The practice ends with the phrase “take what you learned on your mat today and bring it out into the world”. I sit, and breathe, and remember. It’s Mother’s Day weekend. It’s confusing and painful, a bold-faced reminder of all that is missing, what I am not (or am? or will be?) I breathe through the daily ritual of rolling up my mat, putting away the props that have become necessary in order to modify poses for my 28 week pregnant belly. I am starting to make room for the 2 pound 11 ounce son growing in there. I breathe for him, for the memory of my beautiful daughter Eve, and the little one before who stopped forming before we knew whether to call them him or her……
Before I began the practice of yoga I was tight, wound up, anxious. I rigidly held onto the reigns of my life, certain that the tighter I held the more control I would have. I leaned towards fast paced exercise that would tighten my muscles, I never stopped to breathe. I was never truly still, even when not in motion my mind raced constantly, eyes darting nervously, foot tapping rhythmically, in time with my fast-beating heart. Too much “pushing forward”, not enough “relaxing into” lead me to seek a more balanced approach. Chronic sleeplessness and sore achy hips in my mid twenties lead me to seek some relief, to hop off the treadmill and into a yoga class.
The fatigue of two nights without sleep weakened my resolve, making it possible to release all expectations of the experience I would have. Too tired to care what my poses looked like in comparison to the person next to me I worked my way through the class, moment to moment, without second guessing or judgment. I stumbled into the present moment by accident, balancing in tree pose while locking eyes on the Sears (now Willis?) tower. Lying in corpse pose, a vulnerable posture that usually made me feel tense and uncomfortable in a roomful of people, came with ease.
Yoga, it seems to me, is less about building a new skill set and more about recognizing that which we already possess. It is less about moving forward and more about being exactly where we are. And so, if we are willing, we can take what we learn on the mat and bring it out into the world. When I lost Eve I saw the return of some old habits. I tried to make sense of the senseless, to find a reason when doctor after doctor told me there was none. What got me through, still gets me through, were new habits reinforced during my daily practice. I had dabbled in acceptance, played around with release, so when thrust into a new reality there was a small part of me open to the challenge. Much has been, and continues to be, discovered on a 72″ long 24″ wide rubber mat that sits in the middle of our once upon a time (and possibly future?) nursery.
An article came out this week in which the vatican’s chief exorcist listed yoga, among other things, as leading to a rise in demonic possession. I can’t speak for anyone else but I know that, for me, the experience has been quite the opposite. Yoga has allowed me to release many demons over the past year or so, helping me to connect with loss and pain and move through in a way that encourages growth and connection instead of isolation. Connection with the mind and body can stimulate connection with humanity. When perception changes from “my pain” to “the pain” it fosters awareness that pain is universal and often a breeding ground for empathy and compassion.
And so this mother’s day, as I place fresh flowers in the vase that rests atop my daughters grave, I will breathe strongly and deeply into my belly. I will acknowledge the child who lives in me and the ones who came before. I will acknowledge mothers mourning their children, children mourning their mothers, and all who ache with loss on this holiday. I will acknowledge the hope and fear and everything in between that comes part and parcel with the privilege of being alive, finding connection, and realizing a love so strong that it spurs the creation of new life.