When I was still in my 20’s, I decided to give yoga a try. Maybe it was my age, but I had the idea that it was a bunch of gentle stretching and meditating. Yes, I’d seen photos of women doing challenging looking poses requiring great strength, balance, and flexibility, but surely beginning yoga would be a breeze. Plus I was young and strong. I signed up for a class at the student recreational center.

Oh, how wrong I was. Yoga, even beginning yoga, was hard! For one thing, it can be aerobic exercise! What????? I thought all of the deep breathing would be for meditation, not survival!!! It also required a great deal of strength. By the end of the hour, my arm muscles were in a spasm of fatigue. What was not surprising was my lack of balance. I am athletic but I am better at balancing while in motion than while still. I am also afraid of heights so the idea of doing a back bend freaks me out. That was true even when I was a much shorter and fearless kid.

The biggest surprise in yoga, however, was how incredible I felt at the end of class, lying in the corpse pose. Even though my body was exhausted, I felt a warm ease and comfort. I have returned to yoga a few times, but for whatever reason, I’ve had trouble making it a habit of more than 3 or 4 lessons, even though I very much enjoyed it each time.

I suspect some of my difficulty has to do with the fact that I need a class in order to get good at it and I am historically self-conscious about being “bad” at something for too long. Although I’ve flailed my way through many aerobic dance classes with my initial difficulties following choreography, especially trying to mirror a teacher whose right and left is opposite mine, I am able to get the steps eventually and by that time, I would be one of the stronger students in the class. Meanwhile, flailing is very effective at getting one’s heart rate up. Flailing will get you a good workout.

I don’t know what a yoga class would be like for me now that I’ve gone through cancer treatment. So much of it is flailing, trying to move forward, having everyone look at me in various stages of undress, and not knowing what the Hell I was doing except trying to follow directions and make some kind of sense. Everyone is different but I found having vulnerability and my body on display over and over as a person going through frequent and invasive medical treatments, I broke through some anxiety and self-consciousness. In clinical psychology, we call this exposure, meaning that I repeatedly put myself in anxiety provoking experiences, and each time with the world not coming to an end or anything, I learned to deal with it. But as I said, everyone is different and what is the appropriate level of exposure (literally or figuratively) for one person could be traumatizing to another person.

This is a personal blog and one of the things I try to convey is the fact that my life is highly fulfilling but also highly messy. My life is not an inspirational poster. I am not perfect and I am getting more and more okay with that. In fact, the more okay I get with it, the more okay I am with everyone else. So this is perhaps a very good time to give yoga another try. In fact, it is the latest practice in the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that I am doing.

Knowing what I know about MBSR, I did not expect the yoga to be super hard. I mean, after all, MBSR is used frequently with individuals with chronic pain problems. Also, I learned that yoga as a mindfulness practice is more focused on being mindful of breath and bodily sensations than on doing fancy poses. The video that accompanies my program is taught by a health psychologist and if you are keeping score at home, she uses Hatha yoga poses.

The poses are mostly stretching with a couple of strength and balance poses. The stretches are sublime, hitting every spot in my body that gets tight and achy. My favorite thing that the instructor says after saying that her motto is “No pain, no pain” is that we are to find “the sensation that is delicious”. That is exactly the way those wonderful stretches feel, too.

The strength and balance moves are a bit more challenging for me though not frustratingly so. A particular challenge are the poses that rely on abdominal muscle strength. Historically, I had naturally strong abdominal muscles. With my TRAM breast reconstruction two years ago, I lost one of my abdominal muscles. I haven’t done abdominal crunches since right before my TRAM surgery. I was instructed to a lot of walking and daily crunches to prepare for the surgery. I was already walking three miles a day and I got up to a pretty high number of crunches, at least for someone who does not hang out in a gym.

Imagine my surprise, when I was lying on my back with my knees bent and my feet on the floor, and I was unable to lift myself to a sitting position without putting my hands on the floor. My core is not working the same way as the yoga instructor’s core. My core got gored. By the end of the 30 minutes, I got that same delicious sense of relaxation and time well spent that I got at the end of the more rigorous classes of the past. I felt present, engaged, and exactly where I wanted to be. In spite of my flailing, my bobbling, and my imperfect strength, I felt great.

I may need to learn this lesson of strength, peace, and balance through imperfection, a million more times. And how wonderful would be? To learn this lesson a million more times is to live a long and mindful life.