Spring Cleaning: April 24 and early May 2013

There are few things I enjoy in Boston quite as much as a walk down Newbury Street. Especially in those hours when it isn't glutted with people in midsummer heat, I love looking at all the storefronts with their impeccably-styled mannequins and at the cafes with even more impeccably-styled European tourists seated outside. In my almost two years in Boston, the street has served me in many ways aside from the leisurely walk. Newbury has left me well-fed from indulgent brunches at Trident and well-caffeinated from macchiatos at Pavement--and well-near-broke from the occasional shopping spree or spa day. But of all the ways the street has left me, the best is that Newbury left me simply well, starting between Berkeley and Clarendon.

If you're unfamiliar, Athleta is a women's lifestyle clothing brand I'd describe as having products suited to a wider age bracket and wider variety of activities than that provided by its most obvious competitor--Lululemon.

Even though I'd walked past the Athleta storefront at 92 Newbury on many a walk, I don't think I'd gone in there more than a handful of times, and whenever I did, I came out empty-handed save for a calendar of free fitness classes for the month. Every time, I promised myself that I would attend one. The internal dialogue sounded something like this:
"Hey, Erica. There's a free running club at Athleta this week. Why don't you try it?"
"You know I can't run--it gives me pain."
"What about yoga? There's a class on Wednesday at 8. You'd have plenty of time to go home and get settled and take a nice walk down Newbury Street."
"Why would I want to go in a class to sit and stretch until I fall asleep?"
"You know, you're basing your understanding of yoga on the 2 times you did it in seventh grade with a really mediocre teacher."
"Whatever. I don't like the types of people who do yoga. They're all trendy, wealthy yuppies who are thinner and happier than I am."
"Ah--there's the real issue. You're scared and insecure. Ok. Come back and talk to me later when you're willing to try something different. I'll wait as long as you need."

At the time, I couldn't tell you why. Maybe it was because I was terrified about being put under for my first surgical procedure--an upper endoscopy, to get biopsied for celiac disease--the next day. Maybe it was because my mom was in town for the procedure and I wanted to bond with her by trying to actually exercise with her instead of just resenting her for her love of exercise. At any rate, on April 24, 2013, after a light dinner at Stephanie's on Newbury and a quick trip to City Sports for some cheap yoga mats, my mom and I headed to the free Wednesday night yoga class at 8PM at Athleta. The teacher, Nina Petruzzo, was thin, petite, and blonde and there were plenty of people in the class who would fit any of the stereotypes I'd developed about yogis. But at this point, I was done with arguing with myself and finding excuses that were serving only to keep me in a state of fear and unhappiness.

One hour later, my mom and I agreed: "I'm glad we did this. It wasn't what I expected."

While I hadn't fallen head-over-heels in love with yoga, I was surprised to notice that I certainly didn't hate it. I had to admit that felt a little bit better that night, and I felt far more at ease heading to the hospital the next morning.

From there, I ended up making good on all the months I didn't try the classes at Athleta, trying four or five of the free classes at the store over the next three weeks. There was a terrible Pilates class and then an excellent one with Swan Lyon, another great yoga class with Jenna Hill and a mediocre one with someone I don't remember.

And on one of those Saturdays, there was a class with Catherine Hummel.

I'm pretty sure that if I met Catherine on the street at the time, I'd have found her annoyingly energetic and happy to the point that it made me uncomfortable. But in her class, as I surrendered to her instruction for the next hour, I didn't feel that way at all. Something was about to go miraculously right.

She started the class by having us pick from a deck of cards containing an affirmation for the day ("Whatever that means," I thought). I don't remember what mine said, but I remember being struck by her little introduction. She told us to take care of ourselves during class and to lose the serious "yoga faces" and smile.

I chuckled, reminded me of the sweet girl in early 8th grade who gently told the first boy she'd eventually date, "You should smile more." This was the pure-hearted version of myself that I had buried and forgotten and wanted to remember.

The class was a gentle flow--energizing but not too overpowering for a Saturday morning. Throughout the class, Catherine felt very real to me, not taking herself as seriously as other yoga teachers. She was radiant and also something I didn't know what to call at the time, but I now understand as present--truly being in the moment. She was playful and joyful, and she made it seem as if her joy was something you could have, too, if you just asked her how to get it.

Which I did. I asked her after class. And then I hired her as a life coach in early May 2013.

"I used to walk around wondering if there was a happy pill other people were taking that I just didn't have," she told me in our first session.

I had exact thought all the time and was shocked to hear it from her, that she could relate. I thought, "You? Unhappy? Was that ever really a thing?" I couldn't imagine her as anything other than the energetic, ebullient person in front of me, but what she had said about the way she used to live gave me hope.

It gave me reason to believe I could change, too. I was gasps away from drowning in an ocean of limiting beliefs about my life and hateful thoughts about myself. I spent more time trying to save myself from drowning than from actually living.

I didn't know I could get on a life raft. I didn't know (or have faith) that I could swim to shore. And I didn't know I could take it easy on myself and simply float. I was afraid that the moment I stopped trying so hard to tread water that the world would end.

I didn't know I had a choice. If there's one thing I have learned since last spring, it's that I do have a choice. Every morning when I wake up. I can be willing to side with love and to see fear as a choice rather than something real. Or, paraphrasing Einstein, I can choose to live as if nothing is a miracle, or I can choose to live as if everything is a miracle.