Pranayama

Twenty-five years ago, I took my first yoga class. I was a Sophomore at Loyola University in Chicago, had recently quit running (abandoning my athletic scholarship), and needed something physical to fill the sudden hole in my life.

Yoga was unfamiliar and uncomfortable for me. My body stretched in weird places. I felt vulnerable and exposed.

The semester ended, and so did my practice.

Ten years later, Crista mailed me Cyndi Lee’s “Yoga in a Box.” Crista was the first person I’d called after kicking my husband out of the house.

Crista had been my roommate at Loyola. We stood-up in one another’s weddings. I flew to Colorado with my seven-month-old (Josh) to sit with her after her marriage unraveled. She was the first friend to visit me after Xander was born, taking a 30-hour-train ride to arrive just as I was discharged from the hospital.

Concurrent to the arrival of Crista’s “Yoga Box,” my new therapist asked if I had a yoga practice. She felt that the alignment of breath and body would bring me back into my heart during that tumultuous time. Noting the coincidence, I bought a mat and practiced nightly after putting my babies to bed.

I wanted it to eradicate my suffering.

Grief caught in my body during asanas. Amplified. My chest felt tight in Fish Pose, a pose intended to cultivate resiliency. My throat constricted in Bridge Pose, meant to connect the pieces of my life. I collapsed in a puddle of tears during Corpse Pose, lying down to let go.

Gradually, life distracted me off the mat, and my practice diminished.

But then another divorce brought a renewed commitment. And those same tight spots resumed their discourse. Grief. Heartache. Anger. Anxiety.

I thought they might never let go.

Advanced physical poses never interested me. I just wanted to use yoga to heal my emotional wounds. I reasoned that if I could still feel deep aching in a simple spinal twist, there’s more work to be done at that basic level. So while I’ve taken some classes with teachers, mostly I’ve used the same at-home practice, thinking of Crista each time I roll out my mat: cat-cow, sun salutations, tree, staff.

Rinse. Repeat.

I notice how my body shifts when refining between postures. Lean into my thumbs…slide forward an inch more…feel each toe firmly on the ground. The micro-adjustments ripple into realignments

I notice the movement that isn’t captured in an Instagram snapshot.

I had once thought the point of yoga was to make each pose perfect before moving on. I thought of it as a thing to be accomplished, a check-mark on the to-do list. I thought if I could just get the asana “right,” then I would be “right” too. A tool to fix the places where I felt wrong.

But I’ve learned that yoga is not about doing…it’s about *being*.

Yoga is life.

I want to call Crista and thank her again for that long-ago gift, share with her how I finally understand that yoga isn’t about fixing something that’s broken. It’s about the grace of moving between messy moments and feeling a spectrum of emotions. Letting go of expectations and disappointments. Finding contentment with what is.

Yoga is about listening to the body’s conversation, instead of trying to silence it. Our bodies inform us of truths we’d readily set aside: that we are both strong and vulnerable. Always in need of kindness and compassion. We are wholly incomplete.

I wish I could tell Crista that feeling mired in a bottomless pit of despair is not an eternal failure…it’s just a moment.

But I can’t.

Four years ago today, my friend put a gun to her head.

I can’t share with her the insight that there is no arriving at a comfortably safe stasis. That life is lived – or slips by – between its peaks and valleys. Our years are amended with microadjustments.

Yogic breathing, pranayama, is for the spaces we can’t feel.

So in this moment, when memories and emotions float to the surface, I’ll simply sit and breathe.

That’s often all there really is to do.

Tree of Life

One of the realities of single-parenting (particularly w/o family or an ex in the vicinity), is that time to pursue my own interests has been almost nil for nearly two decades.

However, as my boys have grown older, and the necessity of my presence in their experience diminishes, that reality has begun shifting.

Last night, I took a painting class…the first art class of any kind since I was in high school.

It didn’t even *occur* to me to invite someone to join me, b/c I was more interested in the learning than the socializing. But what I found interesting, is that out of about 50 participants, I was the only one who arrived alone. The others all dragged friends, siblings, co-workers, partners or kids along to keep them company.

Almost like they couldn’t bear to be alone with themselves.

When the people around me realized that I was participating on my own, they had questions: “Is it your birthday? Did your friend back-out? Do you want to join our group?”

“No. This is exactly what I want.”

Later, they leaned in and whispered conspiratorially: “next time, I’m going by myself, too.”

Folks, it is ok to pursue your passions without a gaggle of groupies. You don’t need to offer an explanation for your chosen solitude.

Just do it. Learn blacksmithing. Go to a concert. Take Spanish classes. Follow your curiosities wherever they lead, just because you want to, without worrying what others might think.

(You might even inspire the same in someone else.)

tree of life