Here’s something I’ve noticed: people get kind of touchy when they’re talking about yoga, quick to emphasize that within the sacred yogi world there is no right or wrong, no misguided intention or motivation, only endless acceptance and the complete absence of judgment.

So I’m going to ruffle some feathers and state that for the past ten years, I have been Doing Yoga Wrong. Now, let me smooth it out a bit. First of all, I am speaking strictly for myself. The reasons I practiced were never truly compelling, I never liked it, and besides the basic benefits of moving my body, I never got much out of it.

That is, until now.

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I first found my way to a studio when I was in my twenties, living in Seattle, unabashedly chasing the coveted “Yoga Body” and trying to keep up with my uber-fit, super active peers. The climbing community, to which I delighted to belong, was a friendly, lively world, but also one of intense competition and ubiquitous rivalry.

I approached yoga the way I approached almost everything else, with one eye open, constantly sizing myself up. I wasn’t alone. There was a lot of side-eye in that studio.

I remember that time with great fondness. I was happy, productive and energetic. But whenever my friends started speaking seriously about yoga and its life-altering effects, when they discussed Ekhart Tole or the benefit of finding intention in the breath, I zoned out. Just as I zoned out when my teachers said anything in class besides the basic instruction for postures. All of the wisdom that they offered up so graciously, class after class, was lost on me.

I tried to get into it. I treated myself to Lululemon tank tops, purchased books on spirituality (which I never opened) to decorate my bookshelf. I bought expensive monthly passes only to attend sporadically, watched the clock during class, and eventually, my interested waned completely. Yoga, I decided, was not for me.

Then I moved to Asheville on a whim, and while life slowed down on a day to day basis, on the greater scale it moved so quickly I could barely keep up. I got married, bought a house, and found deep contentment in exploring the Blue Ridge with my husband and a small group of friends. The fierce competition I’d clung to in my twenties just seemed to melt away.

And then, only a few months ago, I was given a rare diagnosis: Interstitial Cystitis, or  IC, a mysterious, painful, and debilitating disease of the urinary tract.

In that one radically humbling moment, I was forced to let go of almost everything that I had anchored my identity to for the last 30 years, everything that had brought me joy and confidence, purpose and distraction. The disease ebbs and flows, but when it flairs up, I can’t bike or run, I can’t climb or even walk. Some days, I can barely move.

But somehow, miraculously, I can do yoga. Not always, not every posture, and not without breaks, but I can do it.

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I showed up at the Asheville Donation Studio one afternoon during a flair up, reminding myself that even if I lay in child’s pose for the hour, it would be better then suffering alone at home. I showed up that day the way so many people have showed up to yoga before: in desperation. I had not been to a class in three years.

For the very first time, I listened to the teacher. Her words sank into my skin like the steam of a sauna, and I soaked them up in pure gratitude. She spoke about the seasons changing around us, from summer into fall, about countering the swirl of change by staying grounded with every breath. And so I focused on my breathing, for the very first time in my life, because it was all that I was able to do.

That first class marked one of the most dramatic and abrupt shifts in consciousness that I have ever experienced. I had never before paid attention to the teachings of yoga because I never desperately, humbly needed them. Until one day, when I did. It was as simple as a switch turning.

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What I realized during that class, as I flowed ever so slowly and cautiously through the poses, is that no one had ever tried to convert me, sway me, or in any way convince me to practice yoga. There is no agenda, no ulterior motives. There was no judgment when I was 25 year old, grinding through the motions and dreaming of sculpted shoulders. There is no judgment today, when I lie still on the mat, my body soft and shaky.

Yoga had simply always been there, a steady and gentle offering, available for whenever people like me were truly ready to let go.

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Melina wore the Three Pines Eco Beanie

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1 Comment on All I Could Do Was Breathe

  1. Burnell Yow!
    November 23, 2015 at 12:23 am (9 years ago)

    Good to read this, Melina. I’ve never been self-disciplined and, unfortunately, I’ve also never been comfortable in a group practice. The times I’ve been the most regular in a yoga/stretching practice have been during times of physical or spiritual trauma. But now as I am aging, I find myself getting more into the preventive benefits of yoga. Seems all a bit backassedwards (is that even a word?) to me, but better late than never.


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