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In the spring of 2018, a life-changing event occurred in my life: my mom passed away.
After spending 10 days overseas planning the funeral and being with family, I returned home emotionally and physically exhausted. I felt like a different person.
A dark, heavy object had burrowed itself in my chest, weighing on every bone, radiating to each muscle. An ache unfamiliar to me made it almost impossible to walk, stand, sit, or even lie down.
Prior to this life-altering event, I was an avid yoga practitioner. Starting with just one class a week about a decade or so ago, I felt revived by the mind-body connection that yoga sparked in me. Over time, I found myself at the studio six days a week. Yoga provided structure and sanity.
Impressed by my improving physique, I sought out the more active and physically advanced styles of yoga, such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa. Getting my sweat on in a group of loud-breathing peers was my way to start the day.
Now, more than ever, I longed for the routine that made me feel alive. However, the postures that had brought me so much peace just a few months ago were now excruciating reminders of my broken body and spirit. After three painstaking attempts at my yoga studio, I had to admit defeat. Yoga, my loyal friend, had forsaken me when I needed it most.
What had been the point of all those hours at the studio? Had I not taken care of myself? Without my familiar outlet, anger and self-pity compounded. The object in my chest grew heavier.
That winter, a family trip brought me to the Colorado mountains. My husband and the kids went to snowboard, while I stayed in the cabin to catch up on my Netflix list. What else was I going to do with my body feeling the way it did? The hours of binging that followed did not rid me of the self-pity I clinged to. I pictured my family enjoying the sun and snow without me.
With the town minutes away, I gave in to the bright blue sky that peeked through the curtains and decided to go on a stroll. The winter air turned my cheeks rosy. Not five minutes in, there it was: a sign. An inviting, gold-and-brown storefront across the street stared back at me: a yoga studio. Was the universe delighting in a cruel joke? Or giving me a compassionate nudge? My body answered for me through an undeniable spark in my gut.
Upon opening the door, a wave of warm air touched my cold, rosy face. My skin started tingling. A soothing scent made its way into my senses, inviting my breath to deepen. Massaged from the inside, my breath battled the tension that had permeated deep into every muscle. The friendly stranger in the lobby invited me to join the restorative yoga class that started in 15 minutes.
Restorative? Having chosen fast-paced, high-energy classes for all these years, my ego tried to come up with patronizing thoughts. Wasn’t restorative yoga just glorified napping? Maybe so, but I was here now. In that moment, I allowed the familiarity of the atmosphere to comfort my soul. I accepted my new friend’s extended hand and joined the class.
Lying down on the mat, in the warmly lit space, supported by pillows and blankets, I let myself be held. I reconnected, I accepted, I surrendered.
Afterward, I walked home in silence. My mind was empty, my body warm, and my soul loving.
In my previous, highly active yoga practice, I thought I was taking care of myself. Granted, there was a time I felt great doing it. But I’d lost sight of the true purpose of yoga that lies in the mind-body connection. In my striving for the perfect poses and the stronger body, my attention externalized, my ego got in the way, and yoga just became a form of exercise.
On that mat in Colorado, far away from home, yoga showed me the way back to myself, by carrying me through my grief. I realized that the anger I’d felt over the past months was not just aimed toward my physical body. It was rooted in nonacceptance, a grasping for a past version of myself—a version I had deemed superior. A version where I still had my mom.
Reality can be harsh, but I had to accept the truth: life was different now. I was different now. And that simply had to be okay. I had to meet myself where I was and surrender to my current state—mind, body, and soul.
During that trip, I went back to that studio five more times. My body drastically improved. The heavy object eased its weight off my chest. My mind felt calm and clear. There was a long road ahead of me, but I felt energized and grateful in these first steps.
I would be okay.
“The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.” ~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross