yoga mat as security blanket :: break it in


Mid-air I crashed. Bodymind lurched into panic, blackness. I felt myself tangled then searing pain. My left knee. What happened? Someone said, “I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” I couldn’t see her, only indefinite forms moving around me. I sat on my mat holding my knee, trying to breathe. Recycled, unexpected terror, unknowing, pain, humiliation and confusion expressed itself in the only emotion I know how to express when afraid. Anger.

“Yes. I. am. okay,” I gritted my teeth in reply. To whom, I don’t know. I couldn’t see. I sat, trying to breath, trying not to cry, hurting. Needing help but not wanting any more of a scene, I just sat. It seemed that crying or limping off the floor were not options, so I did the only thing I know how to do with pain. I kept going. I practiced. I found downward dog and I finished, angry, hurt, and humiliated. Irate that after all this time, I still cannot ask for help. Cannot come out of my shell. I imagine that to the observer, I looked territorial and punishing, making a scene because someone was on my mat, in my space. Never mind I was hurt. I said I was okay.

My self-hatred and masochism felt infinite.

What happened? I don’t even know. I don’t wear my glasses, usually, and I can’t see much without them. Even with them, I have little depth perception because of my left eye. I cannot tell for certain how close or far things are from me. When the shala is crowded, my sympathetic nervous system takes over and keeps watch for possible assault. I deal with this through my breath, but largely, I practice over it. Or under it. I’m not sure.

These protective systems are not easy to shift. But I watch them. And they do shift, millimeters at a time.

So what happened? What I know is that I was jumping back, I think from Ardha Baddha Padma Paścimottānāsana. I hit something soft, someone, midair and the impact forced my left knee into the ground at the speed of my jumpback. Hard. I felt darkness and panic for a split second, then heard “I’m so sorry! Are you okay?” I couldn’t see her, though, and I didn’t know who it was. There was a guy practicing behind me, I’d thought. But this woman was somehow on my mat when I jumped back. What, why, and who, I still do not know. “Was it my teacher?” I wondered as I finished, because sometimes they walk across mats in their hurry to reach someone. But I think I’d recognize her energy and voice. I don’t think it was, but I’m not totally sure. I hoped not. I hoped I could accept her help, were it offered. But I don’t know.

Was it my fault? Should I have seen? Shame and pain around my eyes, my sight, my inability to move my left eye into drishti comes up for me a lot of late. I never knew.

My knee is ok. I landed at the top, more on my quad and femur, and though it is bruised, hurts to bend with pressure on it (e.g. Utkatasana), and pops frequently, I can still practice. It will heal and I will live. It was mostly a painful look at my inability to ask for help, my inability to break through my defensive anger and show my pain, fear and vulnerability, my longing and desperation to feel protected, cared for, and safe. And nursing myself through that, dragging myself against hellish resistance to practice each following day, watching my thoughts, feelings and projections, until a point (four days later) of feeling okay there, feeling again love and appreciation for my teachers, allowing space for their own needs, difficulties and vulnerabilities.

There was a morning, Wednesday, walking across Grand Street in dread, I felt the heavy armor of my back muscles tensed in a fear I have held as long as memory, a constant bracing for when it might happen next, knowing I could never know I was safe. I teared up in that moment, and felt a small crack of softness and hope ripple through me, massaging my hyper-vigilant muscles with gentleness.

While in some way it’s that familiar victimization, as per my usual, I get that the righteous victim invites more nails. There was a baby step. This time I did not wallow in self-pity and take comfort in its treacly warmth, as I wrote about last fall. This time I saw how my defenses keep my needs from being met and felt the sorrow of my entrenched inability to ask for help. While I don’t imagine this will change quickly, seeing it, feeling it, is a relief. And a beginning.

By Friday, after tears of relief, I laughed. All this took place on someone else’s mat, someone who asked me to break in her new manduka because it was too slippery for her. (My rollovers and daily practice break in mats quickly.) I am somewhat superstitious about mats. I think of my own as a talisman, and the crash happened on the first day I used another. But I forced myself to keep practicing on it, to break it in for her. Now that I’ve been injured, afraid, hurt, angry, teary, grateful and smashed open on that mat, it’s broken in. Little does she know. ; )

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