Just as I’d known to stop yoga for a while and let myself go off the rails, I knew again that it was time to come back to the mat.
When I broke up with my boyfriend last July, I also broke up with my yoga practice. This realization hit me a few days ago, when I was in the middle of child’s pose. It was the first time in a long time that I’d hit the mat, and tears streamed down my face as the waves of awareness I had avoided for so long washed over me.
A year ago, abandoning my yoga practice would have been unthinkable.
For four years I had been a (nearly) daily yogi. My mat was worn from countless downward dogs, and my naturally neurotic mind was calmer. Yoga had kept me sane throughout my tumultuous and wonderful college years. With each breath I’d found deeper awareness, a sense of peace and otherworldly bliss. But when my boyfriend and I split, the thoughts and emotions I’d embraced became painful.
For almost a year I avoided my mat, my mind and my torn up heart through partying and the demands of my job and schoolwork. I danced, ran, listened to pounding music that drowned out my thoughts; did anything to avoid the stillness and surrender of breath.
‘Work hard, play hard’ replaced ‘namaste‘ as I escaped the heartbreak that ensued from the end of my first love.
There are times in life when one must step off the mat. Times when skimming the surface is appealing, and perhaps even essential, to emotional health.
During those times stopping to look inside can feel like peering into a dark hole with no bottom. Death in the family, illness, the loss of a job or of love, are a few situations that bring up inescapable pain. They are the challenges life throws to us all. Yoga and mindfulness teach us to meet these (and all) moments with acceptance and awareness.
But sometimes the grief can feel unending, and diving in may feel more like drowning.
During those times it is not wrong to step back. To distract and numb oneself, just for a while. Of course, that logic can go wrong and lead to greater problems. Habits can become addictions, and the feelings we avoid may fester and loom larger with each passing day.
How then should one approach these challenges? How can we teach ourselves when to delve deep, and when to simply stay afloat?
For me, escaping eventually felt like running a marathon with no finish line. I was tired, exhausted really, and stillness started seeming peaceful again. It took a while to stop. I’d have days of peace and serenity. Days where I decided to face all the fears and do things I knew were good for me—but those days didn’t last.
I’d pick up too many shifts at work, meet another guy, make another mistake, party just a bit too hard. And the fears—of loneliness, depression and doubt—would loom up again.
A year had passed when I reached my breaking point.
I hadn’t learned from my failed relationship, and the same lesson kept appearing in my life like a terrible joke, dressed up as a series of unfortunate dating experiences.
Running away wasn’t working.
In the end it came down to intuition, that unconscious knowing that had lead me to leave yoga in the first place. The voice, I think we all have, that will guide us if we only trust ourselves. Just as I’d known to stop yoga for a while and let myself go off the rails, I knew again that it was time to come back to the mat. That knowing reminded me of the wisdom I’d gained from yoga as well as life; that everything, even sadness, even fear, even the worse heartbreak, ends.
And so I returned to my practice. And it’s not always pretty. The time didn’t really take away the sadness, it only created some distance from which to look back, but it made me stronger, ready to brave the reality that yoga brings into such sharp relief. And although my relationship with the ex is truly over, my relationship with yoga, and my self, has only just begun.
At the end of the day escaping can only get you so far. And it is only in silence, with courage, that one can learn the lessons of the past and move in. In the great words of Maya Angelou,
“History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Marie Isabelle is an intern at a travel PR agency, hostess at a whiskey bar and reformed yogi. She likes to drag her friend on road trips in her car Goldilocks, enter in the occasional beer chugging contest, and attempts to stay healthy dancing, hiking and running. Read more on her blog.
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Assistant Ed: Linda Jockers/Ed: Bryonie Wise