I started doing yoga about eighteen months ago. Partly this was to build some upper-body strength and flexibility to counterbalance my “hard” muscles (and mind!) from cycling and martial arts. Partly it was to see if I could learn to relax and unwind a bit.
And partly it was to get the people at my gym to stop bugging me to try yoga.
As most of my readers know, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that yoga has helped to quiet some of the noisier, more bothersome bits related to having Asperger’s: I often feel a bit more “connected” to people (the way Temple Grandin does after using her “squeeze machine“); I am much more coordinated and less jerky when I move; and I have also made some new friends.
Admittedly, there are still a lot of things that I can’t do — in the “physical impossibilities”, for example, there is a technique called “binding” which (as far as I can see) involves dislocating both your shoulders, wrapping your arms around your body while you have your head between your ankles, and then standing up on one leg (looking like a forkful of spaghetti).
It’s the “mental impossibilities,” however, which are more frustrating for me. As I said in my “Aspergian’s Guide to Yoga” post, quite a lot of what goes on in a yoga class is like what goes on in a church or synagogue or other house of worship: if you don’t understand or agree with it, you must still keep your beak shut and be respectful of the people who do. (Unless, of course, you want to be forced into a “bind” and marched out the door on one leg with your elbows wrapped around your pelvis.)
So, for instance, when the teacher makes a wish at the end of class for “all beings” to have peace and happiness (an impossibility), I focus instead on one animal and imagine it living happily. Much more do-able.
And when he or she says something nonsensical like “come to your breath” or “keep breathing”, I simply tune out and cheerfully think about being a busy little Cleaner Wrasse swimming around my coral reef and looking for a blenny to attend to.
Mostly this is easy for me: after all, tuning out mindless chatter is something most of us — Aspergian and NT alike — have been doing for years. Think of all those high school classes on, say, the history of the Canadian parliamentary system, that went swirling down the toilet while you daydreamed about the nice girl across the street or drew Kilroys in your notebook.
But the challenge is when I’m asked to DO something nonsensical and actively participate in what looks to me like mass delusion. In the case of more challenging physical moves, like “binding” or the splits, there’s no shame (or offense to the teacher and other students) if you can’t actually do the move. And as long as I’m quiet and respectful while others are thinking about peace and love for all beings, no one will get their panties in a knot.
But there’s one exercise that makes me want to stand up and scream, and that is a thing called “Gathering the Chi.” Here, one must sit or kneel facing the teacher, and make huge sweeping arm movements while “gathering the energy of the Universe and redistributing it down your spine.”
Not only does it make me think of that old hymn, “Bringing in the Sheaves” (seriously, I nearly typed “Chi” there) but anyone with even the most rudimentary acquaintance with physics and astronomy will know that an object that is “gathering the energy of the Universe” to itself is probably best described as a supernova, not a skinny chick in Lululemon pants.
I admit I’m stumped on this one: the Supernova Arm Wave is only 5 minutes out of any given 75-minute class, but all my hard-won coping techniques are failing me utterly here. I’ve stayed away from the class a few times when I feel like I’m already on my last nerve, but that seems to be “cutting off my nose to spite my face,” since the rest of the class is really good.
Similarly, sitting stock-still while 15 others wave their arms and sigh blissfully around me is also out of the question because my aim is to blend in, not stand out.
And thinking of something else while I do the Arm Wave isn’t working either because once my “This is stupid and illogical” circuits are activated, they trip the “Scowl and roll my eyes” sequence, and it’s pretty much over for me.
When I was in elementary school, there was a kid named Donny whose parents were Jehovah Witnesses. They didn’t “believe” in the Lord’s prayer or singing the national anthem every morning, so each time we all stood to do that, Donny would quietly excuse himself and go stand in the hallway till we were done.
Perhaps this is where my yogic future lies, then — not so much the knocking on doors and handing out copies of The Watchtower to people at bus stations, but mucking in with my classmates where I can, and excusing myself to stand in the “unbelievers’ section” when necessary.
(This, of course, leads me to wonder two things: 1) whether I would eventually have company in the hallway [probably], and 2) whether it’s bad Karma to check my iPhone while I wait [ditto].)
I am, as always, open to suggestions. Anyone??