Mental Health

Syamatara, Sitatara, Kurukulla

downward-dog-yoga-pose*This is an old essay, but one I am very fond of. I hope you like it too.*

Yoga has become a thing in my life—to the point where people ask me what I did last weekend and I say “yoga.” Yikes. But yoga does for me what it claims to do, which makes me not a poser: yoga gives me moments of mental respite. There are actual moments in yoga, when I am inverted, or bending laterally, or feeling the strength of my arms and legs hold up my torso, where I do not think. And I never recognize it when I’m there, only when it has passed. Thankfully.

There are so many poses, each with their own mystical name—names that harken back to nature, to another mystical place: Compass, Bow, Wild Thing, Ragdoll, Grasshopper, Monkey. I am not good at many of the poses, but I am getting better. My muscles seem to remember things that I do not. On the yoga mat, I am the most connected to my body, but also the least aware of what it is doing, how it is behaving. My mind does not seem to control much. It is a relief.

* * *

Bad things have been happening all year. I text my brother to let him know how worried I am about Israel and Palestine. “People are bloodthirtsty savages,” I type. “Things were way worse a thousand years ago,” he responds. “It’s only getting better.” I know he’s right but there’s got to be something said for not feeling that he’s right. As I’m thinking of a rebuttal to his optimistic (realistic) outlook, I get another message from him: “go to bed”.

* * *

As Chicago begins to thaw, so too does the thick layer of ice that encapsulated me—I was becoming unstuck, able to move again, and breathe freely. I took pleasure out of things, small as they may be: a tidy living room, an overheard conversation between mother and son on the train, the sunny side of a street. These are not big things, but they are enough to keep me going so that I can get where I needed to be without mentally collapsing.

I wouldn’t say there was much joy or fun in my life. In fact, I’m not sure how much fun I’ll ever have. I have not yet come to terms with this, but I’m on my way. And not in a woe-is-me-life’s-so-hard sort of way. And not in a defeatist, but I’m pretending to accept it way either. I am just changing my expectations, I think. Redefining what life can be. I think what I want is for my life to be meaningful—meaningful to me. I want to be proud. I want to say that I gave everything I had, that I wasn’t afraid. That I really tried. Maybe I didn’t enjoy every moment, or even half of them, but I felt every moment. I allowed them each to carve me into the shape I have become, the shape that changes with each experience.

* * *

I lay on my back and work my way into Wheel—bend and fold around, my head hanging down as I push against my hands and feet that are holding me up in this inverted pose. Things look different here and I try and stay as long as I can before I must go back down. Allow yourself to remember the space without holding on to the pose, my instructor Sharon says. I am not entirely sure what she means, but I think I have some idea, and I am confident I can feel my way from the hazy understanding to something more solid.

* * *

I have purchased a membership to the Shedd Aquarium. I am both pleased with how often I go, and also slightly embarrassed that many of my trips there are solo. What’s your favorite thing there, a coworker asks me. The shark embryo.

In the basement of the Shedd, there is a shark on the verge of birth. You can see the embryo in development; it is backlit and the sac shines a deep orange with the dark shadow of the shark-to-be. It’s held in a tank-like box, at about knee-level, probably for small children to enjoy. When I crouch down to look at it, it is constantly quivering, gentle vibrations of a beating life.

* * *

There was a menacing man on the El one day. My racial stereotyping made me think he was just like everyone else boarding the train from the platform—he was Asian. How many crazy Asians do you see walking around? I read my book and he paced up and down the center of the train. He stopped in front of a father and his toddler daughter. The father was holding her on his lap, and smiling and talking to her. I had seen them almost every morning of my commute.

The man lumbered over them, turned to face them, and started laughing maniacally. The toddler looked up at him, bewildered, wide-eyed. The man turned and walked back down the center aisle, toward me. He stopped at me. I pretended to read. This man is going to smack me against the side of the head, I thought. How will the train folk respond to that? This man is going to pull out a sword and slice off my head, like that man in Canada did on a cross-country bus. What will the train folk do? How will the toddler look at me? At my head rolling down the center aisle. None of it came to pass. The man walked away from me, and continued pacing up and down the aisle for the next 20 minutes until I arrived at my stop.

