The practice of yoga conditions us for life and helps us to tolerate and integrate the challenging experiences that we encounter in our lives. Elena Brower, a teacher I admire greatly, often says something like, “We accumulate moments of healing in the time spent on our mats”.
As someone who has had a consistent daily practice for years, I can attest to the truth of her words. As often happens however, when something beautiful is perpetually right in front of you, I lost a little of my reverence for the nourishment provided by my practice. It took missing out on that practice for a few days during my recent trip to North America to help me to regain my gratitude for the healing power of yoga.
Over the course of my three weeks overseas, I was never in one bed longer than five nights and more often than not, I only spent one or two nights in a given place. From a physical and energetic point of view, moving around so much in a short period of time has the potential to leave a person feeling very ungrounded, scattered and vulnerable. It wasn’t until I went home to Nova Scotia in the middle of the trip and lost connection with my practice though, that I really felt like I lost my ground.
My time in Nova Scotia was mainly dedicated to seeing the new nursing home where my father has been moved and tending to some of his personal business and financial matters. My father was diagnosed with a form of dementia about four years ago and is completely non-verbal. Despite the fact that he looks like he’s in perfect health, it’s difficult to tell how much he understands and it is almost impossible to communicate with him. He is a mere shadow of the father I remember and his illness has been devastating to witness.
Through my practice of yoga and meditation, I have made a certain amount of peace with my father’s condition. On the first day I was to go see him, I could feel my anxiety levels rising and so I prioritised getting on my mat for yoga and meditation. I wanted to make sure I was anchored within myself before heading into an upsetting situation. Despite my good intentions, I was completely unprepared for the impact of seeing how much he’s deteriorated in the two years since I’ve seen him. I was shaken to my core.
I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by loving, helpful people who did their very best to take care of me. For the remainder of the time in Nova Scotia, I relied heavily on the support of others and, to a certain extent, absolved myself of my responsibility to take care of myself. There didn’t seem to be time or space for my practices and I didn’t create time the way I normally would have. I had a lot to accomplish in a short period of time and I made an unconscious decision to run on my reserves of energy rather than to take any time to replenish them.
I was so disconnected from myself that I didn’t even realise how much I needed my practices until I got on my mat in California on the way back to NZ. Within seconds of getting on the mat and tuning into my breath, I re-discovered a familiar sense of internal ease. After losing my ground in a place that is supposed to be “home”, I was able to truly come home to myself by simply breathing and being consciously aware of my body. It didn’t matter where I was on the globe. In the sanctuary of my mat, I was home.
In that split second, I realised that even though I had done myself a disservice by not practicing when I needed my internal anchor the most, the ground work I have laid over the past few years served me well. Although I felt the definite sense of the depletion of my reserves, I was also aware of how very accessible replenishment is when I simply invest a few conscious moments in myself.
We train ourselves in the safety of our mats to connect with our own inner anchors and compasses so that when things get chaotic in the real world, we have something to hold onto and be guided by – ourselves.