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September 6, 2021

Death, Loss & My Yoga Mat: How I Found my Way Back Home.

My mother died of liver cancer last October and the yoga studio I taught at, and considered a second home, closed down several months prior due to the pandemic.

It took months for the sense of isolation I now feel to settle in.

When my mom was dying, I was in survival mode as we traveled back and forth to hospitals and then a hospice; I wasn’t feeling anything but fear and angst, and I didn’t want to be around anyone.

For a few months after my mother passed, my new hobby was binging on Netflix series at night (until the wee hours of the morning)—something unusual for me since I don’t even own a TV, but it was something my mother and I did together in the last months of her life (we watched “Anne with an E”).

After she died, I ran outside, in the cold, for miles more than I typically could (or would want to), and I took up pilates, focusing on my core. I did not unroll my yoga mat—it was like a foreign place that I had no desire to go to.

One day last spring, I had the urge to unfold my old companion and see if we still fit together. It was a slow process of reacquainting—my feet and hands knew the way but my heart and mind took a little longer to climb on board. I was ready to “feel” again.

For most of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider, in varying degrees, but over the last several years, prior to the onset of the pandemic, I had lost the nagging feeling of not fitting in: the yoga studio I taught at fulfilled that primal sense of belonging—it was not only my work but my community.

Many of my students and fellow teachers became close friends. A few of us regular teachers and students formed, I would venture to call it, a yoga family; we went to the adventure park, took lessons on the flying trapeze and Stand up Paddle Board (we joked we were yoga teachers gone rogue), took outings to vineyards, and got together for barbecues. We even did a Thanksgiving together.

A sense of belonging and connection is, psychologists and neuroscientists report, essential for our health and well-being, and I understand why. I felt light in my heart during those years; it was nothing short of transformational. Feeling isolated and lonely again is a hard pill to swallow. How did I wind up here again, and what is the purpose, dear universe, of sending me back to this sad place?

Losing a parent is like losing a part of one’s foundation (and self)—even if you have a conflicted relationship. Although my mother and I would often bicker and there was, admittedly, unresolved emotional pain and frustration in our bond, we were tightly bonded nonetheless. I knew she was always there for me; if I sprained my ankle one night, for example, and was crawling on hands and knees around my apartment, she came to the rescue with a walking stick and to feed my fur babies.

I don’t have a nuclear family and I also, currently, don’t have a job (I am doing part-time work and seeing a few yoga clients. The group Zoom classes petered out). With the life-changing loss of my mother and my yoga studio/community, I feel lost out at sea with no anchor to hold onto—and that is why (unbeknownst to me at the time) I began practicing yoga again.

When I step onto my mat and connect to my body, via slow purposeful breaths, I feel whole again—not lost. When I feel my body making contact with the ground (e.g., hands, feet), I am rebuilding a foundation, creating roots. The breath becomes my anchor. That mat becomes my home.

For those of us who feel uprooted or isolated (many people right now, I imagine), we can build our inner home, first, through yoga or any meaningful body-mind-connecting practice—just like creating the foundation of a house.

Our inner landscape mirrors our outer experiences. As we tend to our inner foundation, our outer life changes, too (albeit painfully slowly, sometimes). The cool thing about this concept is that we can feel “at home” wherever we go in the world—that makes me think of the song “Lover,” by Taylor Swift: “Can I go where you go?” I digress.

A friend of mine, who had gotten divorced, posted on social media, a few years ago, that she hadn’t lived in one place for more than three months for the past few years, and yet she felt more at home in each new place she traveled than she had felt in a long time—she met new friends and became a part of communities. In order to do this, she had, I imagine, first developed a strong inner home.

The practice of yoga is the opposite of escapism—if moving mindfully, holistically (yoga means to bring together), the practice takes you inside yourself. It connects you to your breathing, your senses, your feelings, your emotions, which is why people often cry when they practice. It is a safe place to let your guard down and be with “what is.”

Watching Netflix obsessively and running many miles after my mom died was a part of my grieving process and it was also avoidance of what I wasn’t ready to feel. Along with my yoga practice, I am still running (fewer miles now) and doing Pilates/core work; it feels more integrated now.

I still feel isolated, lost, and unsure of my next steps. I also know that my sense of belonging comes from deep within me and not from any external experiences of fitting in. As Michael Meade, of Mosaic Voices, writes: “The lost home that we are seeking is ourselves; it is the story we carry within our soul.”

What is the story you carry?

Sharing it helps us feel less isolated.

~

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