I haven’t dealt much with fear. I was raised practically. When I was younger I was afraid of rollercoasters. My parents convinced me as a child to try a small, but very rickety old wooden coaster from the 1920s. Aside from being jostled in the uncomfortable seats, I felt coerced, and completely without control. I just had to wait out the rest of the ride. For a few years I felt like a burden at amusement parks. I wasn’t afraid of the ride, I was afraid of feeling trapped on it.
My decision to move to Austin, Texas sprung from an ominously growing, year-long boredom in Boston and an internship offer that I had previously conceded as a pipe dream. It paid a stipend of fifty dollars a week and offered a flexible, if busy schedule, so on the side I worked in a restaurant. On average, I worked sixty hours per week. I had no days off. I could have asked for some but my sense of duty to the job and the people there disabled me. I’m not the kind of person who asks for days off. On a few necessary occasions, I asked for time for myself. I regret not experiencing more of Texas, but I don’t regret giving my time. I see it as a necessary sacrifice.
During my first week in Austin I wandered into a half-acre forest behind a busy street of dive bars and thrift stores. I discovered a small blue house nestled under the largest, most charismatic sprawling oak tree I’ve ever seen. Behind it was a boxy, homey yoga studio. For the sixth months I lived in Austin, I also lived at Sanctuary Yoga. As much as I loved my two jobs, I started to feel trapped between them, staring down a months-long tunnel of exhaustion. In the tiny forest Sanctuary, confined by concrete and my persistent schedule, I focused my energy into microscopic stretches and strains, and cracked my worldview open across mental landscapes like the oak tree over the blue house. Of the endless lessons to be learned from yoga, the most universal is the tolerance, and transcendence, of discomfort. An asana is achieved not when the hips align, or the Sanskrit is memorized, but when the mind is fully consumed and time falls by the wayside. Yoga instructors will count down to keep a class in sync, but true time in yoga is measured by breath, and duration ends only once it ceases to be a concern.
I learned to enjoy rollercoasters long before I learned to enjoy shaking muscles, but like most things I now value, I learned it all at once. The ride that broke my streak of resistance was on a smoother wooden track that snaked organically through the woods on the boarder of the park, not unlike the tiny Austin oasis I had yet to stumble into. Emboldened after finally letting go of my stubborn hesitation, I quickly moved up to a track that not only featured loops and corkscrews, but then ran the whole thing again, backwards. At a certain point, I almost felt past the thrill. I screamed, not for me but for my brother, whose highest joy and honor of the day was to witness the potential of me throwing up. I breathe, in yoga, partially for me, and partially so others can hear me and remember to breathe too. I remember my mother’s breath before I understood it, and it how disturbed me, and I remember my breath on my back in the ocean, blending into the sound of the waves. I remember when a friend told me she doesn’t mind when her brother snores, because she feels privileged to hear him just being alive. I remember the swell of my own chest listening to the breath of someone I loved who thought he was ugly.
The blue house lives under the oak tree as something more than what it would have been had it had less need for economy. One instructor told us, Remember, we bind so we have something to expand against. I understand why rollercoasters have to fit so much into so little time. I understand why the six months of savasana after coming home felt so long and empty after the six I spent twisting myself into the poses of the guitar shop, the restaurant, the dust and trees and student housing of Austin. The most awake I’ve felt in my life was on mornings with the boy with whom I knew I was running out time, who sleepily marveled at how quickly I could be ready for work after only a few hours of sleep, and 20 minutes later in a gas station store, improvising a Kind Bar breakfast. Today I woke up at one in the afternoon. But I still went to yoga. I feel less trapped every day.