10% More Relaxed by John Louviere

Hey, everyone. I was feeling a little down the other day, comforting myself with some coffee and gelato, when my good friend John calls me up and reads me what he'd just written. It totally lifted my spirits. I really love it and I think it speaks perfectly and honestly to the power of yoga for regular people. I thought it would be so cool to post this for everyone to read. I hope you are as inspired by it as I am. 

10 % More Relaxed by John Louviere

I believe it’s a rule in the Sarcasm Handbook under Exceptions To The Rule #35: “One can only make fun a thing for so long until one eventually needs to put one’s self in the shoes of those whom he/she is making fun of.”

I have spent the better part of the last four years making fun of my friends who do what I affectionately call "yogurt" (or what they—with gleefully happy faces, ripped, and toned bodies—call “yoga!”). But some time ago, I finally decided to see for myself what the fuss was all about. Not to mention that my best friend is a yoga instructor and I felt a strong duty to make fun of him with more accuracy.

With any new endeavor I honestly believe that you are required to bring “you,”—sarcastic-you, playful-you, intellectual-you, scared-you, the "real- you”—to whatever it is you are trying to do. And so I did. Being someone who loves organization and process, I decided from the start that I would not be “joining” yoga (like all of those other mindless fools!) but that I would show up once a week for three months as an “experiment” (because being a scientific observer is my jam!). And, if all went well, at the end of those three months, I would have a new arsenal of phrases and isms that I could use.

Growing up I was never an “A” student. Not by any means. But, I have –by and large—been been a “front row” sort of student. I love learning. I love being close to the learning experience. I also love teachers. Maybe it’s because I always wondered if I would be one. So, I was surprised when I walked into the studio to find myself in a rare posturing position: I rolled my mat out in the back of the room.

I don’t know about all yoga studios, but this one, with few exceptions, was filled with skinny, young, white girls. This bothered me and gave me little hope for the coming weeks. I said to myself, “This may work for all of you young hot ladies, you ex-gymnasts, ex-dancers and maybe a handful of you organic, long-haired Tarzan-types, but for someone like me—someone who smokes, drinks, sits around watching too much television, and who young people affectionately call, ‘Sarcasshole,’  I don’t think this is going to work.” I sat cross legged on my mat with my clunky armor of defensiveness, my bad posture and my internal pen at the ready.

It took less than a month to realize that I was not there to take notes, to deconstruct, nor to offer my own witty words of wisdom (called out in class at just the right moment, getting just the right laugh, from a room full of very serious yoga students). Let me say that again, it took a month to realize that I was NOT there for that. No, underneath my defenses and tucked within my body was a voice, someone I had been avoiding for longer than I had realized. Or, more truthfully, I knew precisely how long I had been avoiding him. This voice had been trying to get my attention for years but I had other plans: cigarettes and beer to drown him out, a long list of failed relationships to continue mourning over, and my life-long companion, the glowing box, which I sat in front of every evening. These I had carefully arranged in my life to hold and protect me. And the steady diet of all of these things exhausted me enough to keep the voice away. Every night I would collapse in bed, unable to feel . . . until this stupid class.

Recovery is a tough road. Much less for someone who does not realize that he or she is looking for help. And to make matters worse, there was another voice. With each instruction to reach with this leg, now with that arm, now tuck your tailbone, soften the floor of your pelvis (what the hell’s the “floor of my pelvis”!?), with each straining move I made, this all-too-familiar voice would rise to the surface. In writing I call him The Editor. In public, we call him The “Sarcasshole.” But, in my body . . .  I had forgotten just how hard on myself I am; relentlessly strict. Let’s just call him The Performance Critic. This voice inside of me has something to say about everything I am trying to do. He is also who I had been trying to run from.

I’m not sure if my best friend picked up on this, or maybe it was part of his yogurt training, but week after week, in the midst of reminding us to breath (breathing—god that’s hard work!)  I started hearing him say a phrase that cut through the mess. It cut through everything. And by everything, I mean absolutely everything. He said, "Can you make this pose a bit easier on your body? Is there any way you can be just 10% more relaxed and still be in this pose? Don’t change a thing about what you are doing. Just turn off the strain, the desire to do it "right" and simply trust the limits of your body?" It would be one thing if his words remained isolated in that yogurt studio. I half suspected they would. But they didn’t. Everywhere I went, no matter what I was doing, his words kept visiting me: driving my car, doing massages, preparing music for performances, holding a bottle of beer, watching the glowing box, even—for god's sake—sleeping! Everywhere I went and everything I did: "is there any way you can relax, just 10%, into this?" The principal appeared universal, “loosen your grip and you create space.” It’s what would emerge to the surface when I loosened that grip that scared the shit out of me.

I find I am not alone in this. It’s where most of us live and the reason most of us live the lives we do. Because if we let go, we assume the whole house of cards will come crumbling down. But that’s not what he asked. He asked me, “Is there any way you can continue doing everything you’ve been doing—holding the things you are still holding—but just 10% more relaxed.” As my hold began to soften, so did my body. And so did my mind. A year later, I found I did not want the things I was once holding onto. I left my career, my home, my possessions. I know, right?! Big leap from wanting to collect a few sarcastic anecdotes!

Look, I still have a cigarette and something to drink every night. But I don’t hold them so tightly. I still have little idea what I’m going to do next with my life. But I’m not nearly as worried about it as I once was. I will admit that there are aspects of relaxing just 10% that feel like I am being irresponsible; the notion that I “must continue holding on” so that I can accomplish . . . but accomplish what? And to what avail? When I think of the poison that crept into my heart, and surfaced out into my life, all because of my inability to loosen my grip, there is little need to convince me any further. And hell, as I wrote this, I miraculously got up 4 times, to stretch, to eat, and to go for a walk. Who the hell does this? Apparently I do. And it does, it feels miraculous.

I’ve been doing yogurt now for over 2 years and the only reason I return is because I know I am an addict. I am addicted to holding onto that which I must let go of. I’m addicted to my fear of moving forward. And yogurt is my weekly reminder of this. I’m not saying this life is possible for someone like you. I mean, you’re probably just a mindless fool who goes to yogurt classes willy-nilly. But in the event that you are like the rest of us schmucks who have found ourselves in a mess of our own creating, now sober in the reality that we are no different than anyone else, I offer you some encouragement: my brother, my sister, loosen your grip just 10%. Turn off the strain and the desire to do it right. In time, what might surface may be some peace you have been looking for. Or, it may encourage you to take steps you had once been afraid of taking. Or, it may cost you friendships, friendships you needed to let go of a long time ago. It may even be the difference between living to the ripe old age of 92 instead of 65. I have no idea. No one does. But I do know your true nature is a hell of a lot cooler than the one you are showing everyone right now. And what is mind blowing is that it’s truly a breath away.

Alright you mindless fools, go to it!  But with just 10% less strain.

John Louviere

A special thank you to Scott Moore - yoga instructor / musician / friend.

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