I’m like that kid in The Sixth Sense. Except instead of seeing dead people, I smell cigarette smoke. Now and again, even when the nearest smoldering cancer stick is miles away, I’ll feel the tease of a phantom, acrid odor. When I mentioned this to my doctor during a routine wellness exam at the beginning of the month he paused, looked up from his computer screen and said, “Really?”
And that’s how I ended up in the neurologist’s office on Wednesday. Next week I’ll have an MRI of my brain. The following week it will be an EEG. Seven days later I’ll return to the neurologist’s office and by the time you read these words I will know if I am dealing with a brain tumor, epilepsy, chronic sinusitis or a rampant imagination.
The odds are on my overactive imagination. My guess—as a graduate of Princeton Plainsboro under the tutelage of Dr. Gregory House with eight years of further study at Seattle Grace—is that my odd symptoms are nothing more than my body’s way of responding to stress and the hormonal fluctuations of menopause. But I could be wrong.
And there’s nothing like a slight brush with mortality to jar you from a rut and encourage a yogi to take a good, close look at her practice. When was the last time you stepped back for a moment to examine your yoga journey?
I sat in sukhasana for the first time in 1975. I was a 16-year-old junior at Northwestern Lehigh High School in rural Pennsylvania and my gym teacher Mrs. Carey was introducing the class to some weird alternative stuff from California she called yoga. My only goal in life at that time was to find my way to the edge of the Pacific Ocean so while most of the other girls in class sat slumped and bored, giggly and gossiping, I sat in sukhasana. I knew, at that moment, that I had found my first real thing. A thing I loved. Yet it would be ten years before I sat in sukhasana again.
I found my way to California in 1980 and my very first yoga class in 1984. Still, it feels disingenuous to call the path I’ve walked the past three decades a “yoga journey.” If I’m going to be honest with myself it has been an ‘asana journey.’ Asana. Asana. Asana. I ignored layers of tradition in order to collect asanas the way some people collect stamps.
And why not? It was fun, my body was hungry for it and for ten years I turned a blind eye to the beauty and gossamer depth of a rich yoga practice. Listen, I knew I was taking the scenic route but when I at last began to crave more I was so entrenched in the asana practice my lineage offered that I simply didn’t know how to deprogram myself.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t trying. I had all the right books.The Gita and the Upanishads, the Sutras and the Pradipika. They sat right next to Light on Yoga, a book that for years I carried with me as though it were the Holy Grail. I was earnest and eager but on reflection it’s clear. I wasn’t ready for the truth yoga teaches. I wasn’t ready for the wisdom.
Over the past five years, however, my intentions and thus my practice have changed. I work harder to open my heart than I do to open my hips. My asana practice is still strong but my living practice—how I walk in the world—is stronger. I am no longer a student of asana. I am a student of yoga. A student of life.
So. Am I worried? There’s a certain anxiety in not knowing my immediate fate (we all know our ultimate fate) and an enjoyable paradox in knowing I am typing the words you’ll be reading when I’ve learned the answer. But I practice yoga. I know how to breathe, to remain present. I know how to still my mind and how to move away from the storied chatter.
I’m grateful that over the past five years I have moved toward a more authentic practice. I’m grateful that it has built a wonderful foundation for me to rest on over these next few weeks.
Postscript…All’s well. I have a fully functioning brain. While my doctor isn’t prepared to blame my rampant imagination the good news is that it doesn’t appear to be anything serious. I live to smell another day.
Mimm has been a yoga teacher, massage therapist, reflexologist and writer. When she’s not balancing in Ardha Chandrasana or wrestling with a sentence, Mimm’s either playing her guitar or doing homework. She is working towards a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology.