ASH AMBIRGE

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When Following the Crowd is GOOD FOR YOU.

In: Feeling Dead and Uninspired

So the other day, it happened. There was one person stubborn enough to finally coerce me into doing the one thing I’d promised I’d never do.
I’d hedged for many painful weeks. (Okay, fine, months.) I’d squirmed and I’d squithered (new favorite word) and I’d writhed and I’d wriggled. And yet, she kept asking.

“Today at 5:30!”
“Are you coming today?”
“A little birdy told me today is the dayyyyyy.”

And every time I’d try really hard to talk myself into it, and then would talk myself out of it just as fast. “So busy!” “On deadline!” “Finishing up a work project!” “Have fun!” (And, to be fair, at least one time I was practically, clinically dead, plagued by a stomach bug of monumental heights.)

But Tuesday was different. I’m not sure what made Tuesday different, but it felt like the kind of day when changes needed to be made. The sun was shinier, the air more refreshing, the tendrils of plants sprouting out from the ground (and for once I actually noticed this crap). Everything about it felt like April, and I don’t know why, but April, to me, has always felt like more of a rejuvenation time than January. Blame it on the daffodils.

So I squeezed my little piglet feet through one hole, and then the other.

I pulled the stretchy pants up to my waist, and then decided to take them off in favor of the tighter ones—the Nikes that held in my stomach. (I’m pretty sure this is because they were too small, but DETAILS.) It was a trade-off, of course: flatter stomach, more camel toe. I was okay with that, though, because that’s what long tank tops are for, obviously.

When tasked with selecting the perfect sports bra (this was a big debut, after all), I first went with one that I knew wouldn’t cut into my back fat, because back fat is disgusting and I didn’t want to look at it in the mirror for an entire sixty minutes. (And I doubted anyone else did.) But then, to my great disappointment, my boobs felt like two flappy sacks of flour flip-flopping around inside a deflated circus tent, so I figured that in the event I HAD TO ACTUALLY MOVE, I’d better go with the tighter, more back-fatty version. Another trade off.

With just ten minutes before we were scheduled to meet, I texted her. She probably thought I was canceling…again. Instead, I just had a question:

“Wait—sneakers, or barefoot?”

I thought I knew the answer, but I wasn’t sure. Somehow I worried showing up with sneakers on would be the equivalent of wearing a one piece bathing suit on a nude beach.

“Barefoot!” she replied. “And bring a towel.”

Ah, yes, the requisite towel.  As a person who used to actually have to call time-outs during intense volleyball matches because I would sweat so much that it would burn my eyes, I am no stranger to terrycloth. Even when I was in the best shape of my life, I’d end up looking like I’d taken a shower with my clothes on. In fact, in an old photo from high school, the night we won the district championship—when I was captain, and we were celebrating with flowers and hugs and an entire community of people who had come to support us—I am wearing a different jersey than the rest of the team, because I had run to quickly change before photos started. I always wished I hadn’t.

So when she tells me to bring a towel, I don’t just bring one, but two. And as we arrive I alert the instructor he’s got a newbie on his hands. His response?

“If you can breathe, you can do this.”

And so it begins. I continually pop my head up like a jack-in-the-box, mirroring the people around me, trying to keep up. I bend and I fold and I breathe and I splay. Camel toe doesn’t occur to me even once. Neither does the towel. Instead, I focus on following the leader as much as possible—something that feels foreign to me, as someone who’s built an entire career, and life, based on doing the opposite.

We can see the ocean from where we are, high up in the timbers of a local spa called Holis. It is a different view of the ocean than the one I have from my house, here in Costa Rica—the capital of yoga these days, as it seems. Which is why it is funny to me that I have stayed so far away from it, for so many years—the idea of identifying with the hippie dippie, ayahuasca-tripping, essential oils toting crowd does not appeal. I am Philadelphia born, through and through, and everything about me screams, “city.” Or maybe, more accurately, “stupid girl in heels.”

But there, on Tuesday, something had changed.

I had this urge to let myself go there, and do this, unjudged. I have been my own harshest critic for too long. And so even when the time came for us to do “the goddess pose,” which in any other context would absolutely seem like someone defecating right onto the floor, I agree to really throw myself into it. Shitting for a higher purpose, I think to myself. I even went so far as to make the stupid little okay signs with my hands—even though that was almost one step too much.

And you know what?

For as weird as it had always looked to me from the outside, the moment I was there, surrounded by other people doing the same, it suddenly didn’t seem ALL THAT WEIRD ANYMORE. In fact, I wanted to mimic them, to do it well, to learn something they knew that I didn’t. (AKA have the body of the chick in front of me, because jesus CHRIST.)

And now, two days later, I think about how important that is for growth, to immerse yourself. How the dynamic changes, the moment you are not looking in from the outside, but sitting there in the war room. (Or squatting, as it were.) When you are surrounded by people who are doing the very same thing, you don’t feel weird anymore—and it lets you push pause on the self-judgment long enough to GROW. And it’s the same with everything, isn’t it? Think of the language learner who is afraid to sound stupid, rolling her R’s—until the moment she immerses herself in a culture full of people doing that same exact thing. Think of the dreamer who is told that her ideas are dumb—until she finds an entire tribe of people on the Internet who are doing exactly that.

I suspect that the sea of sameness, in this regard, can be a good thing. (The only time I have ever said this.) Being surrounded by other people doing the same thing, helps us shut the fuck up long enough to do what we have to do—and not ask so many questions. Maybe fitting in (…to your too small spandex) can helps us get the confidence we need to stand out. And maybe, just maybe, it’s possible that going with the flow once and a while—because I’ve got yoga puns now, you guys—doesn’t make you stagnate.

Stagnation does.

And Tuesday, in all its triumph, agrees.

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