* * *

In yoga, there is no stillness. Yes, there is the illusion of stillness. You hold a pose. But the micro-movements, the constant adjustments that create the pose are what the pose is actually about. I stand in Warrior 2, my front knee bent, my back leg long and strong, my arms outstretched parallel to the ground. I tighten my leg muscle around my bone. I reach farther with my fingertips. I push my shoulders down. I soften my jaw. And then I do it all over again.

Everything can change, and does, even when it feels like it never, ever will. I don’t always believe it. But here is the proof.

* * *

It feels like the world is crumbling. It seems like Malaysian planes are constantly falling out of the sky, the most prominent HIV researchers on board. A young couple is tortured, murdered, and beheaded by a Craigslist killer, and then a college student or two or a dozen get raped and murdered. Iraq—at war. Gaza—at war. Ukraine—at war, and we have already forgotten about Syria, and the missing Nigerian girls, and drug cartels in Mexico. The Chicago night cracks with the sound of stray bullets that careen toward little girls playing on the floor of their bedrooms.

And here I lay in bed, the dog cozied up to the crook of my knees, the ceiling fan whirring a gentle hum, blowing a soft coolness onto my face. I am so lucky, and so very guilty.

* * *

I was agitated, not a good way to start the yoga session. My gym was in Boystown, meaning plenty of gorgeous, incredibly groomed gay men. One of these gorgeous men tried to steal my spot—my favorite spot—the corner of the room I always unrolled my mat. Ex-CYOOZ me, he said, and backed his toned butt up to lay his orange mat down right in front of me. I was forced to sit in a new spot in the studio, a lesson Yoga Sharon had been trying to teach us for weeks (“Get out of your comfort zone! In more ways than one!”). So I did, but not by choice. As the room quieted down, she began to speak. Let’s start the class with three Oms, she said. Three Oms, at your own pace, following your own breath. Don’t wait for me, she said. I closed my eyes, placed my hands palm up in my lap, and opened my mouth in a round O shape. The room—my god, the room. The sound was like nothing I’d heard before. Every voice, and there were fifty or so, complemented every other voice, none the same, but not one bad note, not one off key pitch, not one wrong tempo. It moved the earth underneath me. It changed the force within me. It would have knocked me off my feet if I had not been sitting cross-legged. The final mmmm sound finished. That first burst of light after you close your eyes intentionally, then flutter them open. You are birthed anew into the world. It is light for the first time ever. Wow, she said. Was it just me, or was that something spectacular? She knew it. I knew it. We all did.

* * *

I hear myself talking about Ebola all the time. To poor, unsuspecting souls. I rattle off facts and figures, quote newspaper articles and historical information. I sound like a know-it-all asshole, and worse, a worrywart. Not that I’m worried about Ebola spreading to the United States, no, I am worried about the state of humanity, and I say so. “What I’m worried about is how far we have sunk as human beings when we can watch thousands of West Africans die without doing a thing.” At dinner, they all nod in agreement. I know they want me to shut the fuck up. I want me to shut the fuck up. But I don’t. For me or for the West Africans? Unclear. I donated to Doctors Without Borders this week. And I didn’t tell anyone, so I think probably my intentions are pure.

* * *

After a few classes with Yoga Sharon, I knew I had to write her a friend love letter. To let her know that I thought she was a special being, an enlightened person, and a really good yoga teacher. I wrote to her on a Wednesday. She didn’t respond for almost two weeks, during which I set my mat in the back of the yoga class, in case she intuited that I was the freak who had written her a stalker email. I told myself she was too enlightened to answer, that email was a transient artifice to her, that she got so many love letters there wasn’t enough time in the day. I felt dumb. And then she responded and was kind. And I started doing downward dog in the front of the room again.

* * *

Be sweet to yourself, says my therapist, then continues talking. I am lost in thought within milliseconds, trying to find a way out of this maze. Instead of thinking about ways to be sweet to myself, I think about why good equals sweet. What if you prefer salt? What if that’s what makes you feel good? Could you be salt to yourself? Who decides these things anyway? Because in the end, when all is said and done, when it is written and stone, and revised to perfection, salt and sugar, both, wear away at everything they touch.

