I seem to recall events, not by a standard calendar, but by stages of my kids’ lives; how old my kids were, when I was pregnant with someone, or when someone was born.
I began practicing yoga when my daughter Elizabeth was 2. That was 16 years ago. My role as “mom” has brought life’s biggest challenges and has been the root of my joy.
Elizabeth was a docile toddler and I felt comfortable asking her older brothers to watch her while I sneaked off to my favorite spot behind the pond to explore an hour of yoga.
I began practicing yoga in private. I bought B.S.K. Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga and a book titled The Complete Yoga Book. I referred to the pictures, and read the step by step instructions of how to get into a pose. It felt like I was putting together a puzzle, only with my body, my breath was the glue.
I suppose what I taught myself was a form of hatha yoga; Holding poses for an extended period of time, focusing on the breath and sinking deeper into the pose. I had created a sacred and secret space in my little cove behind the pond. I practiced every day after my run and always ended with headstand…skipping savasna.
I was practicing yoga because I wanted some (more) quiet time in the woods and as a cross-training exercise for my first love–distance running on trails. Meditation, reflection and introspection were not a part of my life at that time. I was in a miserable marriage, which in retrospect was a mirror image of my abusive childhood. I had spent my entire life suppressing emotion, hiding from…well, pretty much everything. When all I knew were volatile toxic environments I assumed I simply wasn’t worthy of or capable of obtaining anything different.
I brought yet another baby into my world of confusion and pain. The love I had for my children, and the love I received back I thought would fill the deep and vacuous hole in my heart. Of course no external source, not even the gift of a child can fill that void, but it would be years before I discovered that truth.
I continued to love my kids, homeschooling and adventures with them were truly joyful moments I wouldn’t trade for the world. I also continued to run. I was running from that gnawing hole in my heart that had developed a voice; “there’s more…you don’t have to live like this” It would say. I’d close the ears of my heart and run. Running thirty to forty miles of trails on the weekends in addition to my daily 8-10 mile run was my normal routine. Eventually, of course, I sustained an injury.
My physical therapist suggested yoga while my torn calf muscle healed. “Oh, I already do yoga.” I told my PT.
“Where do you practice?” She asked.
When I told her I practiced at home by myself she suggested finding a studio. I was intimidated by the thought of going to a studio. That’s where people who have their lives together hang out. Smart people, people worthy of love. When I hesitated my PT suggested a studio in my hometown called Sol.
“You’ll fit right in there.” She said. “They are a super laid-back crowd.”
My first real yoga class after all those years of private practice was with a woman named Marge and I’m quite certain the universe planed that encounter in advance.
That first class was hot yoga. I loved the funky old building. I loved the heat. Marge began to guide us through poses that were familiar to me but I wasn’t used to the flow. I moved a little like the tin man before Dorothy oiled him up. I was self-conscience, and compared myself to everyone else in the room. The other women flowed as if they were dancing. They wore beads and billowy feminine yoga clothes. I was in my running shorts and sports bra. While my anxiety level rose in that first real class Marge’s words and mellifluous voice kept me from bolting out of the door. Marge had this gentle confidence about her and a nurturing nature that eased the anxiety I had about participating in class. Her verbal cues that led us into poses also guided us to self-awareness and compassionate self-acceptance. Listening to her I felt safe on my mat.
“We store all kinds of emotions in our bodies, our hips. What did you find?” Marge asked after guiding us through some hip openers. Being guided by her words I recognized the odd sensations in my heart space –a lifetime of suppressed emotion. All kinds of sensations vibrated in and around my heart; I noticed that flutter that precedes laughter from pure joy. That same flutter also produces tears that flow from the release when allowing sorrow to rise. I noticed the heaviness of shame and guilt and the icy cold pangs of anger. Just when I was beginning to feel overwhelmed by all the emotion releasing from mysterious places in my body on that frightening inner journey, Marge said something that made it all okay. I can’t remember her words verbatim but the effect is etched permanently in my heart. It was an affirmation that no matter what–what I had done, who I had been, what I had failed to do, I, and everyone else in the room…everybody on the planet, deserved and were WORTHY of love. At our core, our deepest inner self is in fact the essence of pure love.
The release of emotion seeped from the corners of my eyes in savasna. After class I felt ten pounds lighter. A weight had been lifted from my heart.
I went to hot yoga faithfully every week after that day. I found the confidence and courage to liberate myself and my four children from an abusive environment but I was still running, figuratively and literally. My running injuries, the torn calf muscle and a compression fracture in my thoracic weren’t enough to slow me down so the universe, god, or whoever it is out (or in) there decided to hammer me into stillness with tethers brought on by Lyme disease.
For three years I fought that disease. Trying to beat it out of my body with heavy doses of antibiotics and willpower. I did not balance the battle going on in my body with rest for my body and ended up so entirely depleted my kidneys were in danger of failing. I spent six solid months on the couch and when I was finally able to feel somewhat human again my wonderful holistic doctor prescribed miso soup, lots of singing and gentle yoga.
It took three more years of convalescing and gently removing toxins from my body before I came back to a semblance of normal. I learned a valuable lesson through that illness and I had finally learned to live mindfully and sit in stillness. Yoga became so much more than an exercise. I practiced daily at home, I rarely missed Marge’s class. I stepped out of, what had become my new little comfort zone of Marge’s class and attended other classes, and other studios. Yoga had permeated every aspect of my life–not with my typical obsessive tendencies but it grew naturally, organically. It was balanced.
When Elizabeth was 16 (two years ago) my neighbor asked if I would teach her yoga. “Sure.” I said. “But let’s invite some other people…it’s more fun with a group.” I suggested.
That group has grown so much that we have moved from her living room space to the community center building in my neighborhood. Sometimes as many as 28 people come together to practice, sometimes as few as 2. I never thought I’d like to teach yoga but I found that the more I shared what I knew with this group the more I learned. And the more I learned the more I craved a deeper practice and understanding of the science of yoga.
“If you want to learn something, read about it. If you want to understand something, write about it. If you want to master something, teach it.” ~ Yogi Bhajan
A familiar quote that inspired me once again to step outside of my comfort zone and walk down the path, or climb the jagged face of a mountain, if that be the case, that has been clearly presented and offered to me by what I believe is a Devine benevolent source.
So here I am. In the second half of my life a curious and willing participant, ready to learn, eager to share as life continues to unfold in love.
Kerri Eiker April 27, 2015