Awkward pose

While researching the second part of my yoga post, I came across a list of yoga poses that mentions “utkatasana” or Awkward Pose. Awkward. No kidding. That brings me to what happened after I overslept for my first yoga class.

After going through all the trouble of buying sports clothes, I wasn’t going to waste my momentum. So I planned a new appointment in the evening, figuring that would make it harder to oversleep (well, unless I was going to take a nap after work). Again, I was so grateful for not having to call but being able to simply book online. I probably would have had to rehearse the phone call in my head about 5 times before being able to call. If I would have done it at all. I know other people don’t show up for appointments too. But I have this rigid rule in my head that says it’s simply NOT OK and that’s why I need to have an excuse and sleeping late is not a socially acceptable excuse and oh my god ANXIETY. So, it felt good to avoid all that.

Tuesday evening arrives and I make my way down to the yoga studio. When I step in, there’s a big sign saying “no shoes” and an arrow pointing to an area next to the reception desk. There are other shoes sitting there. Good, I like clear instructions and this gives me something to do while I take stock of my surroundings. A white cellar with a round, low ceiling and no windows. This is the sort of location the city is famous for and it definitely has its charms, although in all likelihood it’s going to be very hot on this summer evening.

Example of medieval cellar (photo by Puur* events)

I say to the woman manning the desk that I’ve come for my first lesson, she tells me to go ahead and pick a spot. At the back I notice some people so I walk over there thinking maybe one of them will look like they could be the teacher. No, they are changing into different clothes and putting their bags in lockers, so I copy their behaviour. When I’m done doing that I turn around and notice nearly all the yoga mats are now occupied. I start getting a little bit anxious because I don’t know what is acceptable behaviour in a yoga class. Should I take the nearest mat? Does everyone have a favourite spot? Where is the teacher? What should I do? How can I avoid offending people?

As I slowly walk between the mats, trying not to bump into people doing yogaish stuff (meditating?), I notice that even the mat that I’d sort of picked out has a towel lying on it. Oh bugger. Full panic now. And then I do something that I’m still awfully proud of: I walk back to the reception desk and say to the woman: “I’m sorry but I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed. I have an autistic spectrum disorder and new situations make me anxious. Could you help me get started?” GO ME! You’ll have to imagine the flat voice, slight stutter and frowny face for yourself. However, she immediately says, “No problem! Come along, I’ll walk with you to the back where you can get your own yoga mat and then we’ll find a spot for you where you’re comfortable and can see what I’m doing.” So I guess she’s the teacher then. GO HER! This is all kinds of awesome.

During the yoga class I have several more moments where I get a bit overwhelmed, especially when the instructions are very verbal (like “stretch your left hand, bend your right knee, twist your body to the right while stretching out your right hand behind you and then twist your head to the left”. OK, I lost you at stretch your left hand. Which side is left again?). During the sun salutation, a classic flow of yoga poses that I used to love doing as a child, the instructions follow each other so rapidly that I freeze completely. But then I remember. This is yoga. It doesn’t matter if I can’t do it perfectly. I’ll get there in my own time. Breathe. Find a pose that works for my body, instead of frantically trying to figure out what everyone else is doing. Breathe. Stretch. Breathe. I wait out the sun salutations and start participating again when the class moves to the next pose.

At the end of the class, I’m very dizzy so I don’t get up when everyone else does. I’ll get there in my own time. I think this is the most valuable lesson yoga can teach me. The muscle control, the workout, and the stretching are just a bonus. And even with my imperfect execution, I already feel like the child I used to be, just enjoying the movement. Now I just need to find a tree to climb.

Update: apparently the best tree for tree-climbing is in Wallington, Northumberland (UK).

Downward-facing dog

When I was young, my next door neighbour taught me how to do yoga. It was so much fun, especially getting into the flow of it, making each movement follow out of the previous one. I felt flexible and limber and not so clumsy anymore. Who cared that I was rubbish at sports like field hockey and volleyball and couldn’t even hit a baseball with a flat training bat? At least I could do yoga, and do it well.

But then something happened. I became an adult. And somewhere along the way, I stopped doing all the things that I thought were fun as a child. Hanging from tree limbs. Collecting stamps. Drawing fictional blueprints. Yoga.

I spent years telling myself that yoga was a perfectly acceptable thing for an adult to do. It was very hip. People were talking about it. All I needed to do was sign up for a class. Errrr… maybe next week. In the meantime, I could reap the benefits of having done yoga in the past. When I’d fallen down the stairs and had to have my spine and hips realigned, my physical therapist commented on my amazing breath control (I was breathing through the pain). I could also get up to all sorts of adventures in the sack (I could put my feet in my neck, ha!).

So now I’m 36, and working on my autistic spectrum diagnosis. It’s a rough road, full of surprises. Most of them are instantly recognisable and acceptable, this is how I am, this makes sense. Some are harder. And somewhere along the way, I came across an article that mentioned yoga and its benefits to people on the spectrum, especially with strengthening muscle control. So yes. I need to start doing yoga again. Never mind that my executive function right now is whimpering and hiding underneath the bed. I look for the nearest studio and they have online reservations (yay! I don’t have to call!), so I sign up for a class in two days. I also mention that I have ASD and that they can give away my spot if I don’t show up because it’s sometimes hard for me to keep appointments (the simplified version for neurotypical people).

The next day I start panicking because I haven’t managed to do the laundry for about a month. Showing up for a yoga class in dirty clothes is probably not ok. I can’t think of whether there’s anything clean in my wardrobe that’s suitable. So I decide to go out and buy myself some yoga clothes. That stops the panicking. I’ll have something to wear without having to do last-minute laundry.

(Which turns into frustration when I get to the sports clothes store and there’s no clear division between the different kinds of clothes. Training jackets and shirts and sweatpants and tennis shorts and tank tops all hang haphazardly next to each other. And there’s nothing that says “men” or “women”. I’m lost. I know exactly what I need, but where do I find it? This store doesn’t make sense. In the end, I spend about 2 hours going up and down the 3 floors trying to locate stuff. And nearly melting down with anger because after 45 minutes trying on different sizes of sports bra, it turns out that my assumption of my regular bra size being too small was wrong. The first bra I tried on was not a 34D like it said on the hanger. It didn’t fit because it was a 30B. That sort of thing drives me nuts.)

Anyway. Despite my executive functioning crisis, I have an appointment for a yoga class, and I have things to wear to yoga class. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself. The class starts at 9:30am the next morning, so I make sure to set my alarm for 7:30am, giving me time to wake up properly and get myself started.

So of course I oversleep.

Read on for Awkward pose – part II of my yoga adventures!