* * *

I will tell you the truth. Sometimes I feel like a real pretentious shmo for writing about yoga. Sometimes, my ideas for how to organize a piece around yoga are so inane, so gimmicky, that it fills me with disdain for myself, for yoga, and most of all for Lululemon and the commodification of the practice. At least I can say I have no Lululemon clothes.

That’s a lie. I have one pair of yoga pants. They cost $80 and I bought them five years ago and I am regretting that decision still. I almost never wear them, and usually opt for holey, thin stretch pants—the kind reminiscent of stirrup pants from third grade. The pants are generally accompanied by a ratty wife beater. I pride myself on this look. Then immediately scold myself for priding myself on something so dumb, something that makes me no better than the Lululemon girls. Everything is complicated and nothing can just be. Except the occasional magical and fleeting moment in yoga.

* * *

It is spring in Chicago now, which means weather oscillates between 40 degrees and 85 degrees. On my walks with Ernie, I often see these shriveled up purple berries clinging to vines that climb up the beautiful 1920s art deco buildings in my neighborhood. They look like the dried up versions of the purple berries that I used to smush between my fingers as a kid, the ones that stained my clothes and that I’d rub against trees and large rocks, writing my name surrounded by hearts and stars. These berries may or may not be the same one; what saddens me most is that if these are the same berries, they represent the transition I have gone through as a woman—once full of juice, once full of color, once painting the world around me; and now arid, wrinkled, lacking of life force. I’m 30. Trust me, I know how I sound—an exaggerating, overdramatic worrier. But I can’t help how I feel. I can’t help that I spend my late nights researching cryogenic egg freezing and the cost of artificial insemination. The one thing that makes me proud: I will accomplish what I want—what I need—no matter how I get there. There is still life in me, there is still life that will spring from me. There is no doubt in me about that.

* * *

Yoga Sharon begins and ends class with a brief discussion on some aspect of yoga—mental, physical, spiritual. I sit with my eyes closed, palms face up on my lap, and try and focus on the words floating in the air, her tinkling laugh lighting up my insides. One class, she talked about samskara. In Hinduism samskaras means impressions; the imprints left on the subconscious mind by experience in this or previous lives. Samskaras change who you are, they leave the grooves we spend our lives trying to understand and outwit. They paint your life. You are not you without these samskaras.

* * *

As a girl, I was proud of the bruises and scrapes on my legs, the callouses on my feet. It makes me wild, I thought. And that is what I wanted. To be untamed. No. To have never been tame at all. To not know the meaning of the word.

* * *

Whoever tells you that being single is as good as being with someone is lying to you.

I was brought to the verge of tears when trying to figure out how many withholdings I should take on my W-4. Starting a new job, I had to decide what type of health insurance was the best for my needs, how much I could afford to contribute to a retirement plan, and other financial conundrums that I can’t seem to decipher, no matter how many internet resources I use.  Someone please help me figure this shit out.

I have to take the dog out even when I’m laid up in bed with the flu. I can only buy so many groceries on each shopping trip because my arms give out halfway through the walk home. Sure, there are ways around these issues, but navigating life without a partner to take some of the load off isn’t easy.

And I’m not even taking into account the love aspect. The comfort and joy brought on by having someone in your life to talk about a day at the office, or eat half the meal you cooked, or lay in bed with you at night.

I sound whiny and weak, and maybe even financially dumb. But I am starting to see why people settle. Can I create the life I really want alone? No. I can’t. And no matter how confident I feel in my own skin, how much I love myself, how content I feel on a given hour during the day, I can’t just will a boyfriend or husband. And that means my life will be very different than the one I imagined for myself.

* * *

Everything Yoga Sharon says makes sense. Pure and simple. I question nothing that comes out of her mouth. How is she even possible and how can I be like her? I am in triangle pose, my legs outstretched along an invisible line, my torso leaning down with my hand on my shin, my other hand stretched straight up. I am struggling. My thigh muscles are shaking, and my neck is craned in an uncomfortable way. She glides over to me, moves my limbs in microadjustments, her hands cool against my clammy skin. Effort and ease together, she whispers to me. I want to cry because it is so simple and so, so difficult.

