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Reaching Beyond My Comfort Zone

Sunday's Yogathon at Gillette Stadium showed me that the mental game is often harder to play than the physical game.

Yesterday I participated in the Yoga Reaches Out Yogathon, a daylong event to raise money for Children’s Hospital Boston and the Africa Yoga Project. It was an incredible day, with eight hundred people practicing yoga together.

We tried different styles of yoga – Prana Flow, hip hop (with some great Beastie Boys songs), Baptiste – and from a purely physical perspective, it was a great workout. We flowed through poses for more than four hours and when I came home I was physically exhausted. My joints felt softer, my muscles felt like jelly, and I was ready for the nine-hour sleep that was to come.

But more than physical fatigued, I felt wiped out mentally. Yogathon forced me out of my comfort zone, even before the event started. I am a pretty independent person, so asking people to sponsor me was hard. I almost didn’t do it because I don’t advertise how important yoga is to me, and I don’t think other people should fund my workouts.

When I cleared that hurdle, I had to join a team. This was also a stretch. Yoga is very personal to me. I don’t belong to just one studio, I don’t follow one yogi, I don’t usually practice with my friends. Often I just cue up a DVD and practice at home! I chose to join the team from Your Element Yoga because , teaches a community class there on Mondays. I’ve had good experiences at her class and at the others I’ve attended at the studio. Sue Cushing, the studio owner, gave me a warm welcome, despite the fact that I’m not a “regular.”

Little did I know that those first two challenges were nothing compared to what I was about to face.

I love yoga. I try to practice as often as I can, and I always encourage my clients to try it because it is a different kind of workout than running or weight lifting or aerobics classes. But when I talk to clients about yoga, I emphasize the physical benefits — the flexibility, balance and strength it helps build. I shy away from the mind-body connection part of it. And while I have come to love connecting my breath with my movements, I don’t consider myself an “om” yogi.

And perhaps that’s my weakness. At the end of every yoga practice is Savasana, or corpse pose, where you lie still on your back and let all thoughts leave your mind. After my usual 60- or 90-minute power yoga classes, lying still should be a gift. But I have the hardest time letting my mind rest along with my body. The last five minutes of class are torture for me, because I start thinking about the chores I have to do when I get home, the work deadlines that await me, the birthday cards I haven’t sent. Sometimes my racing thoughts undermine all the good things I’ve done for myself during class.

Yesterday, the day ended not with Savasana but with an Acro Yoga Circle. By then, half the crowd had cleared out, so about four hundred of us joined hands in a circle that took up most of the space of the Patriots’ practice field. As I was standing there, holding hands with two strangers, I felt weaker than I had all day. Not because I was exhausted from my earlier yoga practice; I can do dancing warrior and boat pose and chatarunga all day long. But letting myself go mentally, and really connecting with my breath and with strangers and with the deeper meaning of the day, was beyond my comfort zone.

But I did it — kind of. When we paired off to do some crazy pose that included massaging each others’ feet, I joked that this was better than marriage counseling. I heard snickers, so I know others were as emotionally uncomfortable as I was.

It took me a while, but I came back to the reasons I was there: I went to see if I could practice yoga all day, and I could. I went to support some great charities, and I did. I went to be part of something bigger than myself, and I was.

I brought myself way past comfortable and I made it back. This is what I encourage my clients to do every time I work with them, because it’s only when you push past your limits that you see how far you can go.

marcia May 08, 2012 at 10:14 AM
i share your feelings; i was there as well. Like, "I am not an 'OM yogi'. Me either. Just got certified as yoga teacher at South Boston Yoga...love that studio with David Vendetti and Todd S. I do Bikram everyday since I am 60 yrs old with severe arthritis and the heat helps tremendously. That yogathon was incredible for bringing so many people together from so many walks of life. Much love to you
Jeanne Brown May 09, 2012 at 01:15 AM
Congratulations on your certification, Marcia--quite an accomplishment and a great studio. I'm so happy to read your comment because it shows how we can continue to grow and learn no matter our age or physical limitations. Best of luck.

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