You arrive at class, lay out your mat, and maybe grab a drink or chat with a friend. When you finally settle onto your mat, you start to scan through your body. Maybe your eyes close as you concentrate on your breath. These are the moments where your practice is made.
Getting on your mat felt like exercise at first, but then slowly you started to discover the quiet peace that you found in breath and stillness. It may be a struggle to get there, but it is never a disappointment. These are the thoughts of the good times. Then it happens…
Maybe it is a smell or a fleeting thought that brings on the emotions. It doesn’t matter what it is. Suddenly you are “in it.”
Yoga means to yoke or to bring together – thoughts, feelings, breath and movement – all of these can be brought into the same mental space during a yoga class. Most of the people I know were brought to their yoga practice because of tough times. Eating disorders, violence, substance abuse, depression; almost everyone has something in their past that has the potential to break them. Like so many other people, I thought that I had struggled and overcame my challenges. I was in a good place and I just needed to do the bare minimum to stay in this blissful space I had created.
If the last couple months have taught me anything, it is that all of the breathing and mindfulness that I have been doing up to now were just to prepare me for the next couple months. In case you don’t know me, my dad died recently in the flooding in Wisconsin. He was swept away by the floodwaters one Monday evening… and my whole life changed.
I’ve always had a tough relationship with my dad. We were never what you would call “close.” Although there was lots of love on either side, it was hard for us to express it. My dad left us when I was one. I never knew him in the house. He was always there, but never ‘right’ there. He was the one we spent summers with, the one with the all the stories and songs, but not anyone I would have called for life advice. Meaning… there was a lot going through my head when I faced his sudden absence.
The particulars of my loss are not the important. Everyone is dealing with life’s suffering. What I want to express here is the way that my practice supported me. Whatever had brought me to my mat in the first place was only the beginning. For weeks, nothing seemed safe except the sanctity of my mat. When I closed my eyes and sank into feeling my breath, there was nothing but me. There wasn’t the constant battle between tears and numbness. There wasn’t the overwhelming list of things to do. There was just breath and movement and mindfulness.
I probably took many more opportunities to sink into child’s pose the first couple of classes. I definitely didn’t push myself as hard. That’s okay though. I don’t need to be anything more than what I am. My teacher, Meg Galarza, once said, “Get out of your head and into your body.” I really love coming back to that when I get overwhelmed. With every vinyasa flow I forget judgmental thoughts. With each test of my balance I find peace.
For now, I get up each day and do my best. I’ve been playing this game long enough that I know my triggers. I know that late nights are bad times for me and that proper self-care is key. I know that keeping a list of coping mechanisms close is a good thing and naps are my friend.
get sleep – check
take your vitamins – check
drink lots of water – check
be kind to yourself – check
eat good food – check
be present – check
if you find yourself with emotions – HAVE THEM – check
breathe and stretch – check
notice your mind – check
I’m FAR from being through my loss, but at least the yoga is helping.
The class ends and you peel yourself off the mat, reluctant to leave the sanctity of your own space. When can you get back to that head space? Can you make it that long?
Maybe it is the loss of a parent. Maybe it is the loss of a job or status. It can be big. It can be small… so small that no one even knows you are struggling. The emotions can come and go and the only thing you can control are how you receive them. Yoga strengthens your body and creates long lean muscles, but the real test of this practice is finding out how much you learned when you weren’t supposed to be thinking.