I tried yoga once but took off for the mall halfway through class, as I had a sudden craving for a soft pretzel and world peace. ~Terri Guillemets
I walked in and unfolded my yoga mat like a matador unfurling her cape. I looked in the mirror and dared myself to stay in this room for the whole ninety minutes. Already, the heat coaxed out sweat on my arms and behind my knees. I was thirsty and I was wondering why I had thought I was capable of doing Bikram (or "hot") yoga.
Every year, I like to try a different physical activity, something I'm not good at. When I first heard about "hot yoga," I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to spend ninety minutes in a room heated to 108 degrees, rapidly going through a routine of yoga poses. The yoga classes I had taken long ago were slow and contemplative; the teachers were intuitive and experimental in choosing the next poses. There was a gentle flow, punctuated by breaks and conversation.
The Bikram method featured the same twenty-six poses every session with no time for anything but focus and concentration.
"You'll love it," my friend Liza had promised me. I loved the introductory price -- $10 for as many classes as I wanted to take in ten days.
The teacher entered the room and everyone rose. Feet together, arms by our sides, we stood like well-behaved schoolchildren ready to walk to lunch. Listening to her instructions, we interlaced our fingers, folded our hands under our chins, pressed our arms together, and began with breathing. Then we moved into stretching, knee bending, and balancing postures. I wobbled; I shook; I fumbled. The heat, which was supposed to help deepen stretching as well as cleanse organs, was wiping me out. I felt woozy, dizzy and dumb. Halfway through the class, I fled the room.
"How did you like it?" Liza called to ask later that evening.
"It was terrible. I was terrible," I told her.
"You're just not used to it. You need the point system. You get fifty points just for showing up. You get another forty points if you stay in the room for the whole session. Even if you're lying down half the time, you still get those forty points. Then you get another ten points for trying the poses."
She knew me too well. I liked the idea of amassing points. I liked the idea of measuring myself. I wanted to achieve at least ninety points before I quit.
I went a second time, determined to stay in the room. Only two poses in, I already felt dizzy. I lay on my mat, embarrassed by my weakness.
"Look in the mirror. Keep focused on yourself," the teacher advised. "Breathe. Breathing is the most important component of this practice."
I stood up to rejoin the group. I looked at myself and sent an affirmation: "You are very brave." I realized just how brave I was when my attention wandered and I saw I was the least supple person in the class.
To touch the floor, I had to bend my knees. My backward bend was a slight lean. When everyone else was gracefully curling her spine upward from the floor, I was barely raising my head. I had never been so inept in such plain view of so many people. "Don't judge yourself," the teacher said. "Just try your best."
My best at that point was sitting down again while the class went into another stretching pose. I dabbed at the sweat, then stood up to do the Tree, a balancing posture I'd done at home, a posture I was usually good at. But instead of posing as a graceful willow, I stumbled across my mat like a piece of tumbleweed.
Each pose seemed harder than the next. I felt like an awkward crow among lovely, lithe finches.
Then I reminded myself that this was a spiritual practice as well as a physical workout. I was an acolyte seeking knowledge.
Somehow I stayed in the room the whole ninety minutes, although I was flat on the mat during a third of the poses. Still, at the end, when we all lay on our backs, relaxing and letting the benefits of the exercise come deeper into our bodies, I felt a small sense of calm and accomplishment.
The next class, I managed to try every exercise.
I called Liza to report my progress.
"You have 100 points," she said. "You should be so proud."
I was. Too proud, perhaps. Three classes later, during the one-legged tree pose, I peeked over at the strapping strong man next to me and noticed I was better at balancing then he was. I smiled inwardly and instantly fell out of the posture. My friend hadn't mentioned deducting points for competitiveness and comparisons: the yoga practice took care of that.
"What's the rest of the point system?" I asked Liza, two months into my practice. "Do I get points when I learn to do the Camel? What about the Crow? That arm balance looks really difficult."
Liza smiled at me and shook her head.
"What's really difficult is now to let go of achievement and just enjoy where you are in the practice."
I stared at her. "I'm terrible. I still can't touch my toes. My chair posture looks like a bar stool."
"Are you showing up? Are you breathing?" she asked. I nodded.
"Then enjoy the process."
That Saturday, walking into the warm studio, I felt a sense of humility, joy and ease. Though my body was slow to show improvement, something inside me was blossoming. I liked being in a roomful of people of all ages and all different types of bodies and abilities, each of us pursuing the same spiritual and physical practice. I liked leaving more emotionally flexible and more relaxed, knowing that no matter how deeply I stretched or how aptly I balanced, I still had so far to go and so much to learn.
Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC (c) 2011. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.
The Gift of Lost Friendship
By Rachel Joyce
You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life. ~Winston Churchill
When most people look back on middle school they remember their teachers and their best friends. But what I remember most is one person who isn't even my friend anymore. Lots of people will give you the gift of friendship, but this person gave me an even bigger gift. She gave me the gift of no longer being my friend. I know that sounds strange, but let me explain.
