I am a punching bag and a doormat. Though I have walked about five paths in life and created five communities in the same amount of states, after establishing myself as a nice person, something triggers in the minds of some acquaintances that invites them to say whatever they want to me despite the reality that like them, I am a human being with feelings.
After I left Hollywood having tried my hand in acting, a long-time friend told me to my face I was a failure. When I worked in schools, a friend’s mother told me that since I had attended a good undergrad, I was wasting my education. When my hair grows long, no one seems to think they shouldn’t tell me to cut it. When I cut it short, others forget it’s not their place to tell me to grow it. And though I have established a practice of filtering and analyzing my words before they hit ear or eye, I am not short on critics who tell me point blank that I should express myself differently. (And these aren’t even editors!)
For more than a decade, I have had back and neck pain that erupts into debilitating headaches. When I feel my neck stiffen, I am usually left helpless since the headache’s coming whether I enter a preventive mode or not. In these years, I could write extra lyrics to The Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” since I’ve been to a shaman to heal cosmic wounds; received Reiki and therapeutic touch; taken counsel to change my diet; added reading glasses; quit running, engaged in massage, saunas, and spa baths; attended chiropractic; and purchased orthotics. I’ve also changed that life path five times and redefined my friendships. Though these methods have helped reduce incidence, the pain finds its way back.
My latest attempt to rectify this brought me to Bikram yoga. Hot yoga has always intrigued me, because in my younger days, I would play tennis at high noon in the summer and run for miles in the sunny murk of New England Julys. Thanks to holiday gifts, I have completed two of fifteen sessions. Bikram might be the most intense physical challenge I have ever willingly endured. A quickened pace. 105 degrees. 90 minutes. A pounding heart. Sweat coming from pores I didn’t know existed. I haven’t even mentioned the stretching.
As I stretch to my edge (and a little beyond), I feel dormant muscles awaken and find myself contorted in unimaginable positions. I finish with a “good” soreness, no matter how much I grumble, and am glad I have begun this journey. Aside from the physical, Bikram has initiated metaphorical stretching in which I am suddenly engaged. The instructors tell us that different emotions might rise to the fore during our practices, and I have made a valuable connection.
My back and neck hurt. Around my spine, twinges and pops occur. All the physical pain has coincided with the doormat and punching bag narrative. My substantive body might be in decent shape, but my emotional spine has been punctured, bruised, and stripped away with the words thrown my way. The physical and emotional met recently after the most recent incident of someone tossing hurtful words into my ever-open receptacle.
Post comments, I went through my standard rigmarole of second-guessing myself. Though I’d felt great all day, I started to develop a stiff neck and headache. I stifled my response until the next morning, though my physical ailments persisted. Finally I wrote out an explanation and sent it to the person. One throwaway line to me resulted in a thorough paragraphs-long response, covering each point I had originally made. The cycle of my adult life had found me in Maryland.
Instead of surrendering, though, I felt inner confidence brimming forth to make a bold declaration. Since hillsides and soapboxes were nowhere to be found, I did the next best thing. I announced to my social media friends that the opportunity to take my feelings for granted had closed, for I was a doormat no more.
In that instance, I felt my emotional spine rekindle, more dormant muscles awakening to new life. My symptoms disappeared.
Bikram yoga, in two sessions, has begun to bring my physical self back into its natural alignment. The alignment between the emotional and physical spines, however, is the greater gift I might not have achieved without it.
Yoga is one powerful medium.