Less Can Be More

By Anna Mitchael

What I learned from not practicing yoga

Many moons ago when I moved out to the country, I wondered what I would miss about city life. I know this is normal because total and complete strangers had concerns about what I would go without. For example, when I mentioned to my regular cashier at Whole Foods that I was exiting Dallas for a life among sticks and limestone punctuated by the occasional coyote cry, she answered with, “But you will, like, have a place to buy sushi, right?”

Um, wrong. No sushi. No premade kale dinner salads. No super-organic, chemical-free cleaners unless you make your own … which I don’t. I didn’t want to flip that girl’s world, so I told her I’d be able to get sushi. Because, like, bluegill straight from the creek goes great on rice, right?

The thing I was most concerned about losing was yoga. Other aspects of the move were more serious and probably deserved attention. But sometimes it’s easiest to focus on something you can wrap your mind around, like yoga, and let the lack of friends, major shift in working environment and fear of coyotes work themselves out.

On the surface, yoga seems like an activity you can take anywhere. And for some people it is. I have yogi friends who are more than happy unrolling a mat and practicing wherever they are. But that kind of yoga takes real mental flexibility, which was not a part of my workout.

For years I had practiced Bikram yoga, which is a set, standard, 90-minute routine in a studio approved by the larger Bikram yoga organization. The rooms are heated to 104 degrees, and classes are rigorous. There are rules in yoga — some explicitly laid out and others just implied. One of the biggest rules no one talks about, but which comes through in every class, is that this is not a yoga you can take into your own hands.

As a chronic rule-follower on and off the mat, I worried that without the structure of this particular type of yoga, my entire practice would collapse. Here is the irony: I was completely stressed out that all this peace of mind I had finally attained would be lost as soon as I moved out of reach of the overpriced, overheated studio.

Andrew took this in stride. He guaranteed that when I got to the ranch, we would figure out a way I could practice. I believed him, but in the way you let your mom tell you that you are the smartest person in the room. His promises were comforting, but I expected that at the end of the day I was simply going to have to deal with this earth-shattering loss. Because that’s life. There is always change, and unfortunately for the ol’ ego, there is always going to be a smarter person in the room.

I started a list of contingency hobbies that could be as stress relieving as yoga. On the outset, knitting did not seem entirely equivalent to 90 minutes of detoxifying sweat and grueling physical activity, but if life in the country was less stressful than an urban existence, then maybe — just maybe — it would all be OK in the end.

Then two months after I took up residence among the sticks and limestone, Andrew converted a small shed, the kind you see advertised as “man caves” on the stretch of Highway 6 between Waco and Valley Mills, into my own yoga cave. He put in heaters and carpet and even painted the walls to be the same color as the studio I had left in Dallas. The only thing missing was the troop of yogis in designer spandex.

There were all kinds of reasons the building should not have been constructed. Mainly, the time that was required to construct the building. Not to mention, there was no guarantee I would even want to practice yoga on my own. But I found a Bikram yoga recording I could play via my iPod, and thanks to miracles brought to life by Steve Jobs and the man I love, I started doing yoga way out in the sticks.

If I was as type A as I believed myself to be when I left the city, the story would end there. But my not-so-washboard abs indicate a different, happier ending.

Our lives changed rapidly with my move to the country. We started a family and a vineyard and slowly, along the way, concerns I had from my previous way of life fell to the wayside. If you’ve ever had a new baby, you know finding 90 minutes to stand on your head in a heated shed is about as likely as having Mary Poppins arrive on your doorstep with two round-trip tickets to Jamaica. Mama and Papa’s medicine (whatever it may be) ain’t going down the same way it used to, if at all.

The yoga shed still gets used, but not as it was originally intended. I practice Bikram on occasion, but I also weave in slower, gentler, more forgiving yoga sessions. I have been known to go to the shed and simply lay on the mat for 30 minutes of quiet. Even on an expansive ranch in the center of Texas, there are times it is the only place I can go to feel like I’m in my own world.

I see the shed as less of a gift of compromise — to make life in the country more palatable — and more of a gift of love. And like love, it allows me to evolve and change and be who I am becoming every day instead of staying locked into who I was many, many years ago. In the end, it has given me more flexibility and peace of mind than I ever thought possible.

For that, on Valentine’s Day and every day, I am thankful.

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