An Accidental Yogi

I am an ignorant man.

A quick look through the archives of this blog would reveal battles with some demons, mainly my fear of heights that morphed into bouts of dizziness/vertigo which would happen at most inopportune times and my attempts at finding a medical explanation and cure.

Some time ago I developed this irrational fear of driving a car over bridges. I was a normal kid who loved to climb trees, who loved to clamber onto the roofs of houses while never thinking about “heights” as something to be afraid of. 

Well established into my adulthood, driving over a very familiar bridge I began to feel prickly and began breathing fast and heavy, almost a hyperventilation. I was sure my car was possessed like Stephen King’s “Christine” and would careen through the barrier rails plunging me to a watery death.

Several autumns ago, I’d sent myself to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a week of schooling in a northwestern suburb. I’d never been to Florida, had never seen the Atlantic ocean from that vantage point and I wanted to stay oceanside and needing a car, I rented a bright red Ford Mustang convertible to enjoy the summer-like sun. 

Driving from the airport to my hotel, I was met with a bridge that looked like Mt. Everest. HOLY SHIT, I had to stop and collect my thoughts. I went to a Starbucks for a coffee and began to plot my way around this insurmountable obstacle. What should be known is my severe loathing of Starbucks and all of it’s charred products. The fact that I willingly went to a Starbucks is profound.

I found a detour, it would take me 90 minutes out of the way which was absurd as my hotel was less than 5 minutes away from where I was, but it was over my current Mt. Everest so it may as well have been on the moon. 

This is where I’d like to say I courageously steeled myself and set off like a World War 1 fighter pilot, white scarf trailing behind as I conquered my fear and set myself free.

I hemmed and hawed and whined and eventually, I drove over that damn bridge. I had to put the top up, blast the air conditioning and radio, anything to get my mind off the bridge and I was terrified, I imagined my car slowing to a crawl at the very apex of the bridge, stopping and then I’d need to get out and walk which would have been impossible due to self-inflicted paralysis. 

None of that happened. I made it over in less than 30 seconds. 

Here is where I’d like to say that fear was conquered forever as I had to drive over that bridge multiple times per day for the week of schooling. This didn’t happen, yet I grew less afraid and could enjoy the toplessness of the convertible.

What happens when one gives into their fears? They fester and grow. 

Proprioception (PROH-pree-o-SEP-shən):  “this is a medical term that describes the ability to sense the orientation of your body in your environment. It allows you to move quickly and freely without having to consciously think about where you are in space or in your environment.” In other words, how self-aware you are about how you move through space and time.

There’s a particularly big local bridge that I’ve avoided for years. Not long ago, I drove to a job that would have taken me X amount of time if I travel via this bridge. I chose to drive almost a freaking hour out of my way to avoid this bridge. In what instance does X minutes + 45 minutes sound like a constructive use of time?

I am ridiculous as well as ignorant. 

Not wanting to add another hour to my travel time, I drove home on the bridge. I wrote about this episode here Make That Bridge your Bitch.

A while back I suffered a bike crash. I had been to a friend’s house, there was some drinking of rum and wine involved. I don’t know what happened, friends found me laying in the street, the thought is I was hit by a car. I broke teeth, suffered a gash in my leg, some painful wrists, etc and while I recovered from those injuries, my balance is still suffering. I used to navigate rocky roads and twisty paths riding my bikes with no hands. Riding my bike with no hands now, a skill that all accomplished bike riders need, is tenuous at best. 

When driving during in-climate weather, such as rain or storms, any time where visually the world would become very flat with no contrast, I would undergo bouts of dizziness, perhaps even some vertigo. My skin would become clammy, my brain would buzz, my breath would shorten, I’d need to do something like open the windows, turn off the heat, blast the radio, to rip my mind away from the torment of feeling like I was out of body observer. During a snow storm I had to stop my car in a parking lot, calm myself down, talk myself into continuing. 

I brought these experiences up to my doctor during a physical one year and what followed was an amazing experience within the medical sciences, I wrote about these multiple times beginning with MRY am I here?.

I knew these events were caused in my own mind, I knew that I could control them, but I didn’t face that, I chose the easy way and let that fear of bridges and heights fester and grow and morph until they became physical and prevented me from progressing.

“Yogi”: It has meaning and the topic is broad so I’ll leave this one here for you to ponder. What’s a “Yogi”?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably read countless self-help books, listened to countless self-help podcasts and seek out the inspirational TED/TEDx talks on a regular basis. You may follow a passel of Instagram or Facebook (insert whatever floats your boat here) Inspo pages too. 

Here’s a universal truth: Action Cures Fear. 

I work out with weights and I ride my bikes thousands of miles a year. I firmly believe in the concept of healthy body helps a healthy mind. Recently, I deliberately added CrossFit and Olympic weightlifting to my life to learn something new. I love it. I look forward to every weightlifting class. 

There have been goals simmering in my brain that would make themselves occasionally obvious – I think these may take the form of headaches that I frequently experience – and I typically self-medicate and suppress those goals. One of these goals was the outwardly simple act of one class of Bikram yoga. 

How hard can that be? You do a bit of research, find a studio, find a class time and you go. Easy. If you have my mind, this easy task for any reason becomes tediously difficult, therefore it goes back into the storage bins of my brain.

I had been a very infrequent practitioner of yoga several decades ago however I incorporate various yoga positions on a daily basis as a way to keep my body healthy enough to ride my bikes and lift weights.

Deciding recently that my “some day” thoughts of Bikram needed to become “today” thoughts, I wrapped all my fears around me like a cozy blanket of support and found something I just love, on accident. 

The best thing about ignorance is it can be cured. I thought yoga was only about positions in which to stretch the body and in turn the mind. I had no clue about all the various forms of yoga outside Hatha yoga. Since that day a few months ago, I’ve experienced a few different yoga classes and instructors and now I can’t wait to go to another class, I want to experience all of them.

What other than their current “newness” do I hope practicing weightlifting and yoga will accomplish for me?

Lifting a load overhead the most efficiently and safe way possible requires knowledge of one’s body and how it moves in space. It requires a trained body and a trained mind. So many times I’ve let my mind get away from me and class goes terribly.

I’ve felt what concentrating my mind on myself does for me and my balance in Bikram; while I can’t do Eagle pose well at all, I can do Standing Head to Knee and Balancing Stick poses fairly well, depending on how well I let myself do them.

I am confident that weightlifting and yoga will calm my mind, will cure my dizziness and help me be a better bike rider and perhaps a better person. Proprioception. 

What does the concept of “yogi” mean to me? Right now it means I’m an eternal student and with that concept I am not accidental.

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