One afternoon in 1998, I turned on the television. Interviewing Madonna, Oprah asked what she would teach her daughter. “Self-respect.”
Oprah then queried what she’d teach her daughter about men. Madonna snapped, “If I teach her to have self-respect then I don’t have to teach her about men.”
That fall I moved from Nashville to Manhattan for college, and started going to Om, then on 14th, because I wanted to feel grounded and calm. Also, I was desperate for touch. I sought out teachers who gave adjustments; their contact taught me to receive, basic trust. Classes offered a respite from the hamster wheel of busyness. There was a high in being guided through poses, the reminders to breathe.
Regulars were a motley crew, and we were in it together. At that time in my life this was vital because it stripped away my sense of separation. We didn’t have to talk to connect. It felt, as students, like we were survivors in some sci-fi movie: beamed from our King-Kong concrete jungle into a windowless room, granted permission to feel whatever came up. Schlepping to the studio was a kind of preemptive strike: if I went voluntarily at eighteen, I wouldn’t go kicking and screaming at forty.
I’d never been careful with others’ feelings, or my own. This was truest in romance, which I preferred reckless and hot. Exquisite and exquisitely painful. Through practice, I saw that the best parts of my life happened in my head, as fantasy. This pierced my heart with grief and hope for real intimacy: with myself, God, a lover. By not bolting from my mat, I learned to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
My default was to blame people or circumstances for my loneliness then run, dating another man who drank or smoked his feelings. Slowly I saw that I could only bolt for so long until I’d be forced to reckon with my failed relationships and recognize I’d been like Keith Richards, the Main Offender.
Yoga teaches me to hold myself accountable for loving myself as an awakened badass woman strong enough to be vulnerable. Asana is a gateway to right now. Eventually, I believe, everyone runs out of places to hide. Practicing offers the radical self-responsibility of feeling my feelings. My relationships with anyone else can never be better than the one I have with myself. That’s respect.