In 1999 I still thought I had to be perfect: I was a full-time over-achieving graduate student. Almost entirely by myself, I managed a household and parented three children ages 6, 8 and 10. I volunteered at the elementary school. My house was immaculate. And the list could go on.
As a preacher’s kid from a small farming community in Wisconsin, I lived constantly with the idea that people were watching and judging me. And I thought hat I needed to live up to their expectations. I wasn’t hooked into following conventions that didn’t make sense to me (for example, I didn’t have a t.v. in the house for many years), however, everything I did do had to be perfect.
Not surprisingly, I did not find joy in my life.
Everything seemed grey to me. I needed to take painkillers most nights in order to sleep because my hips hurt almost all the time. My back would spasm so badly sometimes that I couldn’t get off the floor. I felt guilt or some other negative emotion the instant I woke up in the morning. I was unreasonably irritable and angry with my children. My marriage had been completely devoid of physical contact for 6 years. I was depressed.
Somewhere inside me, however, I must have known there could be more to life
because when an acquaintance mentioned a new yoga studio she’d been going to, I decided to try it out. I had been doing some yoga poses on my own for more than ten years at that point, but I had never really considered going to a class. What I found at the group class at this studio was something completely different than what I had been doing on my own. The first class I went to happened to be an intermediate level power yoga class that completely kicked my butt. For that whole class time, my mind was only on those postures. Nothing hurt, I didn’t feel guilty or inadequate. When the rest came at the end of class, I felt a miraculous sense of well being. I was hooked.
I kept going back to classes. When I couldn’t manage to find classes that fit into my schedule while the kids were in school, I took them with me and sat them in the waiting room with some books.
Little by little, my body and mind started to change.
I felt that I was physically and mentally becoming more myself. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy were pushed back to a dull roar. My hips stopped hurting all the time. My back didn’t go out anymore. I was much more the loving and patient parent I wanted to be. The transformation I experienced was so pronounced that the kids would announce, “You need to go to yoga today, Mom.” whenever I started to go back to my old cranky ways.
These changes inspired me to do even more things to care for myself. I started getting massage and talk therapy. These worked together with practicing yoga to help me see that I did not have to live in a world that felt gray all the time. By the time I separated from my husband and began a long and difficult divorce in 2002, I had the tools to be able to be act with some compassion and mindfulness.
My process of transformation is ongoing. The tools I’ve learned through yoga continue to help me be more present in each moment. They help me to set appropriate boundaries for myself. It’s much easier to remember that I have a lot to be grateful for. Yoga postures help me feel better in my body. I’m much quicker to forgive myself when I screw up. And my life is no longer grey most of the time. I am grateful to have loving and respectful relationships with my children and grandchildren and husband.
I think my children would all agree: The best gift I ever gave them was to take care of myself.