In early January I began practicing yoga again. It’s been a while since I’ve done yoga regularly – probably dating back to pre-Olive days, unless you count those mom & baby yoga classes I used to go to, which I don’t because although I adored them, very little actual yoga gets done in between breastfeeding and soothing a little one.
Anyway, back in those heady pre-Olive days, two or three times a week I would make my way to a cozy yellow room in my old town of Squamish, BC and spend an hour stretching my way into something deeper. The teachers were incredibly strong, soft women. I looked up to them, and relished every second of their teaching.
After white-knuckling my way through these recent holidays as a single parent I knew that I needed to carve out that space for myself again – even if it was just an hour or two a week. It was possibly one of the best decisions I have made.
I found a local studio that matched my style and experience level, and my incredible aunt – incidentally also named Madeline – graciously offered to watch Olive while I went.
I walked into that first class weighing 15 lbs less than usual, with bags under my eyes the size of Texas. I think “feeble” would be the best way to describe me at that point. I was basically Mr Burns. In a tank top.
I got changed and padded softly into a gorgeous room filledwith gleaming hardwood floors and huge bay windows. I sat impassively on my mat as the rest of the class trickled in around me, and I waited for things to get started. When they did, oh my god.
It was the most challenging class I have ever taken. After the first ten minutes I remember thinking to myself, “I will not survive this.” I don’t know how to describe it – it wasn’t punishing, or pushing me beyond where I was able to be, but it asked me to put in a lot of effort and do it quickly, and at that point I just felt like I was coming up empty handed.
That class was my turning point. Please know that I am fully aware that a white, middle-class woman saying that a yoga class changed her life is possibly the most cliche thing ever, but there it is. I will unabashedly claim that cliche, it rang so true for me.
In early January I was in very rough shape physically, and I am still working hard to come back from that. In that first class I was forced to bear witness to this damage in every single pose, and with every single breath.
I could feel how frail I had become, it was glaringly obvious that I was no longer able to hold postures that were simple for me just a few years earlier. I was painfully aware that with all of the events happening in my life I had gone so deeply into my head that I had disconnected from my body, and neglected it to the point that it simply didn’t have the resources necessary to do what I was asking of it.
I felt like in that one hour, I came back to myself. I walked out glowing, spent, and feeling better than I had in a month and a half. I have gone back several times a week since, and it continues to be one of the best things I am doing for myself.
It’s an immensely positive thing, but that said, it hasn’t all been namastes and downward dogs. Because, this is me we are talking about. Obviously.
I know things have been a bit heavy around here lately, so for a change of scenery please allow me to present to you a small sampling of the many ways I have made a fool of myself in front of a room full of lycra-d people over the past month.
First, there was the time that I got a little ahead of myself and toppled over backwards while attempting a headstand for the first time.
I have never been able to get into this full pose before, but on this particular day I was feeling good, strong, and happy. Perhaps, a bit cocky? I was like “You know what? You are Madeleine motha-fucking Somerville. Let’s do this!”
Needless to say, what “Madeleine motha-fucking Somerville” actually ended up doing as a result of this uncharacteristic display of unbridled enthusiasm, was overextending and toppling ass over elbows and almost taking out three other people in the process, not unlike a great frame of bowling. It was actually quite hard in the heat of the moment to contain myself from fist pumping and yelling out “STRIKE!” as I lay prone on the floor. Instead, I quietly crawled back to my mat and let my bruised ego remind me not to push myself too far before I am good and ready (a good lesson in all things, really).
The next story involves nipples, and I am warning you about this now because I always feel vaguely uncomfortable when writing about nipples. I can not help but imagine my sweet father-in-law or my long-suffering brother sitting down for an nice cup of coffee and an innocent peruse of their all-time favourite blog when BLAM! Nipples! With no warning! So here it is your warning: There will be nipples.
Scott and Liam, maybe just skim the next few paragraphs, mmkay?
(I feel it necessary to explain at this point that I don’t write about nipples much really. Maybe there is a mention or two in my 15 week pregnancy post. And perhaps scattered through a few others, hidden like Easter eggs. Found one!
But I mean really, truly minimal nipple talk all things considered.)
(This post will do wonders for my ad content. Please don’t blame me when your employer blocks my site.)
Anyway. The second story, the Nipple Story involves the time that I was running late, and didn’t have time to go home and change before class. But I was wearing a tank top under my sweater, and leggings (because none of my jeans fit anymore so I am literally always wearing leggings these days) and I decided to just make do. I am not really the type of person to have a whole special yoga outfit anyway, so at the time it really seemed like a non-issue.
Until that is, I started changing and realized that I wasn’t wearing a bra. I mean, still sort of OK because I am someone who is fortunate enough not to need one, but then I realized that I was wearing a white tank top. A very thin white tank top. So, I mean, things were rapidly getting less OK.
Look, what would you have done? I was standing in the changing room, with class beginning in three minutes. Would Madeleine motha-fucking Somerville let some prudish prudery stop her life-saving yoga practice? Obviously not.
(This lady makes poor life decisions. I need to stop listening to her.)
I nippled up and quietly crept into the back of the class with my arms crossed, and as things got going it felt like everything might actually be fine! No one seemed to notice, or care. It was all very empowering for a while there – I mean, nipples! They’re just nipples! Everyone’s got them- two in fact! Who cares! Lighten up! Free the nipple!
Until Urdhva Dhanurasana, that is.
What the hell is an Urdhva Dhanurasana? This, my friends. This.
Lovely, right? Doesn’t that look like an amazing stretch? It is. It truly is.
Do you know what is not exactly un-lovely, but definitely different? Having your beautiful male yoga instructor stand directly behind your head, asking your be-nippled self to hold onto his ankles as he gently leans over top of you to lift you into this posture, which you were debating whether or not to even attempt today.
“Ahem! Ha! Hi there! No, no, I’m fine! I think I’ll just stay down here in this modified pose. Oh, what? What’s that? You want me to what now? No, no, I just -nipples!- I mean no! I’m not sure whether I’m strong enough to-oh! Here we are. Yep. Doing this. Hi. Hello.
In all honesty though, yoga is it right now. The class is so challenging, and I am making such visible, tangible progress. I am growing actual muscles, y’all.
It is so essential for me right now to feel physically connected like I do in that hour. It is absolutely essential that I am able to physically lift myself up, support my own weight, and take each and every one of those reminders to breathe in and out. I love it. I love the push and the challenge, and the feeling of stretching through toward something deeper. This physical process mirrors my emotional one, and connecting the two feels indescribably good.
It feels good to be gradually returning to a place of happiness and contentment both inside the class and out- especially knowing that I have done the work necessary to have earned it. And beyond that, it is just delicious to start to feel pure joy flooding my entire body again. Nipples and all.