On Yoga

From March to June this year, I had the privilege of participating in a yoga teacher training course with some of the most inspiring and heart felt men and women I’ve met in a long time. Yoga came into my life over ten years ago. My first memory of it was a group class at college, where I felt suspicious and curious in the way one does when you come upon something true and holy and new that you are perhaps not entirely ready for.  My next memory is of a hot class in the middle of winter in Northampton, Massachusetts. I emerged sweat-drenched into the snow-covered parking lot and was again awestruck at the unspeakable power of bodies moving in unison. Of being stuck on my mat in a hot room with nowhere to go but inside. Nothing to do but move and breathe.

My next encounter with yoga was in a treatment centre in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It had been years since that freezing evening in Northampton and my life had come apart at the seams. I finally failed to keep it together - failed to keep up the pretence of a life that worked amidst the truth that I was exhausted and dying inside without any real idea why or what was going on. Thankfully, I was willing to get quiet for long enough to consider boarding a plane to the desert to spend eight weeks surrounded by other men and women who had filled their lives with sex and booze and drugs and had found a way out. Men and women who had found God and love and freedom and beauty where there used to be only darkness. Men and women who would share their path with me, be lighthouses, show me the way.

One of them was a woman named Pasha who came twice a week to teach yoga in the small trailer with brown carpet and tiny windows that stood overlooking the pink hills of the New Mexico desert. Three or four of us would gather with her as she led us from one pose to the next, moving our bodies, breathing, feeling limbs move in ways I had only ever moved for other people. For sex or love or affirmation. Never before had I moved my body this way. For quiet. For myself. Yoga introduced me to the holy power of my own body. The divine beauty. The sanctity. It was a coming home to my relationship with my body as a temple. A physical manifestation of the Divine. A cherished home. A safe place. A homecoming of the greatest magnitude.

After those seven weeks in Santa Fe I returned home to New York. It took months for me to remember anything I had learned there, for me to realize the absolute necessity of integrating the tools I had been presented with into my daily life. After a few months, desperate and alone, I wandered into a church basement and introduced myself to a room of strangers honestly and earnestly and before the night was through another woman offered her hand in help. Another lighthouse. A rescue boat. The path to a new life.

It was on this path that I found my way to yoga again. A crowded studio on St Marks Place where I paid a dollar for every class. A quiet room overlooking Court Street, mats laid out on creaky wooden floors and winter light pouring through the high windows. When we moved to Cape Town, I found you again. Free classes in De Waterkant. A backroom at the gym. I arrived at yoga tentatively for a while longer, but after too many years of doing battle with the voices in my head that told me this was something perhaps more beautiful and lovely than I deserved, I started to come around to the truth that in fact this is my medicine. My soul food. Like oxygen or water; like love.   

And so it is true. Yoga is the medicine that brings me home to myself and God as I have continue to walk through this hard and beautiful life. As I attempt to ride her waves with grace and dignity, squeezing all I can from each moment and growing closer to God all the time. Through the ups and downs of the most earnest attempt at marriage I could muster, bearing the loneliness of being unseen in the company of your husband, thousands of miles away from home, and then the loss of that marriage, becoming a mother and a divorcee all at the same time. The loss of friends who filled the loneliness, the dream of raising daughters together, of sisterhood and laughter and Thanksgiving dinners with our found family. And then the majesty of falling in love again. The pain of betrayal. The horror of abandonment. Of being faced with my demons again and again and again. How could I continue to face my pain? To walk through the darkness? To trust that somewhere there must be more light?

Some days all I can do is put my body in the room. Feet on the mat. Breathing in and out as I follow the teacher’s voice deep into my bones. A lighthouse guiding me within. Guiding me home to myself again and again. Showing me the way. Telling me the truth: You have been here the whole time. You have all the answers you need. You are already whole. You are already forgiven. You are already loved. You can stop looking. Stop moving. Stop. Be here now. Be still. Get quiet. Come home. I’m here.

The mat has been beneath my feet the entire way. My strong body surrendering to itself. Held by the practice. Held by my own breath.  

Eternal gratitude for this practice. For the depth of its truth. For the teachers along the way who have taught me to love myself when I didn’t know how. Who have held space for my tears, for my expansion, for my heart when it was breaking and when it was being pieced back together again, bigger and more filled with love than before. For the women who have inspired me to come back to myself again and again, to dig deeper, trusting I would find more light there. More gems to mine. More soil to till. More nourishment here than anywhere else. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.