So I find myself doing what feels like my 100th downward dog after my 90th warrior pose and the sweat is pouring off me. For the first time in a long time, I feel a bit dizzy and am contemplating stopping altogether. My yoga instructor actually looks like me (another first!): not as big as me but we both look like we could have played football. He is walking around the class reassuring us that this is the bit of the class where we can get the good stuff. If we push through the discomfort, goodness would be waiting for us at the other end. Part of me is thinking he can keep his goodness for himself as I’ve had quite enough, as I gaze down at the pool of sweat around my yoga mat. Another part of me is intrigued. What is this goodness he is talking about? Ever since giving up squash 2 years ago, I haven’t really pushed myself to this level of discomfort.
So I wipe the sweat from my eyes and push on, as he suggests. So does everyone else in the class, as a collective groan erupts across the room and we all look at each other asking the question, “Why, oh why are we paying to do this to ourselves?”
My other yoga class the following day is not quite as sweaty but as the name of the class is Power Yoga, it’s equally intense. Our instructor challenges us with the question, “How many of us have come to our mats believing we can’t do a particular position? Believing, it’s too hard for us and we can’t possibly do that?” She personally challenges me to do a handstand saying, “Come fly with me.” For context, I’m 6 foot 2 and weigh 114 kg. My instructor is definitely a foot shorter than me and my right leg alone may weigh more than her. So, understandably, I decide not to fly with her this time around. The person to my left however has already taken off, no invite required, and comes crashing down shortly after—collapsing forward from their handstand. I ask to do my handstand by the wall, where I would feel more comfortable in case I fall forward. I’m amazed how confident she is of being able to catch me.
After my class, I start reflecting on how different yoga is at this studio in the Washington DC area relative to the classes I used to attend back in Central London. People are definitely more expressive here and intense (which means passionate. People in the UK are passionate…but we hide it deep down inside of us). The US studios have a lot more heated classes and power yoga sessions versus the restorative yin yoga classes that are most popular back in London, or maybe those were just the classes that I chose during my time there.
My experience in the US has made me question my perspective, perceptions and beliefs. Where do they come from? I’m trying to make the connection between my conscious and unconscious self. One is driving the other and I want to be sure the coordinates have been set correctly.
As I compare things between UK and US, I realize that I am also more in touch with my Nigerian roots as I am now living in an area with more Nigerians. I find myself questioning what I do and what I have learnt, and learning to unlearn and redefine my identity so that I can keep growing. It’s not easy to question your identity. I know I’m Nigerian and proud of it. But I also spent over 25 years living in the UK, which has definitely had an impact on me. Since getting married, I have been more in touch with my Nigerian side, which has created some conflict in my mind. How can I be Nigerian when I do certain things differently? When I look at my closest friends, it sometimes forces me to question whether I am truly Nigerian. Now I’m in the US, a completely different culture, and I have started noticing my British influences, which actually shocks me. I never thought of myself as British while actually living in the UK, despite being there for 25 years.
So as I think of the arrival of Baby Nwabueze, I ponder what can I share with him/her on how to navigate their global world. I have always believed we are firstly human. The color of your skin and where you are from is secondary. Yes, it informs your identity but being human (and humane) comes first. When I pick friends, I focus on the human side. I always try to be flexible with my identity, marrying my roots with the experiences that life throws my way so that I can maintain peace of mind. I find that when you become too rigid or see things in black and white, it creates tension in the mind and you are unable to adapt to your changing environment.
So today in yoga when the yoga instructor urged me to fly, before I know it I’m flying: doing the handstand with no wall to catch me, just my petite instructor. I push past my safety point where I think I will fall, but instead of panicking I simply move my hand to the side to catch myself and balance and come back down. The whole experience left me thinking, “Wow, that wasn’t so hard.” More flying to come!