Three years ago, in a tucked away corner of Van Nuys, California, lodged between a golf course, a church, and an AutoZone, I walked into a yoga class that I haven’t been able to shake. The studio was no different than most, lacquered maple floors greeting my toes as I shuffled to find a space near the front left corner of the room. Looking around at the imperfections in the wood, I waited. It was five minutes past 10am. Class should have already started. When the teacher finally arrived, my stomach sank, and my brain flickered to contain a few deliriously judgmental thoughts. Toe to tuft, I eyed him like a cat. “This is not what I had in mind.”
The instructor was anything but what I would expect from a purveyor of athletics. Smudgy shorts cut out of black sweatpants framing an overweight, bearded fifty-something stood before me with glasses and a gleaming smile greeting the now packed studio. He apologized for being late, curiously chipper, and then explained the delay.
His house was about to burn down.
Class was ten minutes behind but began without skipping another beat, launching sweaty-bodied yogis from all over Los Angeles into a vigorous series of lunges, arm balances, and downward facing dogs. As we stretched and expanded our limbs through the space, he spoke, telling us the story of his morning and his evacuation out of Topanga Canyon.
“I was lucky to have a few hours of warning, but the fact of the matter remains that sometimes in life you have to do a deep soul dive and truly ask, ‘What is packed in your small car?’ How do you account for what you deem invaluable? And what are you willing to let go of when you strip your life down to essentials?”
Ok. This guy’s home was probably ashes and scrap metal by now. He had my attention.
“The same applies to emotional baggage. We can only hold so much. In every moment of every day of our lives, we are driving around a body, which is a very small car indeed. What are you clinging to that is overflowing from your trunk and killing your gas mileage? What can you untether from your bumper?”
The portly guru was right, and I felt like a prick for my early trepidation. What was I aimlessly clutching in hopes that the weight would be worth it? An unavailable sort-of boyfriend, resentment towards my middle-class upbringing, a middling job with no mobility… I scanned the room carefully, thighs burning in a chair pose as I fruitlessly tried not to wince. By the time we made it to hip openers at the end of the session, I was a puddle of girlmelt on the floor, mopping up tears with my blue microfiber towel. I thanked him and bowed my head with utmost sincerity before humbly scurrying back to my Prius.
That class still persists in my mind whenever I feel the gravity of the world bearing down on my body, the emotional yoga of trauma acting as a common theme. “What is packed in your small car?” It’s a simple question that unlocks some massive underlying truths about how we internalize things like obligation, family, money, and self esteem.
Actually letting go of the unnecessary anvils clanking around in your abdomen is the trickiest part. After all, there’s no shortcut to voiding a 200 lb. hunk of iron by sticking your finger down your throat and violently coughing it up. You’ll need to grind it into small, manageable bits and send them off one by one. It’s much easier said than done, I know.
Make a list, write it down, and when a particular item causes panic, break it into tinier pieces that can be acted upon. Your spine, your organs, and the upholstery in the backseat of your flesh-toned ’09 Civic will thank you when the burden is lifted.
Challenge what you deem necessary, both physically and emotionally. If your home was torched tomorrow and you could only carry twelve items, what would you choose?
What do you choose?