My heart was pounding as I climbed onto the school bus on the first day of middle school. I adjusted my backpack as I looked for a place to sit. My eyes landed on two girls sitting next to each other. They smiled at me and patted the seat adjacent to theirs.
"Hey!" the blond said. "My name is Heather. What's yours?"
"Rachel..." I stammered. Normally I'm not shy, but I barely knew anyone and was anxious to make new friends.
"Nice to meet you," said the brunette. "My name's Jessica."
I sat down on the hot vinyl seat and faced the girls. I looked at my Converse All Stars and frowned. Why hadn't I worn more stylish shoes?
"Do you live around here?" I asked.
"Over there," said Heather, pointing left.
"I just moved here from across town," explained Jessica.
It turned out we had first period together and we became friends. We ate lunch together, hung out at the park and had Smallville marathons in Jessica's room on weekends. We became the three musketeers. But our friendship wasn't without its faults.
Jessica made Heather and me laugh. She was very fashionable and we'd go to her for make-up and clothing advice. But she had an "I'm-the-boss" personality that demanded attention. She always had to be in charge.
One time, the three of us went to the mall. Being the preppy one, I wanted to go to Abercrombie & Fitch.
"Abercrombie, are you kidding?" Jessica said, rolling her eyes. "I'm not setting foot in there. We're going to Rave."
Not wanting to argue, I followed her into Rave, my eyes lingering on the door to Abercrombie.
"This skirt would look great on you," Jessica exclaimed. "Try it on!"
"I don't like it that much..." I said.
Jessica gave me a death glare so I made my way to the dressing rooms.
I ended up buying the skirt. I spent fifty dollars on a skirt that I didn't even like, just to make Jessica happy.
Throughout sixth grade, this was how it was. If Jessica went somewhere, Heather and I went there too. We had little fights, but nothing major. That summer was filled with sprinklers, lemonade, midnight trips to the pool and afternoon tanning in the backyard. But when seventh grade started, things were different.
Heather and I became Jessica's sidekicks. If Jessica wanted to go ice skating, Heather and I were obligated to come. If we were busy with other plans, it didn't matter. We had to come or she would say we "didn't care about our friendship." If Jessica was mad at me, Heather always took Jessica's side. When she was mad at Heather I did the same thing for fear of being yelled at by Jessica. Even though most fights were just minor misunderstandings, they usually ended with Heather or me apologizing and praying for Jessica's forgiveness. Then we'd mumble to each other about how ridiculous the latest fight was.
As time went on, I found I was behaving as a pretend version of myself just to please Jessica and to keep her from being mad at me. She complained I was different when I was around other people, when in truth I was being myself. I was always afraid she'd get mad at me for saying something that I wouldn't normally think twice about.
I was obligated to take Jessica's side even when I didn't agree. For instance, one time she got in a fight with a girl named Leslie and she expected me to be mad at Leslie too. When I told her I had no reason to be mad and that Leslie was my friend, Jessica didn't speak to me for three days.
Then, summer came around. Jessica invited Heather and me to go to Cape Cod with her. I decided to go to Florida with another friend instead, and Jessica got angry. When I came home, Jessica was gone. I went to camp and didn't hear from her.
One hot day, my phone rang and the caller ID glowed "Jessica." If I answered, I'd be yelled at. If I didn't, Jessica would get even madder. I flipped open the phone.
"Hey... How are you?" I asked.
"Fine," Jessica replied curtly.
"Is something wrong?" I questioned, biting my lip.
"Why do my other friends call and you don't?!" she demanded.
My heart raced. I remained silent for fear I'd say something wrong. Finally, I took a breath, "I'm sorry.... I've been at camp and in Florida. If you wanted to talk so badly, why didn't you call me?"
"You don't care enough to call me!" Jessica exclaimed. "I can't be your friend anymore if you don't care."
I needed to tell her the truth. I took a breath and whispered, "Jessica, I'm afraid of you. You're fun to be with, but you're intimidating. I never know when you're going to get mad at me." My voice shook. "It's hard to have a friend who's always angry -- there, I said it. I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings. I want to work things out but I thought you should know how I feel."
The line went dead. She'd hung up on me. Heather had a similar falling out with her within weeks.
I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I hadn't told the truth. But telling the truth is never a mistake, and that's what Jessica taught me. Without knowing it, Jessica showed me that real friends listen to what you say and care how you feel. Real friends are there for you through the toughest times -- they don't cause them. Real friends respect who you are and encourage you to be yourself, rather than asking you to be who they want you to be just to please them. Lots of people will give you the gift of friendship, but once in a while someone will give you the gift of lost friendship.
Reprinted by permission of Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, LLC (c) 2008. In order to protect the rights of the copyright holder, no portion of this publication may be reproduced without prior written consent. All rights reserved.