’m fully vaccinated, masks are required, occupancy is limited. It was intimidating, but it felt like time.

I walked into the studio. One of my favorite instructors recognized me, welcomed me back, and gave me the orientation on the present-tense version of the COVID conventions of taking a class in real life. So far so good.

I walked into the room. I felt the heat on my skin. I looked up at the wall-mounted monitor and saw the Hollywood Squares of students taking the class from home. Spaces, wandering pets, and the rest to which we’ve grown accustomed. I saw what I looked like over this last year, one of many squares there to allow the instructor to engage. In the first months, the instructors were alone teaching to this screen. Now, with hybrid classes, I saw how much more relevant the live beings in the room seemed in the context of the screen. The telescope flipped in an instant.

There were a few other things I experienced in that one hour.

First, the real-world gaze or my sense of it. There were other beings. They could see me walk in, roll out my mat, and slip off my shirt to meet the heat. Yikes. Was my sports bra on right? Was I wearing a sports bra at all? Was I doing it right? Have I lost ground in my practice? How much older do I look now than I looked 13 months ago? Is this really just a little bit of gray?

Second, there was a palpable shift in control. It was hot! My space heater does what I say, but this thermostat was not at my disposal. The volume of music was the volume. It turns out other people breathe in a yoga class. Even my iPad volume at maximum missed that. “Surrender, Sue,” I thought, wiping sweat rivulets from that gap between my eyes and the top of my mask.

Third, I found comparison again. She had been hiding in my digital year of yoga. I could see other practitioners. They were taller, better outfitted, more flexible, less sweaty, more sweaty. They add handstands ahead of chaturangas. Could they see how much “worse” I am at yoga? How much older I am than they are?

Fourth, and finally, I found a measure of presence. Unlike joining class at home, I lost sense of time. There were no text alerts, no doorbells, no figuring out a word I’d missed in the New York Times Spelling Bee game. I lost all sense of time. I worked harder. I paid attention to the sensations in my body. I allowed myself a complete shavasana for the first time in a long while. I was with my community, with its wide age range, seemingly infinite tattoo possibilities, random flecks of whatever on the floor, and a locker room where people are always navigating who enters or exits through the doorway first. There was eye contact, grace, laughter, physicality.

It was splendid.

📷: Jordan Nix on Unsplash

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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