100% HUMAN

Ben Morris for Nike

I just did something I’ve never done before.

Everything had been perfectly normal getting ready to leave the house this morning. R was in a cooperative mood and we were only 5 minutes late to school. This is early for us, despite living 0.3 miles away. I headed to my usual Friday 9:30am yoga class at the neighborhood studio. Afterwards, I would have about half an hour to read or write before meeting a new mom friend for coffee.

Seemed like a pretty perfectly planned Friday morning.

I arrived a bit early to the yoga studio and sat down in the lobby listening to an audio book. About 5 minutes before class was going to start, I went in. I set up my mat, two blocks, and a blanket. I settled in for class.

And then, with no warning, I felt it. The slow but unmistakable rise and spread of that feeling of dread. It instantly draws my mind into my body. I sit up straighter. My eyes dart around the room, instinctively searching for danger that is nowhere to be seen, despite my body’s systems alerting me to certain threat.

I stood up. Staying still in these moments is simply impossible. I walked to the bathroom and untied and retied my ponytail. I looked at myself in the mirror and took a deep breath.

And here’s where I did something I’d never done before.

Instead of trying to convince myself that I was fine, that I should go back to my mat and force myself to take the class, I gave myself permission to not be okay. I acknowledged it. I told myself I could do whatever I needed to do in this moment.

Instead of choosing to stay stuck in denial, I chose truth.

I went back into the room and first picked up my water and my phone. Maybe this would be one of those fleeting false alarm bad feelings? I felt self conscious about what the people around me might be thinking, but the feeling of panic and anxiety was exponentially more powerful. I paced back towards the bathroom, and reaffirmed to myself that the bad feeling was definitely still there, and that I would just let myself leave. I went back into the room one last time to put away my props and pick up my mat.

I quickly considered how I could explain myself to the girl working at the front desk. Should I make something up? Say my son’s school had called? But a voice inside me said, “Just say what’s true.”

I walked up to the desk, took a deep breath, and slowly said, “Hi, so, I can’t take class today. I have anxiety disorder and I’m feeling claustrophobic in the room.”

I braced myself for awkwardness, for pity, for incomprehension.

She responded, “I understand. No problem at all. I’ll sign you out and you can reschedule today’s class for another time.”

“Thank you so much for doing that,” I said as I rolled up my mat. I was taken aback by, and immensely grateful for, how easy that was.

It is worth noting that I did not apologize. I did not try to rationalize or explain. I did not try to hide my embarrassment. I simply stated my truth in that moment.

I took a few minutes to change out of my yoga clothes. I have learned that when an attack strikes, it helps me to move slowly and deliberately. I became aware of something. Something felt different. I became aware of the absence of my inner critic.

Instead of this: “What a waste of time you caused, you came all the way here for nothing. You put on yoga clothes for nothing. People probably think you’re a freak. When are you going to have time to work out later today? What is wrong with you?” …I heard this:

“Ah well, so you don’t take class this morning. It’s not the end of the world.”

“You’re not fighting or denying what you’re feeling! This is pretty awesome.”

“You’re actually taking care of yourself and giving yourself what you need. This is different.”

I came out of the changing room and sat on a bench to put my shoes on. The girl, who had started folding clean towels, gently asked, “Do you usually come to this class?” A simple question, but also an invitation, a generous offer of support.

“Yes, I do. But it’s normally S’s class, right?”

“Yes, K is subbing today.”

“I’ve taken his class before and I think he’s a great teacher. I’m not sure why I started feeling bad. Maybe because it feels a bit hotter in there than normal… I don’t know, sometimes it just happens.”

I actually cannot remember everything that she said, but what I do remember and so appreciate is that she gave me the opportunity to share and to be heard. She wasn’t treating me any differently. She was kind, but not pitying. She wasn’t looking at me like I was broken or a freak.

I continued confiding in her, “This is actually the first time I’ve done this.”

“Usually you just try to push through?”

“Yes. I try to talk myself out of feeling bad. I force myself to stay. And then I end up feeling worse for longer. So today I just thought, what if I listened to my body? What if I gave myself permission to be easy on myself? Maybe it’s not such a big deal if I don’t take yoga class today.”

“Yeah, for sure!” she agreed nonchalantly, with zero trace of judgment.

This stranger had thrown me a life preserver.

I picked up my things, looked at her, and said, “Thank you for being so nice, I’ll see you next time.”

And I walked out.

In walking out, I alleviated, a bit, what has been a lifelong pressure on myself to Doto Achieve, and to Portray. I allowed space for imperfection, for my perfectly planned morning to not go as planned.

The crisp, fresh air instantly felt freeing. With each step, the feeling of claustrophobia loosened. My breath was expanding and I felt my spine lengthen. I was again aware of the absence of that critical voice. Instead I kept hearing, “It’s okay. You’re okay now. This is not a big deal.”

The voice that was very much missing through my childhood.

A FedEx delivery man caught my eye and said, “Good morning!” The normalcy of the greeting brought me another layer of ease. My somewhat dazed and blank expression turned into a smile of genuine appreciation as I replied, “Hi, good morning!”

I am so grateful for the kindness of these strangers.

Today my yoga practice was walking out of my yoga practice.

I realized I was wearing one of my “100% HUMAN” T shirts. I thought about how beautifully appropriate that was. Yes, we are all 100% human. I am 100% human. I am imperfect. I have a disorder. And I made a powerful decision today. To not pretend like everything was fine. To not try to ignore my truth. To instead act in alignment with my truth and to unapologetically speak it.

I am curious to see what happens if I continue to practice living like this. Striving for actual harmony and balance between mind and body. This is my yoga.


I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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