It can be hard to return to the yoga mat after a long gap between practices. Our bodies have changed and our practice makes it very clear that we have lost some strength and flexibility while we were away. but it’s so important to return to the yoga mat and begin practicing exactly where you are today. Here is my story as a yoga instructor returning to my yoga mat after becoming a mother and developing a crippling disease. Use it as inspiration and motivation to find your way back to your yoga mat.
Returning to the Yoga Mat After a Long Time
I must move.
But first, I must be still.
My toes spread out and grip the mat. I’m building my foundation. My spine lengthens and I draw my muscles in to support it. I close my eyes. I search for balance in Mountain Pose. It is the simplest of postures, and yet I feel restless, jittery and uncertain. My breath is shallow and uneven. I start to sweat. Panic catches in my throat. Don’t cry, I tell myself. Don’t cry. It’s just another beginning.
It has been about 2 1/2 years since I last practiced yoga regularly. Practice used to be my sanctuary, my meditation, my home. I was, in fact, a yoga instructor. I studied and was certified to teach in India. I even owned my own studio for a few years. It was small, but successful enough for me to pay myself for teaching classes. And now, I am as awkward as my beginner students were when they walked into class for the first time with equal splashes of eagerness and trepidation on their faces.
I know I must excuse my absence from practice. I was busy bringing two new lives into the world. I had two back-to-back difficult pregnancies that have filled my life with sunlight and sons. I had intended to practice throughout my pregnancies, but nausea, severe sciatic pain, and months of crippling Braxton Hicks contractions interfered with my plans.
After the delivery of my first son, Max, I couldn’t wait to get back on my mat. I looked forward to losing weight and regaining a sense of myself. Again, things didn’t go as planned. When my body made it to Plank Pose in my first Sun Salutation, I collapsed. I had no strength. I tried to push through it, but it was useless. I felt like a failure, because I knew so many other women who practiced yoga right up until delivery and practically right after it as well. What was wrong with me?
It took me several months and a few more symptoms to answer that question. Extreme fatigue, unexplained weakness and finally, stiff fingers. I had developed arthritis from an autoimmune disorder. I knew nothing about autoimmune diseases, but quickly learned the basics. Auto-immune diseases mainly afflict women of child-bearing years. In Western medicine there is no cure, but there are drug regimens, none of which are suitable for lactating women. I was scared and heart-broken. Right at the time when I finally had what I had always dreamt of, a loving husband and healthy child, my body had started to attack itself and there was nothing I could do about it.
Another positive pregnancy test pushed my concerns about my autoimmune disorder to the back burner. Luckily, the disease suspended during pregnancy, and I almost believed it was gone for good. In late September, Jack was born in beautiful water birth. Our family was complete. Oh, yeah, and my symptoms returned with a vengeance.
Now I find myself back on my mat, too afraid to move, but to unsettled to be still. Calm down, I tell myself. After all, I am a teacher underneath it all. I know what to say. Release yourself from expectations. Just focus on this one breath. But knowing what is right is so vastly different from actually practicing it. This is hard. I acknowledge that fact, then count my breath into an even flow.
My hands find there way to my heart and oh, this is a prayer. Let me find my strength in both respects. Let me be physically strong enough for practice and life. And please, oh please, God, let me be strong enough, to handle the emotional affects of this disease. My hands sweep up to the sky, my gaze following. I fold forward, over the belly roles leftover from birth. I am surprised I can touch the floor. I look up and hope for the best. Rather than jumping like I used to, I gently walk back into Plank. I quickly drop my knees down to modify the posture. Then I push through it and complete the Salutation.
What did I find in Plank today? Both weakness and strength. I couldn’t hold even the modification for a full breath, but I didn’t collapse. I found enough inner strength to continue with practice, despite an ego bruised by many necessary modifications. I always used to tell my students, in yoga we practice qualities physically through postures, but at the same time we develop those very qualities on a spiritual level. Postures develop not just physical strength, but mental and emotional strength as well. The same thing is true for balance and flexibility. Today, I built a little strength, not just in my body, but also in my heart. Enough to know, I will return to the mat tomorrow.Today, I built a little strength, not just in my body, but also in my heart.Click To Tweet
The Best Yoga Mat
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If it has been so long that you need to get a new mat, I want to recommend this beautiful yoga mat from Gaiam. This is the mat I use and love. There are so many gorgeous colors and prints to choose from.