* * *

I love to watch Ernie fall asleep. He starts to sway slowly forwards and back, his eyes getting smaller and smaller. He is like a child who wants so badly to stay awake, to not miss any of the fun, regardless of the fact that the fun is me wiping nail polish from my nails. Eventually, his head starts to sag. Eventually, he inches closer and closer to the bed, lying sideways. I try my best not to wake him, but it is no use. The slightest movement, a breath too deep, and he’s wide awake. I search for meaning behind the pleasure I take in this. It does not reveal itself to me. Maybe there is no meaning at all. But believing that means you might as well go to sleep and never wake up.

* * *

Stuff that gives me anxiety: the fact that I have too many bottles of nail polish—when will I ever use all of those colors? Will I have enough money to retire? What are we going to do when we run out of natural resources because we’ve developed all of the land? Is my brain rotting away because of how many pop culture magazines I read? Will I be able to lose the baby weight from the hypothetical child I will carry? Will I ever have a child? How will I have the time to read all of the books I want to read? Why do I only wear 1/8 of the clothes in my closet? Will the homeless man on my corner starve or freeze to death and if I gave him more money would he live?

Long stretches of time alone lead to long trains of terrifying thought. The small stuff leads to the big and too many bottles of nail polish leads to questions of mortality, soul-crushing aloneness, and my sense of purpose for being on this earth. It is exhausting. Is it all chemical? And if so, why are the several chemicals I put in my body not helping me enough?

* * *

November 2014

Dear X,

I am blocked, I can’t seem to write anything. So I thought maybe a letter would suffice for this week. I think it’s because I have been skipping work and sleeping a lot. I am lacking in energy, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it has something to do with the change in the weather—it is now 25 degrees here on a regular basis. Not even mid November. My mom keeps asking me how I’m going to survive winter, and I have to remind her over and over that I survived winter last year. She asks me the same question during the next phone conversation. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t listen when I speak.

Lately I have been thinking about love, a lot. Well, not lately. Probably 85% of my waking hours for the past decade or so. I haven’t had a boyfriend in 5 years. That’s a long time. That’s a long time for a person who is not heinous looking and doesn’t have serious social issues. Or, maybe I do, and I just don’t know it. I am now at the age where I have to think about “what if…” What if I don’t get married? What if I don’t fall in love? What if my life doesn’t follow the traditional trajectory I always thought it would? Don’t tell anyone, but I have started saving money, in a special account and all, for the baby that I foresee myself having as a single mother circa age 35. That is less than 5 years away… five years is not a long time from now. There is already $5000 in the account. So I think the babies’ first few months are taken care of. I don’t want to be a single mom. But I will do it if I have to.

My dad and uncle and little brother came to visit me a month ago. I hadn’t seen my uncle in almost ten years; he came from Iran. I had to sit down and talk with him and my dad about what is to become of my brother when my dad is no longer in the picture. It did not go well. My dad is 75 already, and not in the best health. These are real things. Real things that need real answers. But there are no real answers. There aren’t even pretend answers. There doesn’t seem to be any solution, and everyone would rather say “things will be taken care of” in this strange, nebulous, the-universe-will-take-care-of-it bullshit philosophy as opposed to sitting down and trying to map out a plan. I already know what’s going to happen: my dad will die, my mom will try and take care of my brother, she will fail, it will end up on me. I know that’s how things will turn out. And it scares me. But I know.

Tara Ebrahimi: age 38, single mother with a small child  (father unknown), currently residing in a small two bedroom apartment in Chicago with the small child and developmentally delayed brother and aging beagle mix. Income: $60,000/year. Celibate for 8 years, and counting.

It’s kind of funny but it’s not all that funny when I tell you that it is my worst fear to live the above life. And yet, that is how I see things panning out for myself. Sometimes I tell myself if I stop wanting so much, that’s when good things will happen. But sometimes when I stop wanting, I tell myself, if you stop wanting, it means you’ve stopped hoping, and if you’ve stopped hoping, you might as well lay down, shut your eyes, and stop breathing. Tell me what to do, X. I would rather follow your directions blindly than have to make any choices or decisions for myself. That’s how tired I am. 

