Recently, I started an eight-week Intro to Yoga course at my local Iyengar Yoga studio. Generally when people hear of a friend taking a yoga class, they think of flowy oms and gliding movements, soft and supple like a warm breeze on a hot day. People bend and move in near-unison, following along with the teacher's instructions in a low-impact group workout, with an eye toward weight loss.
This is not how Iyengar yoga works. In Iyengar, each pose (āsana) has a correct alignment, careful breath, acknowledgement and deep knowledge of the body. We hold poses for what seems like an eternity as we focus on feeling the pose, seeing the pose. There is an awareness and alertness that is cultivated in what seems like every inch of the body. (It is extremely meditative to someone whose mind races like mine.)
In the first class, we learned how to stand, in a pose called Tāḍāsana. Feet parallel, facing forward; hips and knees directly over ankles. Back straight. Every muscle from toe to shoulder engaged and active, thoughtful. This pose is deceptive, it is not easy, it is not simple, it is not relaxed. The name means Mountain Pose. It is strong, it is immovable.
As I've practiced Tāḍāsana since that first class a few weeks ago, I've become aware of just how strong this pose really is, and in doing so have become aware of a strength in myself that I wasn't attuned to, either.
In my life, I have long thought of myself as nothing more than the sum of what others have thought of me, and the overarching thread of those thoughts is that I am insuffient, deficient, unlovable, bad.
In my world, it was only a matter of time before those people who seemed to love me the most would lose patience with my clumsiness or mischevousness or the general idea that I was a "handful." At that point, those people would turn from love to frustration, anger, hate; all feelings of love from moments before would be lost.
Nothing was solid, there was no foundation for me to stand on.
In fact, even I was not solid. I felt like a hollow shell, filled only with crumbling bits that others filled me up with, which the slightest shake would cause to collapse.
In the real world, my therapist noticed this manifested as a crippling fear of earthquakes (not good, considering I live in California). The ground, literally and figuratively, did not feel solid beneath my feet; at any moment a sudden jolt would send me toppling, and it often did. The bad days I spent in bed, immobile and crying, willing myself to melt into the mattress and terrified of leaving the comfort of my blanket nest. When I was up and moving, on the good days, I'd freeze, wide-eyed, at the slightest perceived shake, and hovered close to tears at any hint of rejection or the possibility of falling from a friend's good graces.
It was in this state that I began seeing my therapist, who we will call Dr. K. I was withered and small, I sobbed constantly as I poured my heart out to her, then sobbed more when she gradually increased the frequency of our visits to 2, 3, 4 times per week. Clearly, I told myself and Dr. K, I was completely broken.
No, she said. You're not broken.
It was through Dr. K that I learned that sometimes things happen to us that we are completely unaware of, that we think are just normal or part of life. Sometimes we just don't know any better, and sometimes we are actually told that there is nothing better, and so we begin to believe these things. We somehow take into ourselves that we are bad, deficient, broken. We learn it somehow and adopt it for ourselves; a little voice begins to tell us that it must be true, and the part of ourselves that initially tells that voice to fuck off, and that it has no idea what it's talking about, slowly but surely stops fighting. It starts to wonder if maybe the little voice is right. It starts to let the little voice have its way, to make it true.
And in time, we begin to live like it is true. Like we are broken. Like we are unlovable, unworthy of even the most basic human connection. Like our position in this world and in the minds and hearts of others is always at stake. Like at any moment a rupture could happen and everything could fall apart before our tear-filled eyes.
But here's the thing, she told me. It's not true.
You are lovable and you are good, she said. I sobbed when she told me. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes. There is nothing wrong or bad or broken about you.
In the past few years of seeing Dr. K, on a regular basis, four times a week, I have learned a lot of things about myself.
First, despite what is said to the contrary, there is nothing inherently unfixable with me. I am not bipolar, and I do not have a personality disorder. A note to aspiring writers, do your research before you diagnose your family members, and find out the definition of "personality disorder" before you try to use it in a sentence. "Personality disorders" are very particular things, very different from "mood disorders."
Second, I am lovable, and very loved. I am happily engaged and will be married soon to a man whose love for me I know in my heart to be entirely unconditional and permanent. I trust him, more than I have ever trusted anyone. (And beyond that, I can always count on the love of my little cat, my little therapy animal without the official designation; he is always more than happy to give me hugs and kisses with his allergenic drool.)
Third, I am strong. I am solid. I have made everything in my life out of next to nothing. I have taught myself what I need to know to succeed, and I have done just that. I am thriving. I have a job that pays well with coworkers who appreciate and respect me. I have a career path and a mentor/role model to show me the way. Hell, I even have stock options! I want for nothing, and I do not live paycheck-to-paycheck. There is money in the bank, there is a roof over my head (however small), there is a beautiful city right outside my door. I am surrounded by good friends who care about me, and I make a positive impression on people that cannot be underestimated. All of this is because of me, because I am worthy and strong.
As I practice my Tāḍāsana, I feel the strength of my feet solid on the ground, then that strength slowly filling my ankles, legs, back, arms, neck, head. I am no longer hollow, I am no longer on shaky or uncertain ground. I am a mountain, in the midst of building. I grow taller and stronger each day.