I used to think that yoga should help me relieve stress. I would bring my tense, high-strung body to my mat and wait for the “AHA!” moment when all the shit that was bothering me would just fall away. And more often than not, that moment never came. That isn’t to say that yoga didn’t feel great. Some classes would leave me feeling strong and stretched out, relaxed and ready. But my mind was still a landscape of worries and anxieties. While I was on my mat my mind quieted, but as soon as I left the world would come crashing down on me again. It was a break from the crazy, but definitely not a cure.
That was until I began to notice myself thinking. It happened slowly, like a fog lifting. I could see my actions forming in my mind, my words getting the energy to spring from my mouth, before I would move or speak. I began to see the choices that were before me. I could scream when I was angry, or cry, or laugh. I had control over my reactions and my actions.
Yoga had given me the tools to slow down enough, to see myself fully. I gained the strength to chose how stress would shape me, how I would move through the happy and sad moments of my life.
Recently, my two-year-old got very sick. It started slowly, a lymph node swelled in his neck. Then it got bigger, and eventually his whole neck was swollen, looking like he had swallowed a soft ball. Terrified, I felt my heart racing, and decided to not let my kids see me panic. I calmly left my husband with our girls (4 years and 8 month old daughters) and took my boy to the hospital. They ran all kinds to tests. He was poked, prodded, radiated, illuminated and finally diagnosed with a retropharyngeal abscess. That first lymph node had died in his throat and his neck was filling with necrotic tissue and puss. They had to operate.
My husband and girls met me at the hospital, just as he went into surgery. I wanted to cry, to scream at someone, to run away from the hospital and this pain. I could feel my heart bulging in my chest threatening to break. But, I chose calm. I took deep breaths and reassured myself, and the rest of the family, that everything would be fine. I hugged my girls, looked deep into my husband eyes, sure that we could get through this.
When they brought my tiny, sleeping boy out of surgery, and called me back, only one person was allowed to stand at his side while he tried to wake up. I placed a hand on his cool shoulder and whispered, “I love you” in his ear. I waited, ready to see his eyes open, but they didn’t. He struggled to wake up. His breath was fully of gurgles, stutters, and squeaks. The nurse started to use a blow-by tube to force more oxygen into his lungs. He wouldn’t rouse. He wouldn’t take deep breaths. The room swirled, quivered, and exploded away from us. All I could see was his pale face, almost purple lips, he was suddenly my tiny infant again. I couldn’t stand, and I kept loosing my own breath, as if I was trying to offer it to him.
Thank goodness for yoga, and body awareness. If that moment had been a yoga-practice, I would have taken child’s pose. As it was, I called my husband. He came into the room, and I went out to wait with our girls.
The doctors’ eventually got him to breathe. We spent two more days in the hospital, pumping his tired and sore body with antibiotics and fluids. He found the energy to sit up, and then to eat, and then to play. Finally, we went home.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I felt strong in my connection to myself. Often times, in the past, stress would take me out of my body and then eventually out of my mind. But recently, stress has forced me to check-in. Those moments, when the nurse was struggling to find my son’s vein for the IV, when I had to hold him still for the X-ray, when I felt my heart shattering inside of my chest, I actually FELT everything I was feeling. I dropped into my body, and through that into my mind. I could CHOOSE how I was going to act and react. I could gather my strength from its pile at the bottom of my stomach and hold, not only myself, but my whole family up. Yoga gave me the strength to know that I could be strong. Yoga gave me the strength to deal with the worst stress I have come up against in a long time.
I didn’t get a chance to practice yoga for a week, during this ordeal. But, I remembered to breathe. There wasn’t a single down dog to help me through it. And still, every practice I have ever done got me through. Yoga wasn’t there to wash away my stress. It gave me the power to manage how I dealt with stress. This is what yoga can do to change our lives. This is how it gets off of your mat. It’s just not about dumping all of your stress on your mat. It’s about breathing through the stress that life throws at you. Yoga gives us the power to choose how we deal, react, and act in every moment.