Go to the Mat: To continue to struggle or fight until either victorious or defeated. —Wiktionary.org
I love yoga, but I would never take a whole weekend yoga workshop.
Also: Never say never.
The yoga classes I like are restorative classes where you hold a pose for 15 minutes and rest in only a few poses per class. My litmus test: If there are 80-year-olds there, then it’s the right yoga class for me.
My favorite pose is shivasana, where you rest in a prone position.
I dislike bikram yoga, held in a room hotter than the Sonoran desert. Or power yoga, perky poses stirred in with Jazzercise and aerobics. Vinyasa is not my jam, a repetitive grind of downward dogs and sun salutations that activate my carpal tunnel syndrome.
So, imagine my surprise to sign up for a yoga workshop in Ojai with a lively yoga teacher out of Los Angeles named Jennifer Pastiloff. To be fair, it was billed as a yoga and writing workshop, and the writing co-leader was the author Lidia Yuknavitch of Portland, a personal heroine of mine.
Lidia wrote a book called The Chronology of Water that was inventive, extraordinary, and courageous. A game-changer of a book, which, she told us, she wrote from her body. And I kept seeing Jen pop up on social media—I loved the stories on her Manifest-Station website, and the catchy themes to her posts: like the “Don’t Be An Asshole” video series.
This shimmering duo was enough to get me to sign up, despite my yoga mat fears.
The workshop was extraordinary.
Jen was adamant that we didn’t have to be good at yoga. We didn’t even have to like it. But she wanted us to trust her, to let her take us on an inner journey.
Scare the shit out of yourself all weekend, she said.
We held poses. We did the downward dog. We held it for what seemed like an impossibly long time. My arms and legs shook on my mat several times; I was often close to tears.
Be aware of when you apologize for taking up space, she said.
This is when she would have us drop and write. The sheer fatigue of the yoga rounds led me to surrender inside. With our bodies worn out and our defenses worn down, we picked up our pens and wrote.
What if you just put down what you’re carrying, she said.
Then, we shared what we wrote, the depth of the shares were gut-wrenching—many of us cried when we read, when others read, taken off guard by the level of vulnerability and the difficulties each of us has gone through in our lives.
Get out of your comfort zone, she said.
Lidia led us through prompts that encouraged us to listen closely to the stories our bodies want to tell. We poured our hearts into our writing.
Who would you be if no one told you who you were, she asked.
Not only did I like the other women in the group—and there were about 40 of us—but I so quickly loved them: You can’t hate someone whose story you know.
After the workshop ended, we stayed in communication, found each other online, and have supported each other’s work. I took a train to Los Angeles to see the one-woman show of a new friend who I met in this workshop.
I think about how much I would have missed out if I decided that I wasn’t going to take a yoga workshop out of fear, or being self-conscious about my level of fitness.
What’s in your way right now, she asked.
I am glad I trusted my gut and said yes.
I ended up drafting a piece in the workshop called “Gutted” about trusting myself that Jen ended up publishing on her ManifestStation site.
I went from resistance and self-doubt to vulnerability.
It was scary.
It was worth it.
Too much passivity can lull me beyond a mere rest, but put me to sleep. And forcing is exhausting and inauthentic. I was learning when to lean in, when to rest and when to push the edges.
In this case, going more deeply into the pain removed some of it and created room for something new.
Image: Barbara Manuel Potter