Yoga at Work Part III: The Breathe
“Anybody can breathe. Therefore, anybody can practice yoga.” —T. K. V. Desikachar
I learned this lesson, as I learn all lessons, the hard way. My yoga practice mostly occurs at the wellness center of the college where I work. I can schedule “wellness hours” during my regular work hours as part of our benefits program. For me, this has always been Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30-4:30pm for yoga, like clockwork every semester.
My yoga is not a form of exercise because if I think about it as exercise, then I hate it. Yoga is my sanity and my touchstone to my identity. With that in mind, you can now perhaps begin to comprehend the level of devastation I felt last semester when my doctor forbade me from doing yoga.
Allow me to explain. After months of living with unexplainable neck pain that was interfering with my daily routine, I surrendered to the chiropractor. The x-rays indicated that my neck alone was so out of place, it was bent in three different directions it wasn’t supposed to, one of which was hitting a nerve and causing me so much pain, let alone my actual spine.
I began therapy then and there, three times a week for three months. Now, not only was I physically broken, but mentally and emotionally broken as well. I wasn’t allowed to move my neck, bend my back, or lift anything heavy until my therapy was complete. Goodbye, chaturanga.
The next day, I went to yoga practice a few minutes early and tearfully explained the situation to my yoga instructor. After her initial shock and questions of concerns, she nodded knowingly at me and said, “Yoga isn’t about the poses; you know that. If you’re breathing, you’re doing yoga.”
My smartass-self replied with “I know, but…” and listed excuses. But she immediately stopped me and simply repeated “If you’re breathing, you’re doing yoga. Go back to your office, sit in your desk chair, and breathe for an hour as you normally would during this time. Your physical self will be in your office, but your spiritual self will be in here with us as always.”
Of course, my smartass-self did the exact opposite out of spite. I sat in my office and stewed, cursed the universe for betraying me, and generally threw myself a pathetic pity party. My bad attitude bled into the rest of that week. I was miserable, and it affected every part of my life, from my diet (Yes, I’ll supersize that fry) to my teaching (No, I will not accept this late assignment).
Side note: the universe is my oldest teacher, and she knows I will learn lessons the hard way because I’m a stubborn-ass; thankfully, she has just the right amount of patience, so when the time is right, she says “enough is enough.”
This time the universe worked through my belovedly blunt officemate who finally confronted me about my toxic attitude. “You’re grumpy when you don’t do yoga,” she declared matter-of-factly one day. When I agreed and explained to her why I couldn’t, she replied, “So go on a walk or sit outside and read. Anything’s gotta be better than sitting in here being miserable, right?”
Ugh! Right. So I surrendered to my spiritual doctors as well because I knew they were both correct. Besides, when I was upset about something in my life, I brought it to the mat anyway. Why couldn’t I bring this to the mat too, even if I couldn’t literally be on my mat?
So, I put a sign on my office door for guests to enter quietly, turned on my yoga music station on Spotify, rolled on some Peace essential oil, sat in my desk chair, and breathed. My body still craved asana, aching to move, but I lovingly explained that we couldn’t right now and promised we would soon.
I breathed for four months, every Tuesday and Thursday 3:30-4:30pm. Sometimes I sat in my chair, and sometimes sat in easy-seat on my mat, but I breathed and therefore I did yoga.
When my therapy was complete, and it was safe for me to practice asana again, I welcomed chaturanga home to my body like embracing a lover at the airport who has just returned from a long holiday: thankful that the time apart had given me the chance to miss it.
Now I am teaching during summer semester, and now I realize why the universe taught me the difficult lesson of what yoga truly is last semester—because this semester I am teaching during my precious yoga time. I cannot be with my people, I cannot move my body, and I cannot even sit to breathe during that hour.
But it doesn’t matter. Instead, I set my intention at the beginning of that class I must teach during that most precious hour. I dedicate that hour to my yoga practice, my yoga community, and my yoga self, to practice yoga even if it’s not on the mat, because true yoga happens when it is practiced off the mat.
In this way, even if I can’t practice yoga at work, I can still practice yoga at work when yoga is at work within me.
Today, Holly Adcock is still a hamburger-eating yogi who practices yoga at 9 o’clock at night after a late English class, except this time, she’s teaching the class as a full-time professor. Her previously published work includes a poem entitled “This Old Room” and an essay called “I’m Sorry, Mr. Jackson, I am Not Real.” She lives in New Bern, North Carolina with her husband, two cats, and one dog. In her spare time, she enjoys making rice bags for her non-profit, Rice Bags With Love, and learning to garden. For more information, visit her website https://hmlynn1.wixsite.com/janeofalltrades or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/holly.lynn.31337.