Foster care and adoption; toddlers to young adults; it's all here-- faith and humor meet as this mom of four chronicles the joy and heartbreak of motherhood.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Yoga: Lessons from the mat
Yoga: Lessons from the mat
When I was a little girl, I
failed beginning gymnastics three times. I loved the idea of gymnastics—the way
I saw the other girls float in the air doing their flips and handstands. The
problem was I couldn’t get my legs far enough apart to do the straddle roll; I
could not walk across the balance beam; I could not even touch my toes. So
eventually, when I was about a head taller than any others in the beginner
class, I stopped going.
high school, I found a sport that required neither flexibility nor upper arm
strength—distance running. My too-long legs served me well and my non-muscular
frame was actually very light to carry around for any given distance, providing
me with an advantage in terms of endurance. No one asked me to touch my toes as
I passed them in the final mile. My competitive running career ended in college,
and recreational running took its place. For the past twenty years, aside from
an occasional pick-up volleyball game or a bike ride, running is the only
exercise I have done. Running is free and convenient, and I had never given
thought to augmenting my almost-daily run with another form of exercise.
now. As part of an uncharacteristic New Year’s resolution, I decided to join a
yoga class held over the lunch hour at my workplace. Yoga, I read, had similar
benefits to meditation in terms of producing inner strength and peace. By the
end of 2014, three of my four children will be teenagers. I decided that this
year, I would need all the inner strength and peace available to me.
dressed in my running shoes, tights and a free t-shirt from a local fun run, I
arrived at my first yoga class. The instructor played soft, soothing music as
everyone sat serene, barefoot and cross-legged on his or her mats. I suddenly
realized that yoga is done without shoes. Struggling to sit cross-legged, with
my knees closer to my ears than to the mat, I had a sudden flashback to my childhood
days of failed gymnastics. As my colleagues breathed deeply around me, I concentrated
on not rearranging my burning legs and wondered when we would move onto
rest of the class was a series of impossible poses. While the employees in the
class had differing levels of bendability, strength and skill, each one of them
could do a version of the demonstrated pose. Except me. With a mixture of embarrassment
and horror, I realized I could not do even the most basic yoga pose properly.
The more complicated poses looked to me like something out of Cirque du Soleil.
I was so much more noticeably inflexible than anyone else in the class that the
teacher approached as I was straining toward my toes, fingertips a foot off the
floor, and whispered to me, “Runners have tight hamstrings. It’s okay.” I had
never told her I was a runner. I wanted to fold up my mat and simply watch the
class and applaud at appropriate times.
I kept going back to yoga, partly because Karen, a co-worker two cubes down
attended each lunchtime session and would ask me if I was coming with her.
Karen is as flexible as a warm soft pretzel.When she bends over in the triangle pose, her hair grazes the mat. My own
triangle pose looks more like a rhombus.
I showed up for yoga every other day, it got a little better. Not because I
could do any of the poses, but because the instructor recognized that I was a
special needs yoga person and began to bring me props—like a foam brick to put
under my bottom while we did “Pigeon” or a long strap to attach to my feet and
hold onto while we rocked on our backs in what they called “Happy Baby,” but
felt to me more like “Cranky Toddler.”
home, my family delighted in my stories of my challenging yoga classes. I would
explain a terribly complicated pose, and Jamie and Teenasia, ages 10 and 12,
would immediately enter the pose on our kitchen floor and hold it for a minute
before collapsing in giggles that I could not do it. Liam, 15, who inherited my
non-flexibility, was more sympathetic, and suggested I just stick to running.
even as I measure my improvements in yoga in millimeters and nanoseconds, yoga
is bringing me a gift that I had not expected. I am realizing, as I show up to
yoga class, that yoga is making me more compassionate towards my children and
their individual struggles. Childhood is a series of new and sometimes
seemingly impossible tasks. From sitting still in church to complex word problems
in math to managing emotions at home, each day Bill and I expect our children
to try their best at tasks that may not come naturally. How often do we expect
the same of ourselves? Adulthood brings the luxury of choosing comfort over challenge.
I stay with my job because I’m successful at it; my home life and activities
outside of work are usually within my reach. Yoga is different. Tipping over in
the “Tree” pose as the rest of my classmates stand motionless reminds me that
this may be how my daughter feels when she’s unable to do something than most
kids consider simple. Yoga has made it possible for me to be kinder to my children
when they flounder.
for now at least, I’m continuing my yoga classes. I’m awkward and stiff and not
graceful at all. During the class I feel
frustrated and wonder when it will be over. I’m doing something new and
different and it’s so difficult. And I’m so thankful.