As the mother of two children heading into their teen years and the wife of a man buried in the wounds of his past, I fought my way through the period I later thought of as the frazzled 40’s. Paperwork often followed me home from my job and I took evening courses to advance my career. Then there were the usual ongoing obligations at home: kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning, garden, laundry, car… Closely followed by attempts at regular exercise, weight watching, traveling to extended family, and connecting with friends. ‘Down time’ was spent worrying about the next day, week or month as I tried to avoid surprises and maintain some sense of order and control. I felt like the captain of a ship with the life boats gone missing as skies darkened and thunderclouds neared. Then an island appeared on the horizon, right in the middle of a strip mall! I had explored a similar oasis over a decade earlier, a yoga class – offbeat and not so easy to find back then. I did not immediately steer toward the whispered call to serenity and self care; could not sail past the din of daily demands. Maybe someday, when the kids were older, when I was done with my studies, when he was home more… but the lopsided load threatened to capsize the ship. I finally reached towards the lifeline and signed up for Yoga 101.
A short hallway led to a softly lit reception area. People moved about depositing their shoes in one area while gathering mats and blankets and straps and small hard pillows. The quiet was interrupted only by whispered greetings. Everyone appeared so calm and peaceful – and the class hadn’t even started yet! Maybe this was a mistake. Habit led me to the back corner of the room. The overlaying hush was unnerving, but I soon found I could depend on my busy mind to keep me company, keep me attached to parts of myself that affirmed my place in the world outside. The instructor had a calm demeanor and a down-to-earth voice – not the airy-sing-song-other-worldly kind of voice that can sometimes be associated with the practice. He led the class with clear instructions, helped each of us find our way through the poses, and wrapped it all in affable acceptance. I came back for more. I learned to breathe more deeply and increased my awareness of the tension that seemed to inhabit every corner of my body. Sometimes I could visualize my breath traveling to my shoulders or hips, expanding the area as I inhaled and releasing the persistent pressure as I exhaled. It felt good to let my rigid body, thoughts and life begin to thaw. I left quickly after each class and though smiles and brief words were exchanged I did not have time to forge new connections.
Routine attendance moved onto my long ‘to do’ list. No one at home appeared to suffer from my two hour absence once a week. One eight week session ran into the next. One year and then another passed as I moved on to classes that offered greater challenges and opportunities. Consistent practice led to greater physical opening within a pose, the ability to stand with strength and endurance, and lengthening muscles that led to greater range of motion. But changes did not end at the physical. My heart began to find greater expansion. Belief in my own power to make decisions and stand my ground blossomed. Flexibility in thought stretched towards broader acceptance of others – and even more importantly, of myself.
One day I spoke to a woman whose face had grown familiar in classes. A few words led to a brief intense discussion on the expansive gray area that lived between the black and white end posts of limited thinking. A door opened to more than a new friendship, to something more like kinship. We became companions in yoga class and started taking extra time after to sit with tea at a local café. The kids were growing and needed me less. Or maybe I needed this more, as I started to move away from the nagging voices in my head that I thought defined who I was. The decade of years that separated us did not interfere with exploration and new visions of familiar topics – in all shades of gray. We each added our own personal touches of color to the other’s life. I looked forward to our conversations and began to trust the gentle guidance generously shared, gathered from greater experiences along the hills and valleys already traversed. We shared curiosity and laughter along with despondency and woe. I felt supported through times that seemed impossible to bear. I also observed a loving marriage nurtured through communication, connection and trust. A kind of partnership I had never witnessed, and that felt unavailable to me.
Dissonance grew between the tranquil heart and mind experienced during yoga practice and the turbulence and restrained anger hovering at home. An area in a corner of our half finished basement became my place to sit quietly and listen to peaceful music. But once there I did not want to return upstairs to make dinner, make decisions, and make do. I felt guilty separating myself from the family I yearned to be with, and eventually stopped retreating to the basement. The world of yoga and my real world seemed to separate like oil and water when they touched.