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a letter of recommendation
I’ve been going to yoga class for a long time now. It started when I was 18 and ClassPass was still really cheap. I would occasionally drop into a class here and there. None of the poses were familiar to me, and I would be exhausted by the end. I didn’t “get” it, because it was both weirdly tiring and in my mind “not a real workout”—I wasn’t sweating the way I would while running or doing a HIIT class. It wasn’t until after a couple years of sporadically going that I started feeling something in shavasana that was hard to describe. At the end of class, I would be laying on my back and the teacher would talk about loving every living being and this warmth would spread through every single part of my body. I felt like a puddle. I would suddenly think: this is okay, everything is okay, I am right here. Though I was always technically with myself, I realized that I often was actually distant from my immediate experience: distracting myself, zoning out, worrying about the future, feeling depressed, worried about the past, detaching to avoid processing painful emotions. I would be wandering several feet away from the present moment and what I felt in shavasana was a gentle reeling in: all of a sudden I was actually where I claimed to be.
It was a feeling of ease. It was so addicting to me, someone for whom few things come easy. I enjoy worrying and trying to be in control and wrestling with myself and various simulating scenarios in my mind. I have a really hard time relaxing. But there I was, at the end of yoga class: relaxed. Happy. I left with a sense that my problems were not insoluble, they might even be fairly trivial. When I tried psilocybin for the first time in 2019, the exact same feeling found me: a heavy blanket of love and ease. I remember crying and laughing and crying because I knew I was going to be okay. That Ram Dass line: we are all just walking each other home.
I kept experimenting with psychedelics after that. I’ve written about them quite a bit on this Substack. They’ve changed my life. But I don’t know if I’ve ever written about how yoga has changed my life even more. Because yoga is the integration of that feeling of presence in my everyday life. Instead of being a trip, it’s a daily ritual. When I wander away from myself, it’s a way to return. I no longer do psychedelics regularly, but I try to practice yoga every day.
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I prefer doing yoga in a class setting, though I have a mat in my room. I find the structure provided by having other people there hugely helpful, especially since my work tends to be so isolating. One of the best parts of moving back to San Francisco has been discovering a couple of studios and teachers that I really like. When I’m traveling, I’m always eager to return home so I can get back to my yoga schedule. It feels grounding and freeing at the same time.
For much of my life I’ve been very driven by achievement, but yoga taught me how to love practice itself without expecting results. It taught me that “the body is a story and it can be read.” It gave me an awareness of my physicality that I'd never had before. It taught me how to notice my breath. I stopped seeing exercise as a way to inflict suffering upon myself and started seeing it as a source of pleasure. I watched myself slowly get stronger. Lately I’ve been attending a yoga studio where most of the people in my class can do very difficult poses—handstands, pincha, firefly pose, eight angle pose, headstand to crow. I’m still working on a lot of those poses, but it’s comforting to know that I’m on a path that many other people have walked before. I’m getting better just by showing up.
Yoga has seen me through several relationships, jobs, and apartments. When I was younger, I viewed myself as someone who lacked consistency—I worried that I was doomed to be someone who started projects and abandoned them, someone who couldn’t stick with one thing for a long time. The cure to that, it turns out, is simply being consistent—finding something you like and doing it repetitively. I’m still someone who lives chaotically and finds the future opaque, but I know I’m capable of doing the same few things for a very long time.