One thing that is nice about yoga is that I have almost completely let go of ego when I’m on the mat in the studio. I can tell you with all honesty, that I don’t look at what other people do on their mats, for almost the whole time I practice. It would be false to say that 100% of the time, I focus only on me, but I truly believe it’s like 95% of the time. And the funny thing is, I don’t even look at myself. I don’t look at myself in the reflection of the window, or look how straight I’m holding my leg up. Instead, I feel. I feel the muscle clenching around the bone. I feel my strength during my first down dog of the day versus the last down dog of the day. It is tremendous how much you can learn and feel when you put aside vanity. But maybe if I were more vain, I would have a boyfriend. Maybe if I curled my hair and wore blush every day, someone would love me. Maybe if I were thinner and dumber, I would be happy.

I’m not unhappy, I guess. I just know there are things out there that I want, that I don’t have. God, how greedy. But it’s just love, I swear! That’s the thing I want. And if I got it, I’d use it only for good, I promise. I would be a nicer person, a more patient one. I would be better.

I met Jeremy the night of my birthday party. He was getting his phd in English at UCLA, had graduated from Yale. He was a friend of a friend, and we talked all night, and danced at the bar. I asked his friend if he had a girlfriend. They just broke up, she told me. He asked me if he could buy me a drink. I said no, but that he could walk me home. And he did. And we talked about poetry and other pretentious things, and some less pretentious things, and some pretty inane things too. Outside of my door, I invited him up. He said he couldn’t, he was trying to work things out with his girlfriend. We dawdled for 20 minutes. He wanted to come up. I wanted him to come up. Stop looking at me so sexy, he said. Ok, I said. And I walked up to my apartment and left him. Inside my apartment, I cried, and started eating birthday cake in bed, like every female starlet in every terrible romantic comedy. I guess the trope came from somewhere…. I got a call. It was Jeremy. Buzz me in, he said. And I did. And I quickly wiped the cake off my face and opened the door to him.

Goodnight birthday girl, he said, holding my hand in bed as we drifted off to sleep.

What did you dream about, he asked, when we both fluttered our eyes open the next morning, ribbons of sunshine beaming in through the blinds, imprinting stripes on our bare legs.



* * *

I admire Yoga Sharon from afar, like she is a movie star. I’m not one of those Yoga Sharon groupies, who bring her gifts from travels to India or are overly handsy with their hugs. This is perhaps the one time in my life I have practiced boundaries. She has so much to give, but she must want to keep some of it for herself and I don’t want to dim her light by absorbing more than what she has offered up to me. Those of us in her class, we feel we know her but we don’t. I’ve created a narrative for her in my head, crafted from bits and pieces of information she shares: she recently got engaged, she has a website but not a Twitter, she recently had a death in the family and in the mourning period students would go up and express their condolences and hug her. So many hugs. It made me exhausted and drained just to watch.

I wonder what she thinks of me? Probably nothing. I hope at least she recognizes me as the girl who always sits in the same spot next to the window, and who removes her glasses before the oms. That I simply exist as matter in her world is enough.

* * *

There are only so many causes a girl can care about. I’m not sure which to choose, and I’m not sure my choice matters anyway. “That Tara,” they say. “She has a strong opinion about everything.” I even annoy myself.

  1. don’t order Jimmy Johns—they make their employees sign NDAs
  2. don’t buy stuff at Walmart—they pay their employees like shit
  3. don’t get manicures and pedicures—those women are essentially indentured servants
  4. only use biodegradable dog poop bags—regular plastic destroys the earth
  5. don’t watch the Duggars—they are right wing nuts jobs


  1. 80% of my coworkers order Jimmy Johns at least once a week and I probably would too if I liked the taste of the their sandwiches
  2. Sometimes on my way home, Walmart is the only place that has cheap toilet paper.
  3. I don’t get them anymore but according to numerous news outlets, not supporting these stores basically does shit to help the employees, so…
  4. When I run out of the “green” poop bags, I use the Walmart plastic bags from my toilet paper purchases—the really thin flimsy kind that definitely kill aquatic life
  5. I read Us Weekly—it features the Duggars 40% of the time.

