March 7, 2011

How Yoga Saved My Life, My Body & My Sanity.

I come to my mat every day. I lay it out, a thin bright pink thing right on the carpet of my daughter’s room – the only area in our condo where I can hide and hope for limited interruptions. Sometimes I watch a podcast, but mostly I just turn on the radio and go through my own sequence inspired from a magazine or try to replicate something I experienced at a recent yoga class. Either way, I am on my mat and I am in the moment.

Before yoga was a part of my daily life I was a fragmented person. Maybe I still am, but at least when I feel incredibly anxious and agitated I know that I can take it out on the mat and get back to a more level state. Before yoga I was dealing with an eating disorder, symptomatic of my inability to deal with life changes, specifically my new role in life as a mother. In a nutshell, when I became pregnant my husband and I made a plan to move in with his parents. At first, it seemed as if we were choosing this just to save money, but later realized that it was the only option with not being able to afford rent at all. I had wanted to be home with our daughter.  Along with the lack of finances and lifestyle change (no full time job to identify myself with) – came a little person who I was now fully responsible for. I didn’t know how to cope.  I nursed her, napped with her and felt that I was the only one who could tend to her every need. I wasn’t sure that I could be content with that, despite it being my choice. On the one hand I couldn’t see leaving her in the care of someone else and work away from her. Yet, on the other I didn’t feel “okay” with being home. Meanwhile living with my husband’s parents and not having a car to go to moms groups or to just get out of the house was whittling away my sanity. I dealt with this by focusing my control on food. Slowly I ate less and less and when the weather got warmer I added exercise. I spent the time walking with my daughter in a sling and then running when she was old enough to go in a jogging stroller. I ran three, four, five miles at a time working my way up to 13 miles in the morning and a few more in the afternoon if I felt particularly frustrated.  My anxiety about what I was supposed to do as a mother, how to act in a marriage (now that we were parents), as well as dealing with what we came to think of as a failure to be back under the parental roof fueled this disorder of starving and running. I couldn’t manage any other way. I was a robot. I became stringent in my routine of working out and eating only certain foods. My mood fully depended on whether I got to run and if we had the few foods I ate or not. Rather than deal with the feelings (that I refused to acknowledge at the time), I focused on my routine.

And then, like a fairy godmother, along came yoga.

I was still on my exercise binge and thought adding another element to my fitness escape would be better. So, on top of a two-hour run and a jaunt on the elliptical all on a bowl of fruit and some animal crackers (and still nursing the baby) I signed up for a yoga class. I had taken one class years ago, the summer before my junior year of college and I remember leaving floating on a cloud.  I was actually able to drive the speed limit home. I thought I would try it again.

And after a few classes something clicked for me. I connected to something in my body that I didn’t know how to find before. As I learned the poses and began to breathe deliberately I looked at my body not as something fleshy or thin but respected it as a container, malleable and strong. From inside I found prana. I would sit in meditation instead of obsessing over food and when I could workout next I could close my eyes and allow myself to be still. I stopped competing with myself. Changing took a while, but I was at a point where I was ready and willing. I kept going to classes and I loved being a student, but wanted to expand. I looked into what it took to train as a teacher and enrolled in a 200-hour program. It was expensive but it was an investment. I immersed myself each month with this practice that has educated and stimulated and revealed things that I have known, but couldn’t possibly acknowledge without guidance: that I am enough. During the training I was still hanging on to my diet and running. But slowly, just as the disordered behavior grew little by little, it unraveled itself little by little.

I am inspired not just by the yoga classes seeing my peers in beautiful shape, but inspired by the yogic philosophy of the human condition and the people who choose to be kind for no other reason than kindness itself.  I’m inspired by this practice (on and off the mat) that allowed me to find contentment in this moment, acceptance in this body and stability in this mind. I learned so much over the training and even more as I continue to study yoga through reading, watching, questioning and talking to others about it.  I have since been able to shed behaviors that don’t serve me anymore and grow into the nurturing mother I want to be. It is amazing that coming into stillness on a mat in my daughter’s room can take me places that no number of miles on pavement ever could.

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