My yoga mat is a very busy place. When I roll it out on the studio floor and stand back to admire its colour (purple, my favorite), it looks like an empty mat. An open space, reserved just for me. There to support me, encourage me, hold and heal me. And it is. An open and empty place; until I step onto it.
I think of caged water, pushing hard against its limits and the intensity of the release when its allowed to flow. That’s what happens when I step on my mat only its not rushing water, its all of the other things. Past experiences, failures, and embarrassments. My distorted perception of myself, my mental illness, my fears and all of my broken pieces. They are on that mat with me and sometimes for me, the greatest challenge on my mat is not the practice of yoga at all, but the practice of sitting with all of those judgments, that fear, that illness, those broken pieces.
It was only a few years ago that yoga found me.
We had been introduced years before that but I wasn’t ready for it. It wasn’t time. I say that because the practice, for me, is more than movement and growth of my body but truly a movement of everything I am. My spirit and mind are holding that Plank and feel sensation right along with my thighs. When I started the practice, I was deep in a depression and one of the hardest parts of my being in a deep dive is that my eyes don’t look the same. They are flat, there is no spark, I can’t feel the essence of who I know I am. Reduced to a pilot light, knowing I am a blazing inferno at my best. Looking in the mirror, facing that darkness, was too big.
The studio where I began to practice had mirrors along the walls and one day I came to class and the only places left in the room were at the front, face to face with the mirror. The place I had been avoiding.
I rolled out my mat, that optimistic space that quickly became so very busy as I stepped onto it. Moving into Tadasana, grounding my feet and feeling the rooting and strength grow through my legs, exhaling and allowing my shoulders to relax back and open my chest. Arms passively at my side, submitting to the fear of the impossible task ahead of me. Slowly, my gaze moved up the mirror and there they were. Those empty eyes staring back at me and the sting of tears rolling down my cheeks. I just stood there, the rest of the class passive in Svasana, I stood there. Fighting a silent battle, waging war on an invisible illness and beginning to see the utter lack of compassion that I feel for my illness, my fears, my broken pieces.
The hardest work I did in that class, that day, wasn’t the practice of yoga. It was the practice letting go, the practice of learning to make space for all of the things about me, whether I like them or not. Whether I have control over them walking on that mat with me, or not. Learning compassion for ones’ self, making room for all of the pieces is hard. It burns like the deep lunge of Warrior II, it takes your breath like sun salutations, challenges your balance like Tree. Learning compassion for yourself, all of yourself, is sometimes the deepest stretch.
The fact is, like so many others, I have fears, I have mental illness, I have broken pieces. They are part of me, they walk with me. We can’t always control the things we are given but we can control how we walk with them. Hating them, resenting them, is hating me, wishing away me, my parts, my pieces.
The greatest practice on and off the mat is finding balance with them all and learning to smile at the darkness. To find softness in the hard places. To push through the long holds and be strong knowing you always have the power to make space, to find a place, for all of the pieces.