I was introduced to yoga at an early age, by my Mom, who was a yoga teacher herself. As a teen, which was probably the case for many of us, I wasn’t much interested in anything my mother was into, that included Yoga. I wanted a physical workout and was much more into mountain biking, hiking and rock climbing. At age 19, I met my first husband, and followed him back to his hometown, London, England which could not be more different than my hometown of Boise, Idaho. So there I was, a kid from Boise, far from home and finding myself in a new life in a new city. If that wasn’t life changing enough, within six months of arriving London I could barely walk. I was in chronic pain due to early onset osteoporosis and at times it was so bad I had to be carried to the bathroom. The bones in my ankles had fused and, although surgery was an option, there was no guarantee that I would ever be free from chronic pain.
Then, a little voice in my head, said ‘go to yoga.’ I took that little voice’s advice and began my journey down the path.
For the first six months of practicing, I was often in tears. Not just tears of physical pain, but of a physical, emotional and spiritual breakdown. Tears of trying to find a familiarity in a body that had not been my friend.
At 20 years of age and barely being able to walk, yoga helped me recover, not just physically, but it also gave me a blueprint, a set of principles that would provide a map to guide me to how to live the rest of my life. To cut a long story short, this led me to becoming a yoga teacher, just like my mom.
There is saying in the Yoga community; ‘to change your psychology, you change your physiology’. These physical dimensions gave me access to a way of making sense of and understanding my life, my relationships, my history and future direction. Yoga prepared me for what I was about to face.
After 12 years living in London and finding my Yogic path, my husband relapsed after 13 years of being clean. It was devastating. I could have had a complete meltdown but my yoga was there to support me, to comfort me, to guide me through the most un-imaginable thing I had ever had to go through. It also showed me how to support him in recovery, yet to maintain boundaries, to protect myself so that I could be strong for him and those who depended upon me.
He went into rehab and got clean.
Five days after leaving the treatment centre, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We were told he had weeks. Hearing the news, and contemplating all of the challenges and let downs life had thrown at me, I remember crying, ‘why me?!’. A voice in my head, probably that same voice that told me to go to Yoga said ‘ Why not me?’. That attitude of acceptance helped me prepare to watch someone I loved transition through their passing from this life. The yoga served me by helping me serve him and our family.
In western cultures, we arent educated or prepared to face a situation like that. Our society keeps us busy striving for the perfection of youth, wealth and financial success. We are not expressing or facing our pain, trauma and grief. And we act as if loss, grief and suffering may never happen to us if we’re really good at life. The yoga prepared me to face the inevitability of suffering. Why not me. This was life, this is what happens. Yoga gave me the tools to manage, or at least, sit with my emotions. To cultivate a state of awareness, of my thoughts, feelings and subsequent actions. It led me to a greater understanding of what was arising and skillset to, eventually, accept what was happening, accept that this is life, as it was, as it is and as it will be.
On my mat, yoga enabled me to cathartically process what was going on in my life, in my mind, in my body. By shaping the way that we breathe when we practice, we learn to be with the un-manageable thoughts and emotions, and observe the way our body acts out of instability. I could take that lesson or wisdom off the mat after practicing and make it through the day with greater clarity to make better choices.
To paraphrase Indu Arora, who I heard recently say ‘yoga is a state of mind, not a thing to do, yoga is a work in, not a work out’ In asana, the mind takes a seat in the body. In order for the mind to take a seat in the body, we need to work on the subtle undercurrent that moves the mind. Asana, in sanskrit means seat. How do we take a seat, and analyse? I could have had a total breakdown, but instead, I took a seat, in the body, and observed an opportunity to learn, to take a seat, to look at my life and conditioning, and transcend and transform that suffering and pain. I was able to abide by the seven stages of yoga. a tried and tested system across the millennia that worked, defined in Patanjali’s sutras as 1. Self-Awareness 2. Self-Understanding 3. Self-Acceptance 4. Self-Discipline 5. Self-Actualisation 6. Self-Transcendence 7. Self-Transformation
I’m now remarried. I have two fantastic healthy kids and a fulfilling, wonderful life. I am affected, but not defined by my past. And the yoga remains to help me to grow, evolve and thrive in this life. I know that the inevitable will come, that eventually, again, all things must change. Aging, disease, loss. Nothing can prepare us for it, but everything does. The yoga helps me cultivate awareness of this moment, knowing that this moment, and the next, and the next, shall pass. I have no control over what will come, but this acceptance, the yoga, keeps me striving for the best for this moment, the wisest choices, responses, actions. The yoga helps me cultivate an awareness of the joy, love and connection that is all around us. And that whatever happens, I can return to this breath, this body. I can take a seat.