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To the Back-Row Yogi Who Laughed at Me When I Lost My Balance

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Four years ago, I practiced my first 26-posture Bikram Yoga series. At the time, I couldn’t have predicted the impact that it would have on my life – nor was I really open to the possibility of such change. So, after a summer of several Bikram classes (with a few ice cream cones in between), I took a break from the 105 degree and 40 percent humidity room to focus on work.

Then, the abomination that was 2016 happened. I had two grueling surgeries, one on each side of my head, plus two recovery periods that forced me to spend an entire calendar year away from any type of exercise or perspiration. Towards the latter half of the year, I also had to leave my job.

Thankfully, a bad year is only so long, and 2017 gave me a new lease on a semi-active life. My medical team said “yes” to sweat and I happily ran (er, drove) to the nearest yoga studio.

Aside from the consistency and mental/physical challenge that Bikram offers, I am most grateful for the community it fosters. Unlike other types of physical activity that I have done in the past, the Bikram classroom is a pretty representative microcosm of today’s world. There are practicing couples of all ages, an entire rainbow of body shapes and skin colors, and mother-daughter and brother-sister duos. I always find the people surrounding my mat and towel to be encouraging, genuine, and full of that indescribable “good stuff.”

If you haven’t been inside a Bikram room, you should know that there are a lot of mirrors. You very quickly learn to move past your insecurities of how your sports bra looks when you are trying to touch your forehead to your knee, or are arched back and on the verge of passing out during a heart-racing camel pose. I typically set up my mat in the middle of the room so I am close enough to use my reflection for spotting during the balance series, but not putting my wobbly self on display in the front row. Because nobody needs that view, OK?

By now, as I’m about 40 classes deep into this year, I care very little about what I look like when I practice. I wobble a lot, occasionally topple over, and sometimes take short breaks so the room can stop spinning. So imagine my surprise when I realized I was the source of entertainment for a back-row yogi during my Sunday evening me-time. At first, I thought she was just extra giggly from an eventful Saturday or slap happy from the endorphins, which happens to the best of us. But once I realized that she chuckled every single time I fell out of the posture or teetered off my mat. It broke my spirit a little.

Here’s what I wish I could have said to her in that moment:

Dear back-row yogi,

I spent the majority of my youth being active. I played in several competitive soccer leagues, did local 5Ks on the side (thanks, dad!), and tried, but painfully floundered, to shimmy and prance my way through a myriad of dance classes. But then something happened. I got really sick and lost my vestibular system during my freshman year of high school.

When I was diagnosed with oscillopsia, I had just finished my first season on my high school’s inaugural cross-country team and was in the midst of my first school-related soccer season. At the time, I didn’t realize that would be the peak of my athletic summit -since the majority of my abilities was stripped when I had to learn to see life through a bouncing lens.

The initial months of learning to live with no balance were trying. It would take me over 10 minutes to climb a single set of stairs and I often found myself writing diagonally or off the page entirely since I wasn’t able to sort through my oscillating world. My vision would sometimes change colors, a lot of times accompanied by a scrambling migraine, especially after exerting myself physically or mentally. I ran into a lot of walls during that time, too.

I had a lot of reasons to give up on my life. I could have shape-shifted into a hermit crab and spent my days mulling around on the beach of life that we call self-pity. But I didn’t. I have come such a long way since then. Did you know that I ran cross-country for three additional seasons? My times were awful and someone usually had to catch me at the end of a race, but I kept going. There was even a particularly memorable race where I fell down a freaking hill…Twice! I finished in second-to-last place but it was one of the proudest moments of my life. I felt invincible.

Did you also know that the current state of my body, which is riddled with chronic, post-surgical nerve pain and cluster headaches behind my eyes, makes me throw up just from getting out of bed too fast?

Our world is full of people, just like me, whose bodies are waging a war against themselves. And quite honestly, it’s exhausting. So when you kept laughing at me, I don’t think you realized what you were laughing at. You weren’t laughing at a small ember who fizzles easily. You were bullying an indestructible tower who does not sway in the wind. Thank you for reminding me of that.

Despite what you may think, I truly hope your life is one of ease. I hope your days are happy and your heart is in one piece. Because when the lights are turned off and you feel that goodness slipping, you’ll need some catalogued strength to wade through that ocean. You’ll need an army to fight the good fight.

So tomorrow, I hope you do a little better. Try laughing at yourself, instead of others, for a change of pace. Try building your neighbor up instead of tearing them down. I promise it will make your days of dark seem indescribably lighter.

See you soon in the hot room,

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Originally published: May 5, 2017
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