March 13, 2020—the last time I set foot in a yoga studio.
I remember people saying, “Thank you for being here,” “I’m so glad you’re still holding class.” I remember saying, “I’ll be here next time.” False promises.
Do I even need to say this? There wasn’t a next time.
Virtual teaching was great, for a bit. I threw together a couple outdoor classes, but my heart wasn’t in it. I got asked to hold class in May 2022, and I said no. And that’s it.
Since then, our family moved from Oregon to California. My husband is in the military, so this is commonplace. We’ve started over, again. We have fallen in love with yet another new state. We have survived two raging wildfire seasons, every day from June to October, waiting with bated breath as we wonder if the fires or smoke will creep so close that we have to pack the bare minimum and evacuate.
We’ve celebrated the rain; it always comes. We’ve gotten COVID-19; we’ve gotten over Covid. The kids have grown smarter and bigger; I’ve grown more tired and wiser. I’ve quit drinking, and also…I’ve quit teaching yoga.
The me of seven years ago would certainly be horrified. As soon as I got my yoga teaching certification in 2015, I hustled to do the dang thing. Practice, plan, audition, sub, practice, plan, sub, get a class, build it up, practice, and plan some more.
And I adored it all. I adored crafting perfect playlists, creating perfect sequences, wearing perfect outfits. It was all a work of art, a creative expression, and it lit me up. Watching my classes fill gave me a sense of validation and pride.
First with my young son, and then the addition of my daughter, and even after the birth of my twin girls in August of 2018 (yes, that makes four). I hustled. Life would dish me out ever-mounting responsibilities; I would seek out more. I would give and give to my children and my husband, and then I would give some more to my students. Sometimes I even remembered to give to myself (not often; I saw quality sleep as a secondary need). But it made sense, and I never questioned any of it; it was all exactly what I wanted.
Until it wasn’t anymore.
Now the thought of it all just makes me tired. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Or because my children are growing more complex by the day and they’re needing me in new, emotionally taxing ways. Maybe it’s because I’m sick of starting over, again.
Perhaps it’s just another ripple effect from Covid (hello, sweatpants). It could be the sense of jadedness I’ve been carrying around at the commercialization of yoga and the white privilege of it all in our culture. Likely, it’s a combination of all these factors. And, likely, they will evolve over time as all things do. Life soldiers on; things change.
One day, perhaps, the thought of teaching will light me up again. For now, I am doing this one thing: mothering—and I’m doing it fully. Or to use the term coined by teacher B.K.S. Iyengar, following the path of the householder. I pack lunches, make meals, do the dishes, do the errands, play, read, monitor sibling conflicts, answer endless questions, attend to my marriage, rinse, and repeat.
One day looks much like the last—save a few variations in schedules and extra-curricular activities. It’s the sort of repetition that can be both grounding and exhausting—that can either lead to appreciation for the small things (like the days when I have time to shower and get out of those sweatpants) or can just as easily cause a feeling of being trapped.
Feeling trapped equals needing an escape route. Enter cell phones with buzzing social media just a click away. Or that ringing message of “mom needing that glass of wine” at the end of the day. The lure of instantly gratifying escape is strong, and as moms, we are constantly sold the idea that we deserve it. Maybe I do.
At the end of the day, I do deserve something beautiful, but is that glass of wine really going to do it? Is posting that selfie really going to make me feel worthy? What if I take a breath first, put down my phone, and just enjoy this moment in time? What if I choose sobriety and motherhood? Severing ties to old ways of being can be a painful process; letting go of all means of external validation can mean a floundering sense of self-worth. It’s easier to hang on by any thread dangling, to hold tightly to things that make me feel free, make me feel like my old self—however fleetingly.
At the heart of it all, though, the work of a householder is noble and important. I am in service to those I love. I am working to guide conscientious humans into the world. I am in service to this great green earth, doing my best to bestow my children with a deeper concern and care for it than generations past. I am tending to relationships and teaching tolerance. I am learning to enjoy life’s simple gifts. I am working to leave this place beautiful for people that I will never know and endow kindness and wisdom for times that I will never see.
This work doesn’t care how I look or how many people know who I am. It just asks that I remain present, day in and day out, no matter how routine it feels. No matter how freaking hard it feels. It asks that my ego steps back and that I show up on my knees—a humble servant of something greater than myself.
So here I am. Doing just one thing and doing it fully. To use another yogic term: seva, or selfless service. The form of volunteer work that expects nothing in the form of reward or compensation. Unless you count those yearly tax refunds, this is the worst paying job I’ve ever had. It’s not glamorous. I’m not well-known for it. No one is around to appreciate my music or compliment my newest yoga pants. Some days feel endless and tiresome. The people I work for (there are four of them) are often quite ungrateful, but they do still give the best cuddles.
It took me years to see that true freedom only comes when I can release these threads to which I have clung so desperately. When I realize that no quick technological or substance-induced endorphin hit is ever going to gratify me long enough to fill an empty cup. It comes when I learn to fully immerse in my current phase, even if it’s vastly different than I pictured my life turning out. It’s when I stop looking for something else to prove myself or some other way to make my mark on the world. It’s when I can find freedom in the sweatpants, in the dishes, in the endless questions. It’s when I can choose breath, especially in those moments when I want to give up and walk away. I’m working every day at this. Not least of all, I feel free of the pressure I put on myself for so long. I can see now that this is all enough. I don’t have to seek so damn hard. This is it.
And in my spare moments, I give back to myself, and myself only. I don’t let that slide anymore; it’s no longer optional. My selfless work as a parent does not mean I come last. I matter.
So, what are those beautiful things that truly do fill my cup?
A long night’s sleep. A good book. Let’s face it, a good Netflix series. Those early morning hours, before anyone else is awake, where I can think my thoughts and drink my coffee and relish in the silence. Getting outside for fresh air.
Exercise. A good sweaty exercise where I can remind myself I am strong, I can see my hard work paying off, and I can shake out all my nervous energy (which seems to be ever-mounting). My own personal yoga practice, albeit some days in sweatpants.
A trip to my local farm where I can touch and smell the fruits and vegetables and the earth they came from. Nourishing food, every day. Starting the day with a smoothie. Baking.
A genuine conversation with my husband. The sound of my kids’ laughter as they play together. A long walk on a Sunday morning with a friend. A talk on the phone with an old best friend. A talk on the phone with my mom.
Setting clear boundaries. Saying no to social engagements and relationships that will drain me. This means saying no, a lot. Asking for help.
Taking a day to hike or shop with a friend. Asking my kids for space. Or a hug. Cuddles, but also please respect my personal space and knock before you enter. Letting empty space in my day be empty. Not apologizing for my needs. Saying yes only to joy.
Ultimately, freedom comes from reminding myself that I am human and that growth comes in many forms. That nothing I have done in my past has been a waste; it’s all led me up to the now. It’s armed me with experience and wisdom. If I can call upon that experience and wisdom every day, that’s enough. If I can pass it on to my children, even in little bits and pieces, that’s enough. The wisdom to understand that I matter. And that quality sleep is most certainly a primary need.
If that’s not yoga, I don’t know what is. Maybe I haven’t quit, after all. I’m just hustling in a different kind of way. And I’m here for it.