The Yoga of Letting Go of Yoga

Dear Friends,

I have decided to end my yoga therapy practice. Most of you won’t be affected by this, but I’m sharing it anyway because it’s something I’ve put a lot of time and energy into, and I’m not usually the type of person who likes to walk away from something I’ve worked hard for. But I’ve been learning some lessons about patience and flow in the past couple years, and I can say now that despite my patience, developing a yoga therapy business is just not in flow for me right now. What I mean by that is that life has a certain flow to it, and we’re not in control of the flow. Time moves without our consent. People come into our lives and leave again based on events and circumstances we may not even see. Things we want don’t come through, and things we never even considered asking for sometimes show up at our door and change our lives. Sometimes, what you thought was just going to be a hobby or a side gig becomes the center of your life. Sometimes a person you thought would be a fun fling becomes your life partner. And of course there are all the unexpected things you hope will never happen like Donald Trump becoming president and your mom getting cancer — things that turn your life upside down and make you question your naive perception of reality and your over-estimation of what you could control.

But about yoga therapy … Do you want a history? I’ll keep it brief. I started practicing yoga when I was 16, and it’s very possible that yoga saved my life. I was a closeted bisexual kid with an anxiety disorder in a religious southern town. I was terrified of my body, and I was starting to take refuge in drugs because I didn’t see any better options around me. Yoga became a safe place for me, and it’s something that I have continually returned to when in need of support and self-care. After grad school, I wasn’t happy with the direction my career was taking, so I reached out to yoga again and became a yoga teacher. I only managed to teach part time, though, even when my husband earned enough that I could afford to quit my day job and focus on teaching for a while. Teaching yoga as a full time gig is exhausting mentally and physically, and it didn’t pay what I needed to get by. I kept at it for a while, but as my business kept growing, the time I could spend on teaching kept shrinking. Then derby entered my life and I noticed that I had so much more energy for skating and cross training than I wanted to put into yoga practice and teaching. My heart just wasn’t in yoga anymore, but I kept teaching because I thought I needed to. I pursued further trainings, and I found Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a method of practice that reached me powerfully. I had been working on healing the divide between my mind and body through my yoga practice already, but PRYT gave me a more advanced toolset for the work. I pursued further training in PRYT because it resonated strongly with me and I felt that I could help others with it. I felt that if I had the right tools to help people, they would show up and let me help them … and pay me to do it. That I could finally have a thriving career in yoga. But despite my training, my enthusiasm, and my dedication to the work, it just didn’t come together like that.

I have pondered the reasons for this, and they are many. For one thing, I’m bad at self-promotion. For another, I don’t like asking people for money. But also, I’m an emotional sponge and despite all that training, I don’t know how to turn it off. I take on the emotions of my friends and partners, and I found myself doing it in client sessions as well. After many sessions, I felt tired, unable to focus, irritable, and disengaged. Meanwhile, the business continued to grow without us doing much self promotion at all, and I found myself feeling guilty about the time and space I was setting aside for my yoga therapy practice. I was frustrated because it would appear that I do actually know how to build and run a business because I’m currently in the middle of doing exactly that … buuuuut I’m not ready to do it for two businesses at once.

As I pondered whether and when to end my practice, I sought the advice of my own therapist, several yoga therapy friends, and my close loved ones. I realized I wasn’t sad because I would miss practicing yoga therapy. I was sad because I was giving up on something that had once mattered so much to me. Nonetheless, it was increasingly clear that it was time to let the practice go. I tried to wait for the perfect moment. There is never a perfect moment. I did it anyway.

It’s been two weeks since I ended my practice. Prior to that, I was putting minimal time and energy into it, but it still weighed in the back of my mind like a responsibility I wasn’t meeting, a guilt trip just waiting … I had been avoiding looking at it for a while, so it just followed me around. I drew a portrait of it to post on Instagram, and now I want to draw a whole series of the monsters that live in my head.

Anyway, I was right about one thing: Letting go of the practice immediately freed up a significant amount of mental space for me. It feels like a huge boulder has been removed from a rushing river. Where there was turbulence and spray above the surface, there was also undertow beneath, and now the water flows more evenly over the remaining, smaller rocks. My life is still a rushing river of events flowing mostly without my control, but the river no longer looks flooded and treacherous. In the next few weeks I hope to spend some time weighing the ways that I’ve changed since starting my PRYT training in 2014, to take account of the things I’ve learned, and to really consider where I can apply that on my journey forward. I won’t start that list here and now because I’m sure it’s exhaustingly long. I’m hoping that what I’ve learned will serve me well. I feel clear now that the self-work I did in the course of my training was the real point of the experience for me, and that although I am done with the yoga-as-career phase of my life, I will probably never be done with the work.

