Back on my mat

IMG_0024The studio is quiet, hot and dimly lit. Walking on tiptoes, I locate what seems to be one of the last open plots of space and unfurl my teal-colored mat to claim it. The flip of the mat hitting the ground feels weighty, and loud. I look around but no one else has noticed. I take a seat.

This my first *hot* yoga class since I became pregnant. I am six-weeks postpartum and my body still aches from labor and lack of sleep.

At home, my husband is watching our newborn son. I am here, at this class, for some much-needed me-time.

At least my body is here. My mind seems to be elsewhere.

A thousand different thoughts crowd my mind: I worry I will not make it through the heated class. I worry about how my postpartum body looks in the studio mirror, new curves and extra padding. I worry about what my son is doing right now. Is he sleeping? Is he eating? Is he OK?

I am anxious and impatient for class to begin, and, just when I feel I can’t wait any longer, the teacher comes in and instructs us to begin to “settle into your space.”

Settling in is the last thing I want to do right now. I want to shut off my mind and move. I am in the middle of a major life upheaval and I’m still figuring out how to cope.

Looking back, my life before baby seemed so calm, so simple. Weeks were punctuated by work, workouts, nights out with friends.

Now life’s a whirlwind of feedings, playtime, napping, diaper changes; it’s enduring sleepless nights and thankless chores; it’s . . . complicated.

And it’s also incredible. As a new parent, every moment of the day is amplified by my little one’s existence. The pure joy and love I have for my son is bigger than anything I’ve ever felt before.

Class is starting now and I try to focus in on my breath, on the gentle instructions our teacher provides. We begin to flow from tadasana (mountain pose) to uttanasana (forward fold) to ardha uttanasana (halfway lift), and I feel a sense of release as I move through these familiar motions.

My heartbeat pounds, my limbs lengthen, the chatter in my mind goes mute. I’m keyed into the sequence now, and my muscle memory takes over as I swoop from urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog) to adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog).

As we progress, poses that once felt easy are hard. I push through, acutely aware of each sweaty minute.

I struggle as I strive to maintain composure during a particularly difficult sequence. My teacher offers modifications and I take them all with confidence. There was a time when this sequence would have been easy for me, but now it is not. I surrender to what my body needs today, resisting the urge to work too hard too soon.

When the instructor finally invites us to enter savasana (corpse pose) I collapse on my mat with a smile, knowing at least I’ve nailed this last pose of renewal and relaxation.

My body feels heavy, glued to the ground. I am tired AND energized AND already ready to come back again.

In the six weeks that I was recovering from giving birth, I missed the simplicity of my mat and the comfort of this routine. At a time when it seems as if everything has changed—my strength (or lack thereof), my family, my body, my mind—yoga is one constant.

As I relax in the darkness, I think about why yoga is called a “practice,” an act you master with time. It is not a performance, but a sharpening of the mind and body, a discipline that requires mental resilience and acute body awareness.

After years of practicing yoga I’d forgotten what it felt like to be a novice. Having a baby, taking a break from my mat, reminded me.

Life—like yoga—has a way of ebbing and flowing. In this season of life, I am novice parent, trying to make sense of the new complexity raising a child brings, I’m again a novice yogi, rediscovering my strength on my mat.

Coping with a BIG life transition—whether it’s a breakup, parenthood, a new job or moving—is never easy. When we make time to embrace old routines, however, they lift the burden of foreign and for a moment, ground us in the familiar.

Just sixty minutes ago, my life felt so off balance. Now I felt grounded.

We sit up and begin to seal our practice with a community breathing exercise. “Inhale to the count of three . . . now exhale deeply,” the instructor says.

I breathe in deep, I breathe out a sigh of relief.

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