This year we discovered that the Millennial generation is actually a lot larger than we originally thought – with the oldest now in their late 30s. This has brought a rush of new contributions, including this piece from an older Millennial dad who had a lesson in mindfulness after getting too competitive in his first offical yoga class.
For all intents and purposes, I’m a YouTube yogi. Meaning when I practice yoga it’s in the small number of minutes I can carve out between chasing kids and grading papers. I unravel my mat in the living room, prop up my iPhone on a bookshelf, and find the ‘Yoga with Adriene’ video that will bring the most relief to my lower back and neck. I’m convinced this is where I carry my stress, although I’m also suspicious of my hips and glutes.
Recently, however; my wife has forced me out into the world of doing yoga in public. In a legitimate studio, amongst granola strangers. It’s an opportunity to truly get away from the stresses of bills, a constant stream of lesson plans, and our children who, although adorable and the source of my joy, are a tidal wave of needs and tiny hands that prod, poke, punch, and pry at my body with the vindictiveness of KGB agents. I’m thankful for the chance at self-care, but doing yoga in public brings its own basket of social anxieties.
First of all, I had the sudden realisation that I don’t own any actual athletic wear. Although a part of a generation that seems to live in active wear, the closest I have is a pair of gross denim shorts that I mow in, shorts that were once jeans. If I wore those the law would immediately slap a “lewd in public” charge against me and I couldn’t even get mad. The only other physical activity I take part in is my previously disclosed living room yoga, for which I normally just strip down to my underwear for. When you’re over 30 there is no call for specific athletic wear in your wardrobe unless you play some kind of rec-league sports in an attempt to relive the glory of high school days gone past or to do something like CrossFit. But I was a theatre kid in school, never the athlete, so quoting old movies is the way I fulfil my high school nostalgia. Jorts aside, the rest of my wardrobe consists of chinos, button-ups, and suits befitting of the station of an educator, of which I am. It seems equally disturbing to show up to a yoga studio shirtless in a pair of khaki chinos so one Target trip later and I’m now outfitted to at least pass as a normal person who enjoys the pursuit of well-being.
The studio is immediately tranquil and decorated to make one feel like their life is an unending string of vintage shops, boba tea, and brunches. The sign by the door politely asks for all to remove their shoes before continuing on their journey of centred-ness. The next rapid-fire of panicked thought is: “Oh no! Are people going to see my feet? Are they going to smell my feet? Am I going to see/smell other people’s feet?”
The studio had all the equipment I needed for the session, which is good, because I needed a mat. I had made a really big deal at home about getting my yoga mat from the closet in a non-verbal announcement to the rest of the family that I was about to go to a serious thing – that I was so prepared I already owned some of the necessary equipment. In true dad style, I left the mat sitting at the door.
After I picked out my new mat I shuffled over to a spot far enough away that no one would be able to make out any discernible features of my feet.
Once the session got started I realised that, on the whole, I loved the presence of yoga instructors. They are trim and lithe without being wispy or weak, calm without being timid, illuminating in their instructing without being overbearing or intimidating. I felt childlike. Taken back to a place where I was the student, not the teacher, allowed to wonder and learn things about my body instead of being in charge and called to constantly stay one step ahead of chaos. Responsibility for any calamity that transpired was successfully relinquished within the yoga studio.
I even found myself wanting to impress the teacher. I wanted to excel at every position. As if she could hear my inner thoughts, the instructor advised that, “there was no competitive restorative yoga,” and that we should do what makes us most comfortable. I even took secret pride in the fact that she never had to come over and assist or reset me. Luckily, the persistent fear of stretching so much that an embarrassing squelch of flatulence would irretrievably jump out from inside of me kept me from doing something that would sustain a grave injury.
Yoga has deceptively cute names for the various poses you wrench your body in: Child’s Pose, Frog Pose, Puppy Pose. What they should be called is the names of pasta that your body resembles once you’ve torn off the necessary parts of your dignity and contorted the years of salty snacks, red meat, and dairy treats you’ve been calling a body into a discernible shape.
My favourite pose is Corpse Pose. It’s not an attractive or whimsical name, but it’s accurate. You lay there, on your back, palms up, and try to feel the energy coming back into your body. I like it because it’s usually the last one. It signifies you made it. You made it to the end without your body leaking out any fluids or gasses. Made it without ripping a piece of your body off or tearing in half like an old doll.
I also like Corpse Pose, because you can’t possibly mess up laying down or make a fool of yourself at the end of the session. Because the physical stakes are so low, it was the first time my mind truly eased up. I allowed myself the calm yoga is supposed to trigger the entire time. I realised I had missed the point up until this last moment. I had allowed for self-ridicule, silent competition with others, and people-pleasing to take precedence over self-care and tranquillity. How many other activities have I allowed this kind of self-sabotage to ruin? A quick mental inventory bares a weighty list of in-the-moment loss of joy: comparing my outfit to other concert goers as if a squad of fashion police is present when I should be more concerned about dancing, a continuous loop reconciling my budget and the bill at a restaurant while I should be savouring every bite, belabouring my choices as a parent to myself instead of diving head-first into make-believe while playing with my kids. And now yoga. I had stolen peace from myself when it was right there on a 24 by 68-inch mat.
After my first session, I decided yoga wasn’t just training your muscles and tendons to stretch and contort at impossible angles. It’s also training your mind to do the same. I was determined to stay in the moment during my other sessions. We could probably all do a better job of staying in the moment. From standing in lines to enjoying meals or working or studying, how quickly do the phones come out? How fast do we reach for an escape? We sometimes call it multi-tasking, but what we’re really doing is ping-ponging from one thing to the next without giving anything our full attention. We have to learn to cherish our activities with time and focus.
By the end of the day, I felt good. New, even. Now I had the right clothes and knew my way around my own body in a way I hadn’t before. Better still, my brain had gained a lesson in mindfulness. I would be focused. I would try to live in the moment. I would try to live with gratitude. And I would struggle – but I might as well keep trying, I do own the clothes now.
At the very least, I’d make it until I was back in Corpse Pose.
Josh Wann is an educator, writer, and humorist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Although he likes making strangers laugh, he enjoys making his four kids and wife laugh the most.