Hip Hop (Yoga) Saved My Life

Not that long ago, I made smoothies for a living. I use the phrase “for a living” loosely, seeing as, thanks to my generous parents, I only needed to make money to fund my phone bill and my going-out-to-eat-three-times-a-week-for-fun lifestyle. But anyway, not that long ago I used to make smoothies for a living, and I used to be under the (wrong) impression that it was an extremely important task. I would run around the small kitchen of the restaurant like a chicken with my head cut off, deeply worried about how long that woman in the green shirt had been waiting for her Pineapple Delight and feeling sorry for that man in drive thru who had been idling his car for five whole minutes!!!!

And then I moved to Peru for approximately nine days and learned things about life, like, for example, that smoothies are not a thing any of us should be stressed over.

I slept on a bunk bed in the poorest neighborhood in Lima for eight nights and nine days and I pretty much failed miserably at what I went there to do (or so I thought at the time). So I booked a flight home through tears and packed my things neatly into my suitcase. In the airport gift shop, I bought a keychain. “PERU,” it says, below the country’s flag. I promised myself I’d never forget what I’d learned in my nine days there: that mostly everyone has a harder life than I do; that stressing about how quickly our smoothies are served is, in a way, being directly ungrateful for the privileges we were born into as Americans; that kindness is the most important and the cheapest damn gift you can give to anyone, at all times.

Over the two years that have passed since I first booked that return flight and bought that keychain, I’ve let those lessons slip my mind. For the most part, at least. I got busy and caught up in my final year of college, stressed about papers and parties and pant sizes. The keychain made its way to the bottom of my purse and it’s true what they say: out of sight, out of mind.

If I’m being honest, I left Peru absolutely hating myself. Embarassed at my “failure” to survive in a place as the only non-Spanish speaking American. Feeling pathetic because I didn’t “change the world” or whatever unrealistic goal I set out to accomplish.

So, in a way, it doesn’t much matter that that keychain disappeared. It could never remind me of what I needed to remember most–to be gentle with myself, to cut myself some damn slack–because, at the time, self-deprecation was my middle name. I mean really, up until very recently, putting myself down has been a major theme in my life.

Before I left, I beat myself up because I was bad at pouring smoothies. While I was in Peru, I scolded and criticized and tsk tsk-ed because I couldn’t speak Spanish well enough. Once I was back in the U.S. and living my normal, American life, I constantly and silently berated myself for being “too fat.”

I was (and, admittedly, sometimes still am) a regular old hate-yourself-aholic.

So trust me when I say: hating yourself is a waste of fucking time.

A few months ago, I went to the doctor and got on the scale and subsequently spiraled down to the lowest depths of self confidence (or lack there-of) ever. It wasn’t a pretty place to be. And I knew that, so I wrote and I went to yoga because yoga has always been my happy place.

Three summers ago, two of my friends and I tried out a local studio because it was raining and the first class was free and sounded interesting–Hip Hop Yoga, it was called–and we had nothing else to do. So we went, and we yoga-ed, and damn did we sweat and smile and laugh at how ridiculous we probably looked trying to keep up. And I fell in love. With the workout, the way it made me feel, my mindset afterwards. But life and school in a different city and general busy-ness happened, and after that first summer I had only been back sporadically. Until lately. Until rock bottom in the self-love department happened.

For the past two months, I’ve been going to yoga consistently–almost every day (thanks a lot, schedule conflicts)–and for the first time since before those stressful smoothie days, I’m actually relaxed. Happy. I’m actually loving myself, even if it’s only for an hour a day on a rubber mat. But it’s enough. And, I’ve realized–before, during, and after savasana–that I’m enough.

Back in the day, I used to do yoga as a physical exercise. I downward-dogged as a way to get in shape. I took the “hard” classes at my studio, the upbeat, quick, Pilates-like ones that left me sweaty and shaky-legged. And then, one quiet Sunday this year, I accidentally went to the wrong class. Thinking I was attending the one where you strap weights onto your ankles for some extra burn, I accidentally showed up to a flow class.

Shit, I thought. I don’t want to go to flow. Flow is boring.

But, feeling too self-conscious to get up and leave, I stayed. I flowed. And for the first and probably only time, I can say with certainty: thank God I’m so self-conscious. Thank God and Buddha and Vishnu and the Dalai Lama that I didn’t get up and leave.

In the weeks and months since that Sunday, yoga has become almost a purely mental exercise to me. Magic for my brain. Good for my muscles and my hip flexors and all that good stuff too, sure. But really, those once-accidental flow classes have become my medicine.

When I stretch my legs into Warrior I, my brain stops beating itself up.

When I swan-dive-down, it’s the first time all day I’m not making a list in my head of reasons I suck.

When I move through chaturanga (with extreme weakness and poor form, for the record), I am overwhelmed by the truest and calmest peace I have found yet.

Yoga loves you when you don’t love you. Yoga teaches you to focus on the present moment, because the past is dead and the future is just made up bullshit for now, isn’t it? On days when you are at your most negative, yoga screams at you: Just shut up and breathe, ok?!

Two years ago today, I boarded a plane by myself and flew to South America, only to change my mind pretty quickly and fly back home. I laid in bed this morning thinking this over, feeling the shame coming back quick and the guilt heavy on my chest like the blankets that covered me.

And then I remembered it was time to get up and go to yoga.


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