Here’s to the next phase of the journey,

Mary

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Suddenly, she had an idea.

Dear Friends,

While I was driving home from practice on Tuesday, I had an inspiration about what I want to write: Young adult novels for modern queer kids. I want to write about figuring out you’re bisexual in a town that hates gays and thinks bisexuals are “just sluts trying to get attention.” (If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that…) Or perhaps for kids raised in religious communities who are questioning their faith and torn between their needs for both intellectual honesty and acceptance from their community. Or for kids who have always just known they weren’t normal and would never be whatever their home town expected of them. I want to write about being that kid.

When I was in grad school I tried to write this elevated version of it like I was yelling my own story up to the academic gods and asking them to validate it. It took me a long time, a lot of therapy, and a fair amount of weed to come around to the conclusion that the story never truly worked because I needed to tell it on my own terms. But for starters, I needed to figure out my audience: Who was I talking to, and why? I wrote my entire MFA thesis because I had to, and I came up with a pretty cool way of approaching the story, but the writing felt stilted and inauthentic. There were things I was still afraid to say. They were hidden in the essays but never stated forthrightly, with confidence and full self-ownership. In other words, I had some shit to figure out, so I went heads down for a few years to work on it.

It has been a miserable time of not writing, frankly, as writing was once my only solace in a world I didn’t understand. Without writing, I continued not to understand, and found myself more-or-less at sea in every situation. Let me tell you, I have learned some amazing coping techniques in the past 5 years or so, and I’ve done some real soul searching about my relationship with writing. I always knew I didn’t see myself as a journalist, but I felt it was the only legitimate career for a writer, especially one who has a degree in nonfiction writing. But a career in journalism was never in the cards for me whether I wanted it or not, as my small business grew almost uncomfortably quickly while I fretted about what I want to be when I grow up. I decided to throw myself into life as fully as possible and not worry about writing for a while, which worked, but it also hurt. Playing on the charter of my old derby league, cross training obsessively, training to be a yoga therapist, teaching yoga classes, and running a business at the same time … Who the hell did I think I was? When the burnout hit, immediately after the 2016 election, it hit hard. I stopped teaching yoga classes and retired from derby entirely, cutting out all that extra training. I took some time to focus solely on the things I absolutely had to — work, my core relationships, and my health —  and then there was this new space in my life where I felt there was room for a creative birth of some kind, but it didn’t come. I had to recover from my burnout, do the quiet but hard work of self-reflection, and re-build my life with a great deal more intention. I took a year off from skating, joined a different league, and only after having skated with my new team for nearly a full year do I feel put back together.

Letter writing has been allowing me to get words on paper again, but the blog still seemed to mystify me, because try as I might, I cannot fake myself into believing I am writing just for one person here. Nor can I pretend I’m “just journalling,” and then betray my own trust by publishing my journal entry. I have to know who I’m writing to and what is most important to tell them. And when I think about the stories I want to tell, and who I most want to hear them, it’s not a younger version of myself exactly, but other kids growing up in my hometown. I think of my siblings’ kids, but really anyone going through what I went through there. And what I want that reader to know is that it’s ok if you’re different from everyone else, and that everyone else is kinda faking it anyway. I want that person to know that they are not alone in their fears and discomforts. And I also want to empower them. That’s part of why I want to write the roller derby story eventually because in the long run, although derby has been a difficult journey in it’s own right, it has been deeply and irrevocably empowering to me. Our society tells kids (girls in particular) that they are powerless. That they are merely consumers in training, not thoughtful, sentient beings with the ability to learn, create, and take charge of their own lives. We are taught to be more afraid of what could be done to us than inspired by what we could do. I would like to work against that tide.

So I have an idea of my audience and my message, and I have a lifetime of stories to work with. A precedent I set early in my life is that I learn every lesson the hard way and get everywhere the wrong way. I’d like to think at 36 that no longer holds true, but when I get around to writing the derby story, I think you’ll see that it does. But I don’t care because for me, doing it the wrong way is just right. You know how they say bad dates make interesting stories? Well, it’s like that. I have made some deeply ridiculous and perfectly human decisions in my years — enough for my own Ramona Quimby-style series.

I’m not saying I’m going on a novel-writing spree just yet, but do you remember when I decided to try out for roller derby and I made an announcement on my blog about how it was probably inadvisable, but I was so excited I was willing to put my anxiety aside long enough to try? I think we’re in the same emotional/energetic territory here, which means it’s time to make a plan and start taking steps. I don’t know exactly where this road leads — we never do, in all honesty — but I’m gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other and putting words on pages till they tell a story.

Wish me luck…

Sincerely,

Mary

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What I Did on my Two Hour Social Media Break

Clicking mindlessly through social media sites has become a compulsive habit I indulge as often as biting my nails or replaying awkward conversations from the past. To help me reclaim the time and energy I’ve been wasting on social media, I’ve added “go 2 hours without checking social media” on my Habitica list. Here’s what happens when I force myself to break the cycle on a regular Tuesday at the office.

11:41 a.m.

Did not open Facebook. Turned on my social media blocker to prevent me from doing so mindlessly. Had a conversation about taxes. Emailed a friend to ask about taxes. Pondered who we might know who could help us with this complicated question. Tried to open Facebook to ask more friends about taxes. Tab automatically closed. Remembered I was trying not to check social media for two hours. Have I already failed?

11:57 a.m.

Return attention to daily to-do list. Check Habitica, my habit-forming app, which I am attempting to use to replace my compulsive and unhelpful behaviors with productive ones. See several items I do not wish to tackle on the list. Pick one. Nope. Just clicked through all my tabs instead. Pick one. Log in to this payroll platform test account and see how it works. I am unimpressed, and I don’t see the quote for this product that I asked for. But at least I can check it off the list.

12:05 p.m.

Can I have lunch? Am I hungry? I am always hungry. Or maybe I’m bored. I don’t have time to be bored. I just want food because it’s good. It feels good. It makes me happy. I have had a lot of sadness lately. Sometimes I take shelter in simple pleasures like lunch.

12:15 p.m.

I just churned through several slackbot reminders that I’ve been putting off. Followed up with Adam about an upcoming meeting. Reviewed a new file Kate created. Marked as complete a web site registration that was actually taken care of weeks ago.

12:45 p.m.

Read the latest Oh Joy Sextoy comic. Had a good laugh at bad web site. Prepared lunch for myself and Chris.

1:04 p.m.

Had lunch. Quietly. Without my phone. Then made hot cocoa to bring back to my desk. I hit inbox zero today. One of the things I do when I am not checking social media is read my damn email. “Hit inbox zero” is one of the habits on my Habitica, so when I check that box, I get points. If I’m already at inbox zero, and I get an email of no importance and immediately delete it, do I get to check the box again? I do not check the box. I sip my hot cocoa and look for an incomplete item on my schedule.

1:19 p.m.

Sending emails like a goddamn boss. Responding to shit like I know what’s up. Clicking through this payroll dummy account and learning all about the service like some kind of professional lady who’s done this before. It is amazing what lunch will do for a woman. I am on top of it. But also, perhaps a good cry. I spent a good portion of last night and this morning just sobbing because of some stuff I don’t want to explain right now, and it felt like I had been carrying around this huge emotional weight for weeks. I feel lighter today, more focused and capable. I am approaching one problem at a time, not even tackling them, but walking up to them calmly as if to say, “How do you do? Would you like to be solved? Let’s see what we can do.” I think about going to Twitter to tell the world how having a good cry is so good for the soul. Open a tab, type twitter.com, tab automatically closes. Think about what I’ve done. Think about other things. Think about my outfit for the day, and how I posted a picture in a Facebook group earlier. Wonder if anyone has commented. Try to open Facebook. Fail. Sip hot cocoa, which is now just warm. Savor the chocolate sludge from the bottom of the mug anyway.

1:34 p.m.

Our biz dev guy sent me links to a couple local events that would probably be professionally beneficial to me. One is a women’s leadership conference happening in two days, and I don’t think I have enough energy to get mentally prepared for that level of social interaction. The other is an after-work Women in Tech event that seems a little more my speed and is more than a week away. I will go to this one. It only costs $20. There will probably be wine and snacks. Gotta check my calendar. Check in with my people. Make sure I’m not double-booking as I am notorious for doing, and then buy my ticket.

1:42 p.m.

Reflexively open a new tab, start typing another social media URL, hit enter, and see the tab disappear. Notice that I do this often immediately after a stressful thought or whenever I feel that life owes me a break. Also when I am bored. I don’t have time to be bored.

1:47 p.m.

Chris asks me to help with an invoicing issue. Open Quickbooks to do the thing. While waiting for it to load, I resist the urge to open another tab.

1:54 p.m.

Asking a client questions and waiting for responses. The perfect time to open social media and get lost in the waves of color, light, and meaningless approval from strangers. I must resist. I realize my two hours are done. I will resist. I’ve come this far. The client responds. I complete the invoicing task. I am strong. I will resist.

2 p.m.

Unexpected meeting. Saved by the bell? I’d rather be on Facebook.

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