Inner voices

I’ve been practicing yoga, on and off, for a few years now, mostly gentle to moderate hatha classes. Last week, feeling in the mood to try something new and push my comfort zone, I dropped in on a bikram class. Bikram is sort of like hatha yoga on the surface, only the poses are the same every week, and it’s performed in a 105 degree heated room. Weirdly, for the first class, I actually liked the heat and the challenge–the particular ways in which I was pushing myself–and my only real concern was whether I could practice it in a properly yoga-like, meditative state of mind, rather than being over-focused on the pushing and the achievement.

So I dropped in on a second class, with a different instructor. Partway through, I reached for my water bottle. And the instructor–tried to stop me. Now, I’ve since learned there are indeed preferred times to drink water in bikram classes. And, if the instructor had said, “I’d prefer you wait if you can, but in the end it’s your call,” I’d have respected that. Instead, she tried to reach for my bottle–to make me stop.

And my inner voice shouted, loud and clear, “No. That isn’t right.” My outer voice said words to the effect of, “Please don’t decide for me what my body needs,” and I took a long sip of water.

For the rest of the class, every sip of water seemed like an act of defiance, and I knew, beyond doubting, that this wasn’t the right place for me. Because one of the things yoga has taught me is to listen to my own body. And the moment an instructor said, “Don’t listen to your body–listen to me,” I knew this wasn’t yoga as I wanted to be practicing it. I’d lost all trust in the class and the instructor, and I wouldn’t be back.

This got me to feeling thinky about lots of things, inner voices most of all. Because sometimes the “this isn’t right for me” moment isn’t nearly so loud and clear, but even so we know something isn’t right. We don’t always pay attention to those inner voices–I know there’ve been times that I’ve stayed in relationships (business or personal) or taken on projects (ditto) that I knew weren’t right. Because sometimes, no one reaches for your water bottle, but deep down you feel uneasy, just the same.

If that voice inside us says, “No, I shouldn’t be doing this,” then that’s a cue to sit down, look at what’s really going on, and figure out where that uneasy feeling is coming from. We all have instincts for a reason, after all. Women especially are often taught to ignore these instincts, but if something feels wrong–something probably is wrong.

There are people for whom bikram yoga is a wonderful, life-changing thing. There are also people for whom the other commitments and pursuits I’ve turned down have been wonderful, life-changing things–and I know my perfect things have been other people’s wrong ones, too. My inner voice–my inner self–isn’t identical to the next person’s. One phrase I’ve heard repeatedly in various sorts of negotiations through the years is, “No one else has had a problem with this.” Which is lovely, and I’m glad for those other people; but it does nothing to change the fact that I do have a problem with it.

When I thought about my two trial bikram classes afterwards, I saw other warning signs that it wasn’t right for me, personally. I realized I was lucky that that instructor tried to stop me from taking a drink. Otherwise, it might have taken me longer to hear what my own voice was telling me, especially surrounded, as I would have been, by classmates for whom that form of yoga was a right thing. (Was, well, a yoga thing, as for me it was not.)

Learning to listen to our own voices is as important as learning to listen to our own bodies, and as tricky. There are times to push forward, and times to withdraw, and sometimes it’s hard to tell which is which, but in the end I think we know what we’re doing more often than not.

Like many things, it seems to get easier with practice.

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