The Practices that Sustain Me: Yoga
I practice yoga 6-7 days a week as much as possible, which is most of the time. I wake up early to get in an hour to an hour and a half of practice before the rest of the house rises and I become mother and wife. My practice has become as essential to my well being as eating and I know without it, I would not be the person I am or nearly as healthy and mobile.
It's kind of interesting how a mountain gal who didn't live close to a yoga community got into yoga. Technology links us all. Yoga has been part of my life since college off and on. Back then, I was introduced to a basic sun salutation practice through a Jane Fonda VHS tape when my goal was basically be skinny and tough. Now, yoga is way more than a workout to me. It is the foundation of my spiritual practice. It is my time with God. As cliche as it might sound, it is true that my yoga mat has been a place of profound transformation for me in body and soul. I have a hard time describing what takes place there to those who don't have a practice because it is so ingrained in feeling. Yoga means union. Through yoga, even on the hardest days, I connect my body, mind, and spirit to the Divine.
The branch of yoga I practice the majority of the time is Kundalini yoga. It is said that Kundalini yoga is the oldest form of yoga and was kept a secret from the general public for centuries. Kundalini yoga was brought to the west by Yogi Bhajan and is considered a yogic path that is designed for the householder or those who participate in society as opposed to those who choose a spiritual path that separates them from society. If you Google Kundalini yoga, you'll get all kinds of interesting hits, most of which are sensationalism. Kundalini yoga is a very powerful natural technology, but taken under normal circumstances it is a practice that is safe and accessible to people from all walks of life and belief systems. The experience I have had with it is so special that I practice this style almost exclusively. It provides me with a physical workout and what I call "real" church - a physical/emotional experience of the presence of God.
There are no yoga studios anywhere near where I live, so I practice using DVDs and YouTube. In 2010, I became certified to teach prenatal yoga through the Asheville Yoga Center in North Carolina, but the interest for yoga in my community has always been too small to have classes. My home practice feeds me pretty well. Ravi Singh and Ana Brett are my go to teachers. They have somewhere near 24 DVDs and an upcoming book. Their website offers extensive resources and they have an online presence on Facebook to guide their students learning from a distance. Another teacher I appreciate very much is Maya Fiennes. She has an comprehensive video library and I find her practice very doable. One day, I'd love to share Kundalini yoga with others. We'll see where it leads me.
I feel amazingly blessed by sustaining a yoga practice. It has been worth prioritizing. Yoga is the only exercise I have found I need other than normal daily activities. Because of my need to keep my blood pressure low and the medication that helps me with that, other more cardio intensive exercise has become too much for me. Yet, through yoga and techniques like "the breath of fire" I do things that are "more aerobic than aerobics." I believe anyone who wants to can take up a yoga practice. If you can breathe, you can do yoga. Yoga changes lives. Yoga supports my body and my body supports my life. I cannot ask for a better exchange. Yoga is a practice that sustains me.
A Day in a Life
I spent most of yesterday evening with my daughters at the hospice center where my grandmother is being cared for. She isn't doing well, and yesterday they called for us to come. I've never been with someone as they passed, other than my pets. It's very hard to watch labored breathing. I found myself trying to breathe for her, long deep yoga breaths.
This morning, things seem a little better with her. She's breathing easier. It's unbelievable how we truly cannot know from one day to the next how our lives will change and yet so much of life is based on whether we can overcome the fear of the risks included in recognizing and living the lives we were born to live.
Today, is a very normal day. The girls and I ate breakfast, finished school work, watched it snow an inch in an hour, tidied up, I did yoga, ate lunch, and now I'm blogging. I'm feeling guilty for not being a bit more active today. Heck, I always feel guilty for that even when I've busted tail. I wonder what the next months will be like, and whether or not I can support myself through them. I have a plan. It's a good plan. I'll share it here bit by bit.
This is one day in my life. One small part of a year. A speck of a lifetime. It's a good day.
At one point last night, my grandmother opened her eyes and said, "It's been a pretty pleasant evening." Hearing her say it relieved my heart whether or not she was referring to last evening, or an evening long ago. Pleasant was an evening. That's a big deal.
Today, I read this quote by Anne Lamott.
Oh my God, what if you wake up one day, and your 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools or oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly, and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen. - Anne Lamott
I want to know that I won't let this happen. Today, this one day in a life, I'm pretty positive it won't. I'm sure that as I age, I want to not fear the finite part of life, but reach out into those unknown bits that let us soar into the clouds with two feet on the ground. Like I did the day I gave birth to my Gweneth. Like this woman.
Tao-Porchon Lynch - 96 year old yoga teacher and ballroom dancer
I'm going to have to live with this. There is no immediate fix, no sure cure, and no answer as to if this will ever go away except likely not. I didn't want to imagine the rest of my life dealing daily with pain. I didn't want to have to take another medication. I wanted to hear that with a snip, clip, or treatment, I'd be rid of this thing and I'd never have to feel pain so intense that I want to leave my body again. It isn't going to be so.
I spent yesterday wondering how in the world I was going to find the support I need to muster up the motivation to do the work I need to do to not just live with chronic migraine and nerve damage, but to live well. Seeing my grandparents in their transitioning to the next stage of existence, I've done a lot of thinking about quality of life. Quality of life matters a great deal to me.
The thing is, I've been fighting for something my whole life. I've been fighting to be acknowledged, respected, and for my basic human rights since I was a child. If I wasn't fighting for myself and protecting myself, then I was doing it for someone else who deserved fighting for. I'm tired of fighting. I'm tired. I'm ready to be carried some. Life is to be enjoyed as much as it is to struggle through.
Not too long ago, I talked with a life long Christian who had begun to wonder if there really would be something after death and if it would be kind. I told her that if she really believed what she professed to believe, then death is just a step into the future and not to be feared. Sure, there's anxiety anytime we are dealing with unknowns, but to really fear death can cause unnecessary pain. There is something for all of us to believe about death that can pacify fear whether or not we are faithful to a religion.
If I take my own advice, and I truly believe what I believe about life, purpose, and God, then I know this added chronic condition is an opportunity for growth, understanding, and personal freedom. I, the introvert, would like a team for this though. Me, who has always preferred to work alone wants a team. I've supported women in labor; speaking gently, massaging, seeing to their comfort as they came into their own as a mother. They transformed before my eyes and came into a realization that you cannot come to except for in the act of birth as I spoke to their strength. I would like a doula - a cheering squad - a friend.
To step back into my name and do this thing, I need to be able to have rest and reward. I'm already putting forth a lot of effort to make my body temple serve me well. The most important thing for me to do right now is reduce stress and find more effective ways of coping with the stress I will inevitably experience. As everything is an opportunity, dealing with stress has the potential to change my worldview and bring balance to my life. Stress doesn't have to be the bad guy that brings only pain. But, to experience stress in the positive, I am stepping outside of my comfort zone and asking for encouragement from others. I'm baring my heart, reaching out, and accepting that sometimes a kind word from another, a motivating quote, an ancient verse is the strength you need to breathe the next breath and be glad for it.
At this very moment, I'm fighting the urge to not erase this whole thing and think of it as whining. I'm fighting the guilt that is self imposed for not being the friend I might have needed to be for someone else. The ego is stepping in and attempting to make me feel unworthy of feeling the love of others. Maybe this whole thing is God's way of helping me learn to really accept that we are the embodiment of God's love and accept that this love doesn't always have to originate in my own heart. This may be when I finally am able to let down my guard while still being that warrior and defender I have always had to be. Who knows what this is? I only know that for the sake of my children and husband, I cannot let this get the better of me.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.