You're Not Supposed to Be Stressed in Yoga

An instructor pronounced this to my Bikram Yoga class, as we were sweating our way through the floor series: You should not be stressed in yoga. As he said this, strands of my hair were plastered to my face and neck because I dropped my headband somewhere in the locker room. I had not had time to grab an elastic for a ponytail. Big black shadows were circling my eyes because I was exhausted, I had no time to remove my makeup, and my not-as-waterproof-as-they-claim mascara was streaking off lash by lash.

I laughed at the irony. I’ve been growing my hair out for a few months so I can put it in a ponytail when I exercise (yes, I let my fitness life drive my hairstyle). And yet somehow even with such time-saving style choices, for this particular 90-minute class in a 105-degree heated room I didn’t have time to find an elastic to bring inside the studio with me.

Some of this predicament was because I had arrived at 3:58 pm for a 4:00 pm class. I was in Alexandria, VA for business, and had gotten there still in my work clothes (which are not driven by my fitness preferences but do include as professional cloggy shoes as I can justify).

I had thought I’d squeeze a class in before my flight because there was a studio not far from my hotel. It seemed like I had more than enough time to get there with 15 minutes to spare, but I got stuck in traffic behind an oversized crane/vehicle that took three light cycles to make a left turn.

Just in case you are not a math whiz, two minutes is not enough time to prepare for class: to sign a waiver saying I won’t sue the studio if I sweat to death, to charge the drop-in fee to my weary debit card, to collect and pay for a rental mat and a towel and a bottle of water, and oh, yeah, to get a second towel so I can shower afterward, and to then slip on dry-fit clothes and be standing on my perfectly-placed mat and towel by 3:59.

So let’s just say I was a little stressed to start.

The good news is, different studios operate in different cultures, and while my very prompt studio in the Northeast would have practically locked the door by 3:58, here near D.C., people were still gathering themselves and laying their mats in the hot room, even 6 or 7 minutes into the class. Life in the city runs by its own rules (i.e. the instructor kept asking during class, “Anyone need a G2? A Vitamin Water? Coconut Water?” In the Northeast, if you forget to bring a drink, once pranayama breathing starts, you’re pretty much screwed, or you have to interrupt class to go get your own. Live free or die, man.)

But, just as I was wondering if I would be able to stand my hair in my face and on my neck for the entire 90-minute class (remember, 105 degrees!), the instructor paused a moment during a Savasana, and said: “Yoga is not about perfection, you know. You will never get there. You will never finish it. Yoga is about intention.”

Yoga is all about getting better, he said. “All you can do is come into the hot room intending to improve. But once you are there, you just have to see where your body is that day, and where it will go. It’s different every day.”

That’s what life is about, isn’t it? It’s not about arriving (although generally speaking, it’s good to be at yoga class on time). It’s not about figuring it all out (although, darn it! When will I not dread Camel Pose?).

It’s not about avoiding slow crane trucks, or cramming that one last thing into that one last hour you have. It’s about just holding the intention that you plan to do great things. Every day, you should just intend to be a better person. But then you just show up, accept where you are, and who you show up as. Tchich Nhat Hanh says, “At any moment, you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.” 

And sometimes, that means you have to let the sweat and your hair hang in your eyes.