Dreams of dancing

Reaching a breakthrough in yoga

For well over a year now – maybe a year and six months? – I have been attending almost-weekly yoga classes. I’ve been boring people about this journey for so long, but I haven’t really written anything down about it. It is quite hard because there are so many feelings and thoughts that cycle around my head about it, and they change all the time.

But for the first time I had a very real and very concrete awakening last week, and to try to make sense of it… I wanted to write things down.

Firstly, a bit about YogaMobility. It is a charity local to Cardiff that exists to provide accessible yoga classes to people of all abilities. For years I’ve been interested in yoga, there was always something about it that called to me, as pretentious as that sounds. But the super-flexible twisted pretzel supermodels that tend to do yoga (at least in my mind) were as far from me as anything I could imagine, so I stayed away. Yoga wasn’t for me, after all.

YogaMobility has changed all that, and without exaggeration, it has utterly transformed my life. I can do things now that I would never have dreamed of doing before. Not massive things, like scaling Everest, or running a marathon (yet!), but the everyday dreams that I have always had: going for long walks, coping with a rocky hill, climbing castle towers again, paddling in the sea. These are all things that have been deep-rooted desires for a long time, and this practice of yoga has helped me reach these goals.

It has been an incredible journey for me, but on Wednesday last week, I had another breakthrough of sorts – one that first of all left me a bit shaken and threatened, before giving me space to aim for something new, for the first time in my life.

The breakthroughs so far have been physical. This is the first time that something happened in yoga that left my mind reeling.

“Being in your Body”

Okay, so this is where it gets all hippie. Those who like their Policy Managers or Olivers rational, sceptical and hard-science-randomised-controlled-trial-based, please turn away now.

Mary, the yoga teacher, has talked ever since I arrived at the classes, about the importance of “being in your body”. Yeah, yeah, Mary, I’d think, I kind of see what you mean, but I’m too busy thinking about doing this yoga thing. Or whatever, Mary, I’m a bit too stressed for that. Or hang on, Mary, I’m a bit focused on getting into this downwards dog or whatever position I’ve been working on getting “right”.

(The yoga teacher’s name is Mary, could you tell?)

Well, as is often the case with realisations, it finally came last Wednesday (I mean that realisations come suddenly, not on Wednesdays…). I’ve moved on to doing two classes, and finally after two hours of yoga, I was suddenly in my body.

Now, if you’re a sceptical soul like me, you’re thinking “Yeah, yeah, whatever” (etc, etc). But for the first time ever, I wasn’t thinking outside my body, I was part of it. I wasn’t worrying about things outside me, I wasn’t distracting myself, I wasn’t thinking about what to do next, or who was in the room, I was just present in my body.

And I hated it.

I realised in that moment that I have spent the vast majority of my life distracting myself from the aches and pains that come with a disability. From an early age, with operations stemming from when I was six months until the age of nineteen, I learned never to be too much aware of my body. Yes, I knew how far I could push myself, and I knew how to cope with or adjust my levels of pain, but I distanced myself from my body whenever I could.

I could spend hours imagining different things, different people, and different places. I used to listen to the most fast-paced vibrant music I could find and just imagine myself dancing along. I suppose I spent a lot of my early life (and adult life, if I’m honest) imagining that I had a body and legs that could do the things I’ve always wanted to do. Dancing, skipping, climbing, running, jumping… so I would put on some music, close my eyes and just forget about my body.

That, and reading, and thinking, and worrying, and wondering, became my obsessions. And I didn’t realise until last week that I was using all of that as an escape. I had realised that my body wasn’t able to do the things I needed it to do, or wanted it to do, and the reality of that was painful. So I leaned on the ol’ reliable grey matter and exercised that instead.

So, Wednesday.

Suddenly, there I was, in a room with loads of people, aware of my body in a way I haven’t ever been. And I could feel my mind already tugging itself to imagine different things, to forget about the physical feelings, and the physical reality. This time, I was able to say no to that tug, and focus on myself.

It just felt weird. There wasn’t really anywhere to hide. It was like I was finally noticing it all. I could feel the scars on my legs, the tautness of my tendons, the aches in my hips, the slight twisted way I hold my back, and the constant twitching tension that I had never really noticed, which comes from suppressing the odd clicks and spikes of pain throughout the day.

Even writing about it is hard, because it hardly seems like the mindful relaxing beautiful yoga I wanted to practice. Damn it, Mary, I wanted to be one of those beautiful yogi pretzels!

But this time I didn’t move my mind back outside, and I also came to the realisation that a great deal of the anxiety, the heaviness, the worry, comes from shame. Was I hiding from my body because of the physical pain, or was I just ashamed of it, after all?

(At that point I realised that my stupid brain was trying another clever tactic to get me from focusing on my body… tricksy brains)

I went home that evening absolutely exhausted, emotional and overwhelmed. Probably not the best advert for yoga, really. Except, after a few days, I realised that it has given me some sense of peace – or at least, the start of a path towards that peace. I now know that I have been hiding from things for too long, and I know that my brain has tried everything it could, to keep me from thinking about my disability. It would rather, I would rather, worry over and obsess about the tiniest things, would rather I be anxious about everything I could possibly imagine rather than just admit that I am tired and in pain.

I wasn’t sure what I was writing about when I started this. I had hoped by the end, I would come to some sort of quaint, tied-in-a-bow answer to a wave of questions. I had hoped that maybe I would come to a big philosophical conclusion.

I haven’t.

And maybe that’s ok, because I’m very new to yoga, and I’m very new to being aware of myself in this way. And maybe this is just a bit of writing for me to say to other people who are thinking of getting into yoga, that it can be life-changing, and it can make us think totally different, and it can help us face up to things we have kept buried for all our lives.

On Friday I was terrified about going back, and now I can’t wait for Wednesday. Because I don’t want to be ashamed anymore, and I want to be able to get closer to making the dreams locked inside my head happen in the real world.

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