How my Mat Became my Personal Island.
Two years ago I stumbled upon a local yoga studio. I enthusiastically completed the hot vinyasa classes and I felt great—at first.
Initially, I completed classes with the reckless enthusiasm of a Labrador Retriever, throwing my body into every pose the instructor cued, breathing haphazardly and basically just trying to make sure I ended up in downward facing dog with everyone else.
I was practicing yoga, or so I thought. I was going to classes regularly, I was doing wheel! I kept up this ridiculous scenario until something happened: I started feeling horrible.
Instead of leaving yoga feeling rejuvenated, I left feeling exhausted and somewhat defeated. What was wrong? Why was bridge becoming harder and harder to get into? I thought yoga was supposed to make a person feel good? What was I doing wrong?
I wasn’t being present. I wasn’t breathing. I wasn’t listening to my body and what it needed from me. The result was my thinking I was practicing yoga, but I was really only pretending to practice yoga. The one thing I do know is you cannot fool the body, mind or spirit.
My body ached terribly with each class I forced my way through, trying to keep up with whomever I perceived as the ideal yogi at the moment. It got to the point, where each pose would bring me increased pain instead of renewed joy. I had to stop. I hung up my mat for months to let my body heal.
Why was this happening to me? I thought yoga would be the answer to my problems. Well, what exactly was my problem? I did not come to yoga because I was looking to jump on the bandwagon of a fitness program. I came to yoga to do something just for me.
Months prior to starting yoga, I was looking to find a needle in the haystack of my hectic-mom-of-four-young-children life that seemed to be spinning out of control. My days blurred from one task to another—none of them having anything to do with just me.
One day I sat and searched my brain to think of something I used to love to do when I didn’t have children—when I could just jump in my car and didn’t have to answer to the demands of anyone’s schedule. That thing was yoga. This is why I came back to yoga.
So why, once I returned to yoga, did I ignore my body and just go through the motions?
Because that was what my life had become! I was going through the motions of my life and did I really think I could shut that off in a 75 minute class? It had become so easy to ignore me.
What was painfully hard was seeing myself again. It was so hard to listen to my own needs again. I had become a master at ignoring myself.
I recovered physically long before I recovered mentally. I wanted to go back, but each time I tried, my mind—still with remnants of reckless excitement, anxiety, all ready to ignore myself—wanted to take me down a road of doing more than my body was able to. Thinking of only myself, even for an hour, was harder than I thought. I started, then stopped, started, then stopped. It was a frustrating process, but something kept telling me not to give up on yoga, because if nothing else, yoga was the only time I would get out of my day to just be alone with myself.
Something finally happened. I woke up one morning with a revelation. All of the things the yoga instructors where saying throughout the practice were not just to fill the air and kill space between song tracks. They were teaching beyond the poses! They were telling me this was my practice. This was my time. They were actually telling me to listen to my body! This was where my body was at this moment and I should honor and respect it. This was yoga. Not wheel. Not bridge. I stopped flowing through the poses, ignoring myself. If I stayed in child’s pose the entire hour, it would still be my yoga practice and a slice of heaven time all my own. My mat became my own personal island and I did not have to prescribe to anything other than whatever my body, mind and spirit felt that day.
Now as I practice bridge, because bridge is what my body and back need at this moment, and see what appears to be a sea of wheels, I wonder, “How many of these wheels are actual wheels? How many of these wheels are going through the motions because it is easier than actually listening to themselves? How many are like I once was, a frantic Labrador Retriever just pretending to practice yoga?”
I am so happy I have finally settled into my practice. My body no longer aches from over exertion, and I leave yoga with joy, peace of mind, and a non-Labrador Retriever-like excitement for the next class and my next opportunity to listen only to my needs.
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Ed: B. Bemel