The (Danger) Zone

I participated in a hypnotist show in my senior year of high school. If you’ve never seen a hypnotist show, it looks something like a charismatic zookeeper directing a slapstick improv show with a loyal cast of obedient monkeys. Except the zookeeper is a certified professional, and the monkeys are high school students who have actually volunteered to publicly humiliate themselves. Believe me, there aren’t a lot of things funnier than one of your good friends threatening to pull his pants down in front of a packed auditorium. (Sorry, Mike.)

But what does this have to do with yoga, you may ask? Well, a state of hypnosis and a state of meditation are more or less the same state of mind. One may lead you to believe you can dance like Shakira, while the other may lead you to personal discovery and peace, but they both start off with the same goal: complete mental stillness.

Mental stillness has never really been my forte. You see, my mind is a bit of a spitfire. She never shuts up, she sounds like the rejected bits of a subpar comedy routine most of the time, and she really, really likes fart jokes. But I’ve always welcomed her comments because after all, she is me, and I’m pretty awesome.

So when the hypnotist told all the girls onstage, magnificently slumped across our chairs in a state of hypnotic sleep, that we would find our first names hysterically funny when he snapped his fingers, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that my mind rebelled. A familiar voice broke through the fog of hypnotic tranquility. What the hell? My name isn’t funny at all. Maybe if I were named Eugene, or Beatrice, or Olga. Heh heh, Olga.

And just like that I was back in my own busy head, all hope of properly disgracing myself in front of a crowd of my peers totally gone. I quickly exited the stage to join my friends in the audience and figured complete mental stillness probably just wasn’t for me.

In the Bikram studio, the instructors are kind of like our hypnotists- the charismatic zookeeper to our crazed monkeys, if you will. In a perfect yoga world, we would hear the teacher’s words, moving only when we are cued to do so. We would find stillness in each posture at the deepest point we could possibly reach, breathing steadily in and out through our noses. We would think of nothing besides those words, our movement, and our breath. In the real world, I’m usually either swearing to myself or trying to decide what to eat for lunch.

But there have been moments, gloriously magical moments, where I’ve glimpsed the universe beyond my mind’s persistent (and usually wiseass) personality. It’s like a peaceful field of lilies swaying beside an infinite blue ocean of serenity. It’s a place where a Bikram practice doesn’t feel like three years in a wormhole, but 90 satisfying minutes in a hot room. It’s a present, relaxed, aware state of being that my good friend and fellow blogger Mandy likes to call “the zone.”

(I understand if the Top Gun theme song just started playing in your head, and if it didn’t, you’re welcome for the reminder that this cheesy-awesome 80’s masterpiece still exists.)
In the zone, there are no complaints, no anxieties, no judgments. There aren’t even any fart jokes. There’s just you, your breath, and your body. It’s a hard place to find, and it’s an even harder place to stay. But when you’re in the zone, you’re free.

Class on Day 21 started with a lot of complaining. I had woken up before 7 AM, worked in the (unbelievably hot and humid) sun all day, and eaten a lot of junk food while pondering my own sticky misery. By the time I got to the studio at 4:30 that afternoon, I was anticipating Bikram Armageddon. There was no way class could go well with all the shit I’d just eaten. It’d be a wonder if I could stay awake for 90 minutes after baking in the sun for so long, let alone partake in strenuous sweaty exercise. The humidity levels in the hot room would probably be something approaching a scene from Dante’s Inferno. But I trudged into that studio anyway, dragging my mat, towel, and mother along with me because that’s what I do now. I go to yoga.

Standing on a locked knee some time later, trying to extend my other leg toward the front mirror while holding my foot, I could have been miserable. There was a small and familiar voice telling me how hard this pose was, how tight my hamstrings were, how I’d probably never be able to extend my leg even if I practiced for years. The voice was tired, and she was complaining, and she had made a joke about how frizzy my hair had gotten in the humidity. But she didn’t have to be there. I took a deep breath, exhaled, and shoved her aside. All my energy went into my focused gaze at my locked knee in the mirror. I grabbed my foot, extended my leg, shook a little, and breathed through my nose. Sweat dripped onto my towel. My eyes didn’t blink. Push. Breathe.

I stood with one leg locked and the other almost fully extended for exactly three seconds. I was in the zone, and it was incredible.

(I know it’s not technically the danger zone, but how awesome would that be if next time I was in the zone Tom Cruise was hanging out in there too? And Goose? And maybe Iceman?)

So whether you’re sweating in a hot yoga studio or prancing around like a hypnotized chimpanzee onstage, it’s nice to take some time every now and then to really check in with yourself. Maybe you call it the zone, or mindfulness, or meditation, or even voluntary hypnosis. But no matter the name, I would recommend giving it a try. You might be surprised at what you can do when your mind isn’t being a huge asshole.

Namaste,
Hannah

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 19:26:47

    You’re catching on my little friend…. It’s a great place…..

    Reply

  2. Debbie
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 02:45:45

    Wow Hannah! I followed you from the beginning. You have really grown-in your writing and your yoga! Keep it up.

    Reply

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