I admit I was entirely arrogant at first. I spent my first yoga class judging my ability, flexibility and balance as a means to determine whether I liked it or not. After that first class I thought proudly, that was easier than people make it sound. I didn’t go back again until a year later, the point at which a new tightly-wound roommate drove me so crazy that I found myself looking for excuses to get out of the house.
My first year or so in yoga classes consisted mainly of stories I told myself about how good I was at it. I spent the hours telling myself how flexible I was from dancing, how thin I looked in the long black pants, and how clear my mind was during balance poses. I hated when the teacher corrected me--I would get embarrassed--it threw off my internal dialogue and need for perfection. I think the teacher could feel my resistance, and she rarely helped me in a pose as a result. Maybe I simply needed reassurance, as a college girl surrounded by other beautiful and competitive young college girls, but I always felt lighter after class.
But somewhere after the first year or so I started to feel actual changes. I remember being in a triangle pose (a standing pose where one straight extended leg forms an angle with a straight back leg and you reach toward the floor) when my body adjusted itself. I can’t remember if there was anything special about that day, but the pose suddenly lined me up internally in an entirely different way than it ever had before. My lower leg pulled itself forward, and I realized I hadn’t really been breathing before. My breath deepened on its own, and my body was wider, and somehow cleaner. It’s like the feeling you have in your mouth after you brush your teeth, but that freshness spreads over your entire body. I loved it, and I quickly tried to capture and claim this feeling.
In some ways, I saw yoga as my ticket out; deep down I wanted to be anyone but me. I took a job as an editor at a small, English-language magazine in Southern India and soaked in a culture foreign from my own. This was a chance to be more myself than the people who knew me allowed me to be.
I learned how to let go of perfection and control by watching the traffic patterns of this small town in Tamil Nadu. There were no signs and rules about where and how to walk, drive, or ride through the streets. There was just an invisible feeling of one’s way and a trust that we will look out for one another. I walked at first, hesitant to enter into the hectic currents of auto rickshaws, massive lorries, herds of uniformed schoolchildren, bikers, bone-thin stray dogs, and shirtless, turbaned old men with ox drawn carts. They all co-existed in this little dirt road, with their diverse speeds, agility, and force. Somehow, they were all given space and flowed together to get where they were going.
I noticed something similar to the way traffic flowed mirrored in the pervading worldview while I was in India; everything was included. The older views from Vedanta were built upon by the Tantrics, nothing needed to be denied or pushed down--philosophical and cosmic theories wove together like tapestries and separate streams in the same river. The exploration simply expanded.
Once I built up the trust to ride my own bike into the wild river of the streets, I felt more connected than I ever had. I was part of the one force of movement expressed by a multiplicity of shapes. I knew I was changing when I started reading more than one book at a time and allowed the narratives to overlap and feed one another. Before, I would always start and finish one book at a time before taking on another. This is when the many streams of my ancestral consciousness began to braid together. I felt less blockage, less turmoil; there was a greater space for internal discord.
This is perfect, I thought. If I could just stay here, then I would be happy. I relaxed into that familiar feeling of home and considered staying in Sivakasi indefinitely. But I was ultimately rejected by India. I stayed three months, and then had my visa renewal declined because I was a journalist.
When I returned to the states, I grieved as if I had lost something, until one day I woke up and realized I was missing myself, and how it felt to allow myself to be whole. I still lose her sometimes, but yoga helps me continue to find her again and again.
Eila Kundrie Carrico is an enchanting new voice in the American canon of nature writing. She celebrates culture and wild nature and awakens a felt sense of our human story as deeply embedded in the natural world. Her book, The Other Side of the River is out Jan. 22 under Womancraft Publishing. Visit her on Facebook and at EilaCarrico.com