I rarely speak about personal practice or physical health as I believe it’s, well, personal, but decided to make an exception today. I am a lifelong student of yoga and speak with no authority other than my personal experience. Your practice may be running or cycling or going to the gym or whatever – it doesn’t matter. The message matters.
My yoga path begun in the early 80s when I was seven or eight years old and my mom trained as a Hatha Yoga teacher. I still remember my first downward dogs and warrior poses. Yoga didn’t feature in my life for some years but, while living in Asia, I found a lovely Hatha Yoga teacher, followed by consistent Iyengar and Kundalini practices in during my years in the UK. I first tried out Astanga in London, but found it intimidating – not because of the practice itself, but because of the crowded class and a bit-too-swanky venue.
It was Astanga School of Helsinki that made me fall in love with the practice. I remember crying out of joy after my first beginners class. I was stiff, sore and some of the asanas seemed unthinkable, but something within myself had returned home. I felt connected to a source of strength I didn’t know existed.
The practice continued three to six days a week for many years until I got pregnant and severely anemic and just couldn’t do it. Gentle prenatal yoga followed. Not being able to follow the familiar sequence was my yoga. Listening to my body was my yoga. Resting was my yoga. My mind struggled and tried to grasp for the familiar safety of inhale, exhale, but no.
My son arrived. Diastasis recti arrived, along with severe pelvic floor prolapse. A year passed. Physiotherapy did nothing. I tried doing my practice but couldn’t even feel my body. No balance, no strength, just exhaustion. An extensive surgery followed. Recovery was slow and another year passed. I tried again, but no. Patience was to be my yoga – and gradually gentler practices found their way back onto my mat. Five minutes, ten minutes, twenty minutes of reconnecting with my broken body and listening to what it needs.
(NB: There is a lot of pressure for women to ’get back in shape’ postpartum. There’s also growing pressure to be productive and perfect while on maternity leave – be a perfect mom, a perfect entrepreneur, a perfect everything while sharing it all on Instagram. Well, fuck that shit. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming months.)
A few days ago my body said it’s ready (for Ashtanga practice, that is). After my son had gone to sleep I rolled out my mat. I inhaled and exhaled and melted into my first surya namaskara A. My body rejoiced. Love arose from my heart like never before. I understood that I’ve undergone probably the most important part of my yoga journey so far – honoring my body’s limitations and working with them gently, not forcing, not pushing. Just letting them be and softening into them slowly. An hour later I lay on my mat crying. I was home, back in my body.
But I was, I am, a beginner again. My body feels weak and inflexible. I have no strength in my arms. Asanas that were a walk in the park four years ago require enormous effort. My legs have no balance. I still have diastasis recti and my the recovery of my root is slowly paced – I am a beginner and it makes me humble. And excited, so excited! Because I trust in my ability and my inner workings enough to listen, challenge, work through and slow down when needed. I know when resistance is just that, resistance, and when it’s a stop sign.
I realise this is a beautiful metaphor for life. Change is constant and, when faced with big life events, loss, bereavement, job changes, children leaving home, financial stuff, health stuff -well, when faced with life!- we find ourselves feeling like a beginner every time. But there is also a growing sense of trust: Here I am again. This hurts. This worries me. I don’t know if I can do this, but I am going to find out and I trust, trust, trust that life will show me the way and tell me when it’s time. For anything.
There’s also a beautiful message about our physical bodies and the need to honour them. They do so much for us and try their best to help us. Listen to your body. Your mind says no, your body says yes or vice versa. I have been angry and frustrated with my body over the past years and have landed in hospital with severe abdominal pain many times. I understand my body may not return to the way it was, or it may – who knows- but it is the way it is and it is on loan to me. I must handle it with care.
So here I am, love still rising from my heart so strongly it almost hurts. I thank myself for giving myself time, and I hope you give yourself time, too – you do know.