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The Myth of Certainty

From control to corona to yoga

Pooja Salhotra
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Pooja Salhotra

FLOW LIKE WATER At the iconic Gerald D. Hines Water Wall by the Galleria, Pooja Salhotra practices upward-facing-dog, a foundational and powerful yoga posture. (Photo: Diego Ramirez)

If coronavirus has taught me one lesson, it’s that certainty is the biggest myth of all. Just when I had fooled myself into believing that with enough planning and foresight I could control my life, boom: shelter-in-place order. The trip I was planning with my college roommates to Arizona? Cancelled. Friends’ weddings? Postponed indefinitely. Cousins’ graduations? Relegated to Zoom. Any semblance of a routine? Throw that out the window.

The economy was crashing; millions of people were losing their jobs; the news was saturated with devastating stories of individuals dying alone – no loved ones there to say their last goodbyes. Even as one of the lucky ones, who had a job and my health, I struggled to take it all in. Dinner table conversations eventually turned to the inevitable question: Will things ever be normal again?

In a way, I had been here before – forced to count my blessings and create a new normal. Two years ago, I left Harvard Law School. I remember weeks of strange muscle soreness and insomnia and futile attempts to control the relentless chatter in my mind before I requested a leave of absence from my dean. Physically worn and mentally drained after battling an episode of severe anxiety, I moved back home with my parents in Bellaire. Never would I have predicted that I’d be unemployed and living in my childhood bedroom at 25 years old. But there I was.

Friends and family tried to comfort me by reasoning that I was taking a “gap year.” I’d been moving non-stop since I was a teenager, from high school to college to a job to law school, and everyone needs a reset, they told me. Inside, I think I always knew this wasn’t about to be a gap year. I was embarking on a new way of life. Instead of following the worn path, I was forging my own future.

Amid uncertainty about what my so-called gap year would entail, possibilities started to open up. At The Buzz, where I had started working part-time, I soon had stories coming my way left and right. My editors asked me to explore Houston’s vibrant new restaurants and food halls. They challenged me to write about sensitive subjects like suicide and a high school shooting. They trusted me to tell personal stories about neighbors.

Instead of letting doubt or anxiety take over, I said yes. I said yes to full-time at The Buzz, and I said yes to tackling stories I didn’t know how to write. When you know in your bones that nothing is guaranteed, there is no risk in trying. The greater risk is in letting the opportunity pass you by.

In most cases, I had little time to think about how I’d approach a story before I found myself jumping into it. It was never a given that a story would pan out. Many of my ideas went nowhere. But some of them landed somewhere.

It’s been a wild ride. In a year that could have been, at best, a time to learn to better manage mental health and, at worst, a failed experiment of living with my parents as an adult, I discovered self-growth. I’ve become a better writer, listener and collaborator. I’ve covered holidays like Juneteenth and Ramadan. I’ve explored screen addiction and Mutton Bustin’. I’ve profiled a heart-transplant recipient and a 61-year-old marathon runner. I’ve discovered that every person – no matter who they are, where they live or what they have or have not yet accomplished – has a story. You just have to be willing to listen.

At home, I’ve realized that my parents aren’t the worst roommates in the world. They’re actually, in a lot of ways, the best. It’s easy to take for granted the people who give us the space to show up as ourselves.

Viewing uncertainty as an opportunity to create something new is not my natural way. When coronavirus upended our lives, I felt discomfort. There was no guaranteed end date to the virus. I craved a return to normalcy – an afternoon at my favorite coffee shop, interviewing people in person, meeting up with old friends. All I wanted was a return to what was. I felt like my life had gotten back on track, and suddenly, everything was a mess.

Yet what saved me from spiraling downwards while in quarantine was giving up the idea that things needed to return to how they were. Instead, I allowed in what could be – and what could only be – because of quarantine.

Astroworld

IT'’S BEEN A WILD RIDE While working for The Buzz, writer and photographer Pooja Salhotra has covered pretty much everything. She captured this shot while covering Astroworld, the music festival launched by Houston rapper Travis Scott. (Photo: Pooja Salhotra)

Before coronavirus, I had signed up for a 200-hour, yoga-teacher training program that would run from April through June. A few months before the program would start, it became clear that an in-person training would be impossible. I expected the yoga studio to cancel the program. Instead, they decided to offer the program online via Zoom, also giving students the option to cancel and receive a refund or defer to a future program.

“I guarantee you that this is going to be the best thing that we’ve ever done. I can promise you that.” Though BIG Power Yoga cofounder Nancy Perry said these words with the utmost sincerity and conviction, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. How could a yoga program, meant to be taught hands-on and interactively, work online?

Despite my skepticism, I said yes. Maybe deep down, I understood the power of one’s word. As I would soon read in author Don Miguel Ruiz’s book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, “Through your word you express your creative power. It is through the word that you manifest everything.”

In other words, when Nancy said the program would be incredible, she was committing to manifesting something extraordinary – even if she didn’t yet know how. 

True to her word, the program was a success. I don’t know if Nancy would call the program the best thing her company has ever done. But it certainly was the best gift I’ve ever given to myself.

In the early phases of quarantine, yoga became my saving grace. The people training with me became my friends, support network and guides – all from their tiny Zoom squares. Instead of getting stuck in my thoughts and anxieties about the future of our planet, my weekends were spent discussing yoga philosophy and self-leadership, having dance parties and singing (yes, we do all of that in yoga-teacher training).

I honestly did not expect to become a yoga teacher. When I signed up for the training, I figured that only some people who graduated would be capable of teaching. I didn’t see that for myself. I signed up to get better at yoga and to learn something new.

But now, I’m teaching three of my own yoga classes a week on Zoom. I am launching a socially conscious business that offers donation-based yoga classes online, with a portion of proceeds going to non-profit organizations whose missions I support.

I once again discovered that in the face of uncertainty, we can create anything we choose. If you really think about it, we need some amount of uncertainty for there to exist any possibility of greatness. If everything was certain, life would be a bore.

Today, there is so little that I know about my future and the future of our world. Will there be a vaccine for coronavirus in the foreseeable future? Will the protests unfolding across our country lead to concrete changes and advances in racial justice? Are we going to be able to curb climate change?

I am planning to start a journalism program at NYU in the fall, but as the pandemic presses on, I don’t know if it will be safe to uproot and move to New York. If it’s not, will I still live with my parents, as I’m nearing 27 years old? With the world constantly changing, what will I be reporting on this fall?

I honestly don’t know the answers to any of these questions. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t uncomfortable being in this state of unknowing. But, as I learned in yoga, there’s a difference between pain and discomfort. Pain might be a sign to get out of a situation. But discomfort is a sign of growth. It means we’re on the cusp of the next big thing. Moving through discomfort and adversity prepares us to better handle the challenges coming next – and there will be more challenges. 

So here I am, discomfort and all, fully aware of just one thing: Quite anything is possible.

Editor’s note: Pooja was born and raised in Houston and is a St. John’s School and Yale University graduate. See @poojasyoga on social media and, for more of her stories, click here.

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