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A Different Kind of Health Club

By Christine Watkins Davies

Several months ago, I sat patiently waiting for my restorative yoga class to begin.  I was new to this practice but had heard a lot of wonderful things about it and wanted to give it a try.  The lights were low and the room was silent.  I sat on my mat breathing deeply in an effort to calm the anxiety that I was feeling about doing something I’d never done before.  Not extreme anxiety, just a little nervousness.  I was, however, proud of myself for branching out and trying something new.  I was excited.

Then, she walked in.  Not the instructor, but another woman who stomped into the room, threw her mat on the floor next to mine, tossed her bolster and sweatshirt in the other direction, and dropped to the floor with a huge thud.  She was in constant motion and her movements were definitely not that of a delicate flower…

“Shit!” she said loudly as she fought with the strap the held her yoga mat in a role.

I was annoyed.  Are you kidding me?  Isn’t this studio supposed to be a sanctuary?  If it’s not a sanctuary for her, shouldn’t she be mindful that it is for others?  Within seconds, I went from excited anxiousness to complete annoyance.

The instructor entered the room, dimmed the lights more, and introduced herself.  Her voice was smooth as silk and I tried hard to focus on that instead of the heavy breathing coming from the mat next to mine.  Couldn’t she even breathe silently?

As the class continued, I forgot about my neighbor and fell into the soothing trance that emerges from this yogic practice.  The hour went quickly, yet simultaneously, time stood still.  It wasn’t until our instructor had sprinkled us with lavender water and then thanked us for attending her class that I even remembered my boisterous neighbor.  She, too, had apparently fallen silent, which for her was a significant distance to fall…

As I worked to collect myself and my things, my neighbor looked over at me and said, “That was a great class, huh?”  Her voice was so gentle that I had to do a double take.  She was putting on the sweatshirt she had previously thrown on the floor, so I knew it was her.  But, she was different?

“Yeah.  I haven’t been before.  This was wonderful,” I responded.

“Oh, really?” she questioned.  “I’m here about three times a week.”   She rolled up her mat and clasped the strap around it with ease.  “It keeps me from killing people.  Not literally, but you know what I mean.”

I didn’t think about a yoga class as a way of preventing homicide before, but I understood what she meant.  Life is tough out there sometimes and isn’t it nice to have a sanctuary to relax and refuel.  Clearly, she was a different person leaving this studio than when she entered.

“I’m glad you were here then…” was all I could think of to say in response.

She smiled and quietly left the studio.

I’m embarrassed now at how quickly I judged my yoga mat neighbor.  She taught me a lot that evening.  First and foremost, she was an incredible example of someone making a very wise choice in regards to her health (and apparently the safety of others).  She could have driven to the nearest bar after work and slugged back a few drinks to ease the stress of her day.  She could have blown up at everyone and anyone in her sight, but instead she merely took it out on her mat strap.  So often, our culture supports joining health clubs to challenge our bodies and reduce stress.  But, how amazing would it be if more people joined a health club like this one?  A club where instead of running faster on the treadmill while talking on the phone and catching up on the news and sports blaring from the six different televisions mounted on the walls, you allowed yourself to fall silent and surrender instead of exert? To allow yourself one hour of disconnecting from the stress and reconnecting with your own body and thoughts.  To gift yourself with one hour of time where the only stimulus you’ll find is that of an occasional splash of lavender water.  To reward yourself with the ability to savor silence so you can head back out and face the noise later.

Recently, I sat across the board room table from a new client.  She shared with me that she was struggling with negative feedback from her colleagues.  She was told that she was impatient and demanding and this was causing her great anxiety.  She knew these things to be true, but didn’t quite know how to be more patient when leading her team with the pressure of deadlines and demands placed on her every day.  When I asked her what she did for stress reduction, she shared with me that she worked out at the gym at least five days a week.  “I know how to take care of myself,” she told me.  She proceeded to tell me about her diet and how her BMI was exactly where it should be.  I heard a lot about her caloric intake and aversion to complex carbohydrates.

“So, mostly I’m just focusing on strengthening now,” she proudly told me after rattling off the numbers related to her fitness without any recognition that strengthening might not be what she needed more of at this time.  Softening might be a better option considering her feedback and the anxiety it was causing her at this time.

“Oh, my dear new client,” I said quietly to myself.  “Welcome to your new health club.”