Warning: f-bombs ahead!
In May, I will be attending Ana Forrest’s Yoga Teacher Training for the second time. She is both awesome and grueling.
In preparation, I have been amping up my yoga practice.
A lot of yoga teachers speak about the goddesses of yoga. The pretty parts—healing, transformation, clear mind, etc. and as a yoga teacher, I think it’s important we share these. But I don’t see a lot of conversation about the the darkness or weirdness of yoga.
Not all of our “stuff” gets worked out in socially acceptable or digestible ways. Some “stuff” continues to show up and might be so shameful, angry or scary that we beg our mind to suppress it, or does the opposite—it goes into an all out battle to kill it.
We label our desires, drives, deviant thoughts, addictions, memories or needs as good or bad instead of real. The parts of ourself or experiences that we view as either good or bad are the pieces of ourselves we are not yet willing to accept.
If we befriend our demons, we can make them our goddesses.
In yoga, the metaphor of a forest is often used. When a yogi sits down to practice, he or she is making a silent contract to go into the forest where anything is possible. From swamps and streams to snakes and tigers. The yogi only has only to be willing to go there.
The other day I went to a packed hot yoga class in a studio I have never been to. Each mat was so close that when I did a Sun, I had to bring my hands up and down through the center of my body in order to not thwack the yogi next to me.
I was wearing standard yoga attire: stretchy pants and a tank. Over this, I had on a long sleeved shirt. At one point, near the beginning of practice, a hot needle-like sensation pierced the back of my neck. In this room, heated to ninety degrees and one-hundred percent humidity, with over fifty bodies packed close, this meant I was about to sweat. This was my sign.
I am a person who sweats mostly from the head.
One thing I have learned is if your head is going to sweat, its going to sweat a lot. This meant taking my long sleeved shirt off before I started to drip all over myself and the soft fabric of my shirt suction-cupped itself to my damp skin. I needed to get the extra layer off before I began to drown or bake. It was a tie between the two.
Here’s the thing—I hate exposing my arms and elbows because I have psoriasis.
My red patches are red-hopping mad and out of control. The redness is intensified in winter up against my bare white arms. The patches used to be limited to my elbows but now they are crowding my upper and lower arms. They are more than just a nuisance. They sometimes hurt. They are taking over.
As soon as I found the courage to take off my long-sleeved shirt and let it ball up on the floor, the yoga teacher, with her long dark wavy hair and confident swagger, came over to my corner of the room.
She expertly adjusted all the bodies of the clear-skinned yogis around me. Which meant she had to touch them. When she got near me, she skipped me over, moving on to another. More than once she passed me. Like a disturbed baby wanting to be picked up by her mother, I hungered for her to adjust me.
I was convinced she didn’t want to make skin to skin contact. She saw my patches. How could she not?
I was a leper. A communicable disease.
When I was first diagnosed with psoriasis, I was 23 and newly married. (I half-jokingly blame its presence on my partner.) Sometime soon after, my best friend and I sat on her front steps on a summer day. It was hot and humid and we were eating popsicles. It was the first time since I had gotten the patches that I dared to wear shorts and go sleeveless. I felt naked and exposed.
My friend was in a nasty mood because she just found out her new boyfriend was married and perhaps that was why she stared at my knees and elbows for a little too long.
“I know,” I tried to find the right words to make her at ease and swim through my embarrassment. “My doctor has prescribed steroid creams and sun. He said it’s genetic and to be patient.”
She looked away. As a tennis player, she was tan. Her legs and arms were a toned luscious brown compared to my sheltered and soft white limbs.
“Are you sure it’s not a hygiene issue?” There was a long pause. In the absence of words I knew she was serious. Her lips were drawn together in a straight line.
Instead of saying fuck you, all I could do was plead my case that of course I took care of myself. I told her I showered every day and was dedicated to applying lotion to my skin each morning, but all she could do was turn her head in the opposite direction and watch the cars pass by. Right then I knew her mind was made up.
“It’s gonna rain, “ she said. “Time to go in.” She picked the wet popsicle sticks off the dry cement steps and stood up. A gesture to let me know she was done.
In the heated yoga class, amidst a stream of strangers, I felt again the old trickle of shame and dirtiness. I was in the forest—lost in the dark thicket. But there was no miserable friend to blame it on. There was only me and my scaly red patches on white winter skin.
There was nothing I could do about the fact that I was practicing yoga with psoriasis.
I wanted to place a sign by mat that says, “This ugly shit on my skin is not my fault and I have tried everything from salves, tinctures, dietary changes, dead sea salt, acupuncture, tanning booths, shamans, and standing on my head for twenty minutes a day. Nothing worked. Please don’t judge me.”
Rationally I know that I cannot control what others think.
I remind myself that it was my decision to come to the yoga studio and it will be my decision to let go into the yoga whether I get assisted by the savvy dark-haired teacher or not. None of the other yogis in the room had psoriasis.
So fucking what? In this crowd, I’m sure there was some who struggled with acne, excess body hair, bunions, or toenails eaten away by fungus. Conditions I’ve never had to deal with. What about the yogi I know who had her breasts removed and her hair fall out due to cancer and here I am feeling sorry for myself because I have a disease on my skin that’s not painful or deadly, only a hassle for my ego.
So it comes down to this: control and wanting to be seen as flawless.
It comes down to beauty and acceptance. Acceptance of not being perfectly beautiful. Even at 48 years old, I still long to be beautiful according to other people’s standards. A quest to be perceived as perfect is both limiting and tiresome. Never being good enough is a relentless bitch.
True yoga makes room for our demons show up in practice.
You never know who or what you are working with unless you let the underlying currents of what drives you take up space. The yogi believes that who we are is made up of our wants, needs, and desires. If this is true then we need to know them to understand who we really are.
One thing I do know is that I’m bringing my relentless bitch to Ana Forrest. She’s been there before. Lets see how she does this time. Will I shine compassion on her or try to break her imperfect neck? Maybe I will just let her be. After all she is a tired old girl. Maybe I will let her be queen of the forest, invite her into my sacred cave and make her fat with rice. Who knows?
Maybe she will be the goddess whose lips I kiss over and over again.
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Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Flickr, elephant journal archives