I think about these injustices, mostly to torture myself or convince myself I am better. I am only better when it is easy. When it is hard, I am like everyone else.

* * *

After class one day, I walked up to Yoga Sharon and asked her a question. It was the first time I spoke with her after a year of being in her class. I had latched onto something she said during practice, and tried really hard to hold on to the idea but of course it broke apart into pieces and some of those pieces slid away, the harder I tried to hold on. So it goes.

What was that thing you said about binds, I asked her. When we were practicing our Warrior 2 bind?

Oh yes, she said, and smiled. Talking to her was like staring into the sun. I could barely form words and stopped listening for a moment because I got lost. But she looked at me and gave me a moment to regain myself.

The binds show you where you’re bound, she said. And that allows you to find the room to get free from them.

* * *

What kind of mom will I be? I think about this often.

Is it bad that I let Ernie eat his eye boogers? Is it bad that I only sometimes wash vegetables and fruits? Or that sometimes I wear dirty socks off the floor? What habits will be transferred to my kids, either through education or osmosis? What habits am I not even willing to admit to those closest to me? I let Ernie track dirt into my sheets, as I am a firm believer of god made dirt and dirt don’t hurt. And those are just the dirty truths I’m willing to commit to paper and sign my name to. But we must guard some things. Full disclosure feels selfish in it’s unfiltered purity. Don’t air your dirty laundry. Only air it when it’s clean. Or when you’ve sprayed it with febreeze and blotted out the stains with a wet rag.

* * *

Because we have the culture we have, because we as a society have a hard time comprehending nuanced emotion, feelings that do not fit neatly into columns and rows, I feel the need to make something crystal clear: I am not in love with Yoga Sharon. I have no romantic or sexual inclinations toward Yoga Sharon. Besides she is not even my type—far too beautiful and good. But she is special. Everyone sees it. Being in her orbit makes me feel like a better person. She heals me, for 2 hours every Saturday.

* * *

What kind of person am I?

The kind who doesn’t use paper toilet-seat protectors in a public bathroom.

The kind who wishes she could wear high heels and still be able to walk fluidly.

The kind who wants a man to help her carry groceries the five blocks back to her house so she can buy the sparkling water she likes without worrying about tensing her shoulders under the weight.

The kind who thinks it’s acceptable, even adorable, to wear ripped, holey jeans to a party.

The kind who spends $300 on a designer dress for a wedding, in order to impress an ex boyfriend.

The kind who talks to her dog while tying him up outside of CVS.

The kind who says inappropriate things at work.

The kind who cries at work.

The kind who offers up her house to stray friends.

The kind whose hair is always frizzy, even when smoothed down with water.

The kind who can’t imagine ever referring to herself as anything other than a girl, not a woman, even at the age of 30, even, most likely, at the age of 40. Girl until grandma.

None of it means all that much. But I guess it means something. Ask me again some time. Maybe then, I’ll know for a fact it means everything. Or maybe I will be a different kind of person then.

* * *

What does it mean to be young? To make mistakes over and over again? When do you start to learn? And change? When does it stop being ok? When does it cross over into being an object of pity? When does real life begin? Did I miss the starting line?

* * *

I live near a lake now and a lake is very different than the ocean. Nevermind the logistics: the depths, the expanse, the temperatures, and the sealife. I’m standing on a pier in the northern part of the city, it is a full moon, and the lake is silver black. Why am I standing on this pier on a work night, holding a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Look up, says my friend. Look up, I’ve been wanting to show you this for a while. There are small dots of light in all corners of the sky. One, two, three, four, I count as my head swivels. Some are small, some are large, but they are all following an invisible trajectory to arrive at the invisible line directly above my head. One dot, followed by another, then another. This is the flight path to the airport. I crane my neck up and watch them fly over—silent, except for the whispered hello, goodbye, hello, goodbye of the current against the sand. The planes fly out of sight, I picture them landing on a lit-up runway, but new ones appear on the horizon, making their way to the path overhead. One moment, they are far away, and before I know it, they are gone. Before I know it, it will be morning, and time for work. I walk up the pier, out to the street, and catch a cab home.

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