Come Back to the Mat

There’s something special about returning to an activity after a long break. Especially when that activity has brought a sense of joy and peace, calm and focus. In many ways, the pandemic took us away from the people, the activities, the experiences that made us feel alive. And while the world has opened up again and we are free to learn and live and work and play as we were before, for me, a significant return happened last week when I finally returned to the mat and to practicing yoga in community. There was a certain sense of excitement mixed with apprehension as I took the step to return, and taking that step had far more meaning for me than I thought it would.

The last time I stepped into the studio was in January of 2020, days before I went to Toronto to have surgery to remove a bone tumour from my knee. I knew it would be some time before I could return…I never anticipated it being more than three years. So when I did, I was nervous, but also eager to get back to my practice. I knew that my body would be different, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how different it would feel. The poses (asanas) that used to come easily to me now felt challenging, and I found myself struggling to stay present in the moment. Instead, I was constantly comparing myself to my pre-surgery self and feeling discouraged by what I saw.

Three years ago, I had worked hard to be able to return to the mat, but then, just as I was starting to feel ready, just as I was getting the pain under control, the world shut down. Suddenly, my fear of not being able to keep up with my former self didn’t matter as much. With yoga studios closed and social distancing guidelines in place, my focus shifted to simply getting through each day. I found myself relying on the tools I had learned through my yoga practice – deep breathing, mindfulness, and self-compassion – to help me navigate this new reality.

And yet, even as I turned to these tools for comfort, there was a part of me that longed to return to the yoga studio. I missed the community, the energy, and the sense of grounding that came with practicing in a group. The studio where I had practiced for the previous few years closed. But recently, a new studio has opened in that same space. It is a beautiful, welcoming and peaceful space. So when I learned that it was reopening, I knew I had to go back.

Last week was my first class. And that first class was tough. My body felt stiff and uncooperative, and my mind was distracted by thoughts of everything I couldn’t do. But as the class went on, something shifted. The teacher reminded me that using supports such as blocks would teach my body that she is safe. And with safety, I could start to trust my body again. This week was different. I started to notice the ways in which my body was still strong and capable, even if it didn’t look or feel the same as it did before. I felt grateful for the ways in which my practice had helped me to heal and adapt, and for the opportunity to continue growing and learning.

As I left the studio this evening, I realized that my struggle with yoga was a metaphor for my struggle with aging in general. Like my yoga practice, my body is not the same as it was when I was younger. I can’t do the things I used to do in quite the same way, and there are days when that feels frustrating and discouraging. But just as with yoga, there are also moments of beauty and grace in this new phase of life. I am proud of the wisdom and experience I have gained, and of the ways in which this vessel, my body, has carried me through the years.

It’s easy to focus on the losses that come with aging – the grey hair, the aches and pains, the sense that time is slipping away. But when I look at my life as a whole, I see so much more than that. I see the relationships that have deepened over time, the moments of joy and laughter that have become more precious, the lessons learned through trial and error. I see the person I have become, and the person I am still becoming.

So yes, my body is not the same as it was when I was 30. But that’s okay. I am learning to love and appreciate this vessel for what it is, rather than constantly comparing it to what it used to be. I am proud of the ways in which I can still keep up with my teenagers, and of the new things I am learning about myself every day. And most of all, I am grateful for the opportunity to continue growing and evolving, no matter what my age.

In a few months, I will be 50. That is an age that some people fear. But as I continue this journey toward half a century, I celebrate all I am and all I have become. I celebrate that the next 50 years are a time to care less about what others think and to trust my own intuition. I celebrate that there is a lot of years ahead of me to learn new things, have new experiences and to use the wisdom and experience I have gained to do good in the world. That is something to look forward to and to celebrate!


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