Here we are again, thinking about getting back to a healthy lifestyle after holidays full of stresses and indulgences–that were anything but healthy. So, is it back to the gym where the biggest part of the workout is finding a place to park your car? Did you try this plan last year, or multiple years, only to find you get the same disappointing results over and over? Maybe it’s time for a new plan, a new idea, a new YOU. Maybe instead of another gym membership, it’s time to buy yourself a yoga mat. I’d offer to loan you one of mine, but they’re being used.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved books. I read my way through the public library and slipped into the classic world of Dumas and the Bronte’ sisters by the seventh grade. I saved my allowance every year in anticipation of the annual school Book Fair. So much to learn! So many adventures yet to be discovered! One year when I was 13, I walked into the Fair and was instantly drawn to a little yellow paperback that was destined to change my life. The book was a step-by-step guide on how to do yoga.
First, I was determined to master the balance poses. They looked so cool. I practiced and practiced in front of my mom’s giant mirror, but I just couldn’t stop toppling over. I got so frustrated but was determined not to give up. I tried different approaches but always got the same results. Then one day I realized what I was doing wrong. I was working to balance myself on one leg when what I needed was to forget about my body and teach my mind to focus. That was my first big lesson. Yoga taught me to concentrate.
Years went by and I never left my yoga mat without always coming back. Children, school and careers distracted me, but the children grew up, I graduated from school and careers come and they go. Yoga has always been my constant. It is where I feel safe, it is where I feel quiet, and it is where my lessons never end.
I struggled hard for a while as my yoga practice advanced to do the postures perfectly. It was exasperating. It seemed the harder I tried the sloppier I got. I would chastise myself, demand more, and refused to accept my best as good enough until I realized how hard I was competing with myself. Yoga taught me some days are good days and some days aren’t as good, and that both are not only okay but necessary. Yoga taught me to stop competing with myself and instead find loving acceptance.
Moving to Vegas was a new challenge as I found myself in yoga classes with so many amazing athletes and performers with exquisite bodies. They were tall and lean and lithe and beautiful! I confess I felt envious and wished I could be more like them. One day in class I was upside down, as is often the case in yoga, and I peeked at the mat next to me that belonged to a stunning young woman. I was amazed at how big her feet were with the longest toes I’ve ever seen!
I looked back at my own short, little feet and, still upside down, I startled to giggle. How absurd to think my perfectly acceptable feet could ever belong with that woman’s body or vice versa. Yoga taught me to stop comparing myself to others and celebrate the uniqueness that is mine and mine alone. Yoga taught me to stay on my mat and to mind my own business.
I’m still hanging out on my beloved yoga mat. I no longer languish in full backbends, I’m not standing on my head, and there are days when sitting crossed legged is an option and days when it isn’t. The lesson yoga is teaching me now is to age with grace, dignity, and gratitude. I look back and remember with fondness the body of a young girl falling over in Dancer’s Pose, but I do not live there. I wonder about what the future holds as aging creates new challenges, but I do not live there. I live here and now, and everything I ever needed to know I learned on my yoga mat.
Excerpt from Reinventing Normal: How Choice and Change Shape Our Lives, Copyright 2013