Confessions Of A Reluctant Yogi: 3 Life Lessons Learned On The Mat
I admit it: I started practicing yoga not for some highly evolved, spiritual-sounding reason, but because I was desperate for peace and quiet.
Five years ago, I was working as a live-in caregiver for adults with special needs.
I loved my job, but as an introvert living and working in a house with 13 other people, I craved solitude.
My housemates’ needs filled my thoughts when their voices weren’t filling my ears.
It was then that I found sanctuary, in the form of the yoga studio down the street. And yoga didn’t just give me an escape; it helped make me a better caregiver.
Here are three lessons that my yoga practice (and caregiving commitments) taught me:
1. The unavoidable truth: Persistence precedes mastery.
My first experience with yoga came courtesy of my mother, an instructor who encouraged me to practice with her. When I first started, I couldn’t stay in downward dog for more than a few seconds. My upper body lacked strength, and postures like plank made me tremble. As such, I’d get discouraged, making witty comments like, “Plank sucks!”
But to her credit, my mom didn’t give up on me. She kept sharing her love of yoga, and I kept trying. And gradually, I noticed: I was getting stronger. Postures that had seemed impossible were now doable. I could stay in plank. Then side plank. Then side plank with my leg extended.
And when I started working as a caregiver, I saw how valuable those early sessions had been. My mother didn’t just teach me poses; she taught me that faithful practice can yield major changes over time. As such, I persisted at my new job, even though my caregiving routines seemed incredibly challenging at first. Yet I knew that if I could build enough muscle to maintain a strong plank pose, I could build my knowledge and learn a complex morning routine, too. Soon, I felt a sense of flow in my work; I started moving through routines as though they were sun salutations, one building upon the next.
Fast-forward several years, and I’m considering yoga teacher training. Arm balances are my favorite type of pose, and so it’s only fair to acknowledge another truth: My mother knew best.
2. The decision to show up is the one that matters.
Yoga rewards those who show up. If you keep coming to your mat, your practice will deepen. Likewise, as a caregiver, I discovered that a commitment to showing up for my housemates allowed our relationships to grow. It was freeing not to give myself an option to ‘skip out’. Unless I was physically unwell, I performed my caregiving duties, and I kept up with my yoga practice as well. True, I didn’t always feel like going down the stairs to set up breakfast (or getting myself out the door for yoga), but I knew that once I showed up, that would change.
Furthermore, taking time out to go to my yoga practice empowered me get more done when I returned home. The energy I gained from my practice was priceless, especially considering my responsibilities as a caregiver. Thanks to yoga, I had the stamina to lift wheelchairs, haul laundry, and cook dinner for dozens … and then crash into bed. (I’m only human.)
3. Tending the body can also tend the soul.
Sometimes, the best way to heal the soul is to care for the body. When I’d do spinal twists after a long day of sitting in a waiting room, those postures nourished my body and my spirit. Doing yoga gave me a sense that my body was worth listening to, that it had wisdom to share. And in extending care and attention to my own body, I learned to care for the bodies of others as well.
For example, during my time as a caregiver, part of my routine involved cleaning an older gentleman’s feet. Sometimes we’d banter as I held his feet in my gloved hands, and sometimes we’d just smile at one another. Either way, this small, intimate task became a favorite for me.
And then one day, I participated in a spiritual service that involved a foot-washing ceremony. And who should be my partner but the man whose feet I cleaned every day? As I later wrote, “During that ceremony, as I touched the feet I knew so well, I felt the sacred and the ordinary collide. And I realized that there is no separation; that the ordinary things we do out of love for one another are sacred.”