On Monday, I drove down to my yoga studio in Boston and took my first two public yoga classes since before I started the trail. I was surprised at how well I did! I thought I was going to have to take a different spot in the room than my usual front row, in front of the teacher one, but I decided to set up in the same place as always and I had no problem fitting right in! It felt really good to be back in the same space as one of my strongest role models. At the end of the first class, I sat quietly with a little smile on my face and proudly thought, “I did it!”- “I successfully made it through my first class…And… I did it!…I walked from Mexico to Canada!”. I am surprised at how quickly my body has adapted within the course of one month from being barely able to do chaturunga or urdhva dhanurasana (lacking both strength and flexibility) to somehow not being so far off from where I left off six or so months ago!
At the end of my second class, my teacher read some words that he wanted us to repeat as a meditation:
I let go of other people’s stories about me
I let go of my stories about other people
I let go of my stories about myself
In letting go …I am free…to be who I actually am
He asked us who we would be without these stories?
I realized (well before this class) that my long hike allowed me a reprieve from being labeled by anyone and put into a box that is hard to escape. The trail provides a space for those who hike it to shed layers of anything that has been imposed on us. I feel fortunate that I was able to spend five months in a place where no one cared about anything other than who I was at that very moment that I was interacting with them. I don’t think there was a single person on the trail that wanted to know what my back story or my history was. No one wanted an explanation for any of my behavior or any of my characteristics. I met many people who accepted me upon meeting me and complimented me for my open-heartedness and easy laugh. I didn’t have to hide myself or pretend to be anything that I am not. As my hike progressed and I moved into new states with different weather, I reflected on the metaphor of the change in clothing as a dropping of the masks we often wear to hide our true selves. In the desert, we were all covered up in clothing to protect our skin, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses. In the Sierras, we allowed our skin to be exposed to the sun a little more. By the time we made it to Oregon and Washington, I found it interesting that I no longer needed to wear anything on my head at all. It felt like I was exposing myself and being more accepting of who I really was.
My teacher’s words seemed to have met a much greater need within the other students in the class. In life away from the trail, it is so easy to label and classify each other, to feel as if you know everything about someone, and to feel separate from them, just as it is easy to feel a certain way about yourself based on what other people know and have known about you. It’s hard to get out of the patterns that we find ourselves in- doing the same kind job and the same activities and interacting with the same people again and again.
Yesterday, I returned to the studio for another class, with the understanding that I will do as much as I am capable of at this time, with the strength and flexibility that I currently possess, knowing that this has to be built upon gradually. (My yoga injuries have already quickly returned!). Before class started, I saw a fellow student and friend for the first time since being back and she remarked about how strong I looked. I didn’t really believe her… I felt happy the first week I was back, but then fell into a very lonely and depressed state and assumed that what I had gained from my hike had already left me. But after class, my teacher said, “You changed so much!” Really? She said that I seemed much stronger! I found this so fascinating. They must see an energetic shift in me. I guess it wouldn’t be possible to come back from such an experience without more confidence and self-acceptance. Right now, it is my task to stay in an open space that is filled with hope for my future. It’s time to get to work on creating a life for myself that I want to live- one in which I am productive and living my purpose and sharing what I have to offer with others.
In November, I will return to my one yoga teaching job a week that I had before my hike. I offered the job to one of my favorite yoga teachers while I was away- someone who is very experienced, very skilled, and very confident. She is about to embark on her own traveling journey for three months and said that the students were asking if I was back. They want me back after having had her for a teacher? Wow…