September 28, 2017

Best Friends, Birkenstocks & BMIs: How Yoga Changed the Life of this Middle-Aged Mom.


Four years ago, “Whine and Wine” Tuesday nights became a ritual for my group of close girlfriends.

It began as a weekly touchstone for my friend who had been blindsided by divorce, an opportunity for us to listen, give advice, and secretly admire her svelte figure, the result of a grief-driven 30-pound weight loss.

As the divorce wound its slow way toward closure, we discussed other things: aging parents, rebellious teenagers, financial woes, husbands, and empty nests.

I didn’t have much to share on those Tuesday evenings, although I looked forward to them every week. An excuse to eat cheese and crackers for dinner! On the surface, I had the perfect life: a supportive, loving husband, two teenagers who hadn’t yet landed in jail or gotten pregnant, a wonderful mom and sister, and the job I had always dreamed of.

But after a few of those Tuesday nights, I began to feel a heaviness, the weight of concern that all the plates I was spinning to create my perfect life would come crashing down. I was pretending, like a swan sitting gracefully on the water, my unseen legs churning incessantly underneath the surface to stay afloat. Still, I stayed quiet, embarrassed to share what seemed to be minor anxiety compared to what some of my friends were facing.

Then, the unthinkable happened. The day after the “Whine and Wine” girls returned from a long weekend in Las Vegas, my dear friend’s husband died in her front yard. A massive heart attack at 51 years old.

Nothing else was as important as taking care of my friend. We organized meals, went through old photos, and dealt with the insurance company and the funeral home. We ate more cheese and crackers and drank more wine. We held on to each other and we napped on the couch and made phone calls and ate whatever the neighbors brought over.

And we drank wine. “Whine and Wine” nights occurred several times a week now, but the time together felt different, and we all felt a little lost.

Then, a dear friend from our children’s soccer days invited us to yoga one morning. There was a new yoga studio in town and she wanted to try it. I had done yoga at the gym before, and liked it better than some of the other classes I had tried, but only because I didn’t sweat as much and got to take a nap at the end. Three of us had found a great deal on yoga mats at TJ Maxx the year before, so we packed up and went to yoga, expecting it only to be a diversion from an otherwise uneventful winter Saturday.

The studio smelled heavenly and the instructor was beautiful, gracious, and kind. We went through the poses, focusing on our breathing and our posture. I felt my shoulders loosen and my jaw relax.

Next to me, I heard a soft keening sound, and I looked over at my friend, tears streaming down her cheeks. I caught her eye and she nodded, acknowledging that she was okay. I looked over at the instructor and she smiled, letting me know that she was aware that one of her students was sobbing. I looked around the room. No one else seemed to be concerned, so I went on, sneaking looks at my friend every few minutes.

At the end of our practice, our instructor tucked a blanket around my legs, gave me a lavender scented towel to cover my eyes, and gently pressed on my shoulders. As she read a lovely poem, I felt tears sting my eyes. Surprised and a little taken aback, I spent the next few days thinking about my response. Soon, I realized why I had the emotional reaction: I needed to be taken care of; I was craving comfort. I was so busy taking care of all of the people and all of the things in my life that I had forgotten to take care of me.

It was the wisdom that I had been searching for. If I was going to keep all of the plates spinning, I had to find a way to rest and refuel, to take care of myself.

Several months after I began yoga, I went in for my yearly physical. I got on the scale and then stood against the wall to have my height measured.

“Something is wrong,” the nurse mumbled. My pulse quickened as I wondered what she could mean.

“You grew,” she said.

“I grew?” I repeated.

“You have grown an inch since your last physical.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s because I have been doing yoga.”

The nurse looked puzzled, but I didn’t explain. As I expected, my blood pressure was lower than the year before and all of my tests came back within normal limits. My BMI was lower because I was taller! The verdict was in: yoga was helping me take care of not just my emotional self, but my physical self as well.

Eleven months later, and my friends and I are self-described yogis.

I go to at least three classes a week, and still wake up on those mornings looking forward to having a blanket tucked around my legs. I have traded in my Old Navy flip-flops for Birkenstocks, something I would have guffawed at a year ago.

Interestingly, many things in my life are more comfortable now.

I choose to wear more comfortable clothes, I choose to be with people who make me feel good, and I choose foods that make me feel strong and healthy. Most importantly, I choose the thoughts that I want to engage in, and spend less time worrying about things I can’t control.

And, I spend less time drinking wine with my friends. We are too busy working on our handstand scorpions.


Author: Rachel Jefferson Spates
Image: distelfliege/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Rachel Jefferson Spates