I’ll never forget that first yoga class I took after he died. It’s been almost three years now. I walked into the familiar space. The teacher saw me. He knew. Looking at me gently, he wisely asked, “are you OK to be touched?” I didn’t know.
Prior to that week my practice was centered around heat and handstands, sweat and style. I craved Yang. I practiced, taught, and devoured Baptiste Yoga nearly every day. I was young. I was naive. And then suddenly, horrifically, and in my arms… the man I loved was gone. My entire world disappeared. Everything that remained looked like the charred gray remains of a fire.
A week passed between that terrible night and the day I walked back into the studio. Yoga was the farthest thing from my mind. At that point, I hadn’t even decided if I even wanted to breathe anymore. But it was another pain that brought me back into the studio. It was my damn back.
You see, when my yoga practice first began I was sixteen and it was on accident. I was a teenage ballerina trying to put myself back together before I even knew what together was. I’d lost a battle with my own body; undiagnosed herniated disks and congenital spinal stenosis resulted in nine months of existing in a confusing haze of severe nerve pain hardly masked by pain medication that is not even legal anymore. When the doctors finally figured out the root of my pain, I underwent a discectomy and laminectomy.
Yoga was woven into my physical therapy. It connected my body back to itself, built strength where it had been cut out of me. I eventually awoke from the gallows of mistaken dependency and opened my eyes to a future that was different than what I’d assumed was absolute. It wouldn’t be the last time. I was young. During my practice, I flung my limbs into the air like a baby deer on ice. But even then, I used the path of yoga to search for the grace I’d lost in battle. I used yoga to get strong again.
Five years later, a sophomore in college, I climbed onto the back of a motorcycle geared in flip flops, a mini-skirt, and a broken helmet. I wrapped my arms around the leather jacket in front of me. It started to rain. When we lost control at high speed and I saw the truck coming towards us, I had no time to think. I don’t even remember the impact, but I do remember the flying.
I soared through the air for what I later learned was two seconds, but in that moment time was endlessly suspended. I noticed the lawn mover in the back of the truck I was flying over. I realized I was about to die. I decided I would live instead. I realized my helmet was no longer on. I cradled my head with my arms. I shifted my body in space so that the approaching road wouldn’t impact my already weak spine. I loosened every muscle in my body so that I would bend and not break. And then, I had this moment when I felt an unmistakable sense of being held by something feminine and something magical. I could see her. I could feel her. And then I hit the ground.
It was four months before I was walking again. Yoga returned again as a therapeutic tool. But this time there was something else that I was curious about. It was that magic, that divine energy that saved my life. I searched for that magic in every way. I was still young, you see. Yoga became one of my many vices.
It was ten years later when I walked into that class after he died. I was a yoga teacher by then. I had a couple certificates to prove it, four years of teaching under my belt, and could touch my toes to my head in forearm balance. I had worked my ass off to regain my strength and grace after they had been stolen from me again, a decade before.
I will never forget that class. Although it was vinyasa, he never moved us off the ground. The room was packed but he was teaching to me. (A skill I hope to someday possess.) I remember lizard pose: I was raw; my soul seeped out through every opening, the earth nearly ate me. Prone, I felt her again. The mother… she was holding me. I realized that although my practice would never be the same, the lessons remained consistent. You are strong, she whispered. And you are still young, even though you don’t feel it.
I haven’t touched my toes to my head in forearm stand since then. Months went by when a completely satisfactory inversion practice was laying horizontal in my bed and dangling my head off until it touched the ground. Yin was all I could handle.
Slowly, like a golden thread, color moved back into my world. My experience of moving through the thick realm of grief sharpened my ability to see what was important to me, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was very gentle on my body, I didn’t try to stand on one foot or on my hands, because life was already a balancing act. I devoted myself to psychotherapy so I could understand my thoughts and ease my memories, rather than be hindered by them. I remained open to the grace of that unnamed magic I felt so connected to. And that trust paid off, because a couple years later, the universe opened up and held me once more. In a crescendo of glory, I found true love again.
These days, rather than a prescribed lineage, my practice is a brave inquisition. Each time I unroll my mat, I search to discover the balance within each shape-shifting moment; thirsty to be humbled by every teacher; and committed to seeing empty space as a plenum, full of grace. My yoga is about acknowledging the union of all the parts; all of my darkness coupled with my ferocious light, my strength with my weakness, my grief nurtured by an unwavering belief in love, and my experiences met with the understanding that there is only more to learn. Because, I am, indeed, still quite young.