My son finally falls asleep. I sigh inwardly, my body heavy with exhaustion. As I tiptoe toward the nursery door, my dog’s piercing bark shatters any hope of rest. A startled cry draws me back to the crib. I lift my beautiful, healthy baby with my tired, fragile arms. My jaw and shoulders tense and my eyes well with tears. I swallow my overwhelm, put on a mask of serenity, and hold my boy close. Settling him with a gentle rock, I feel anything but settled myself.
Seven years ago, as a new mother, my nervous system was gripped by chronic stress and pain. My mind and body longed for yoga, but I couldn’t find time for the practice I knew and loved. To quote D.H. Lawrence, I was like “a great uprooted tree with its roots in the air.”
Yoga has been in my life for a long time. My mom began attending classes in her early fifties. As a teen athlete, I occasionally tagged along, enjoying the opportunity to build strength and flexibility. Those benefits kept me on my mat through college until, one day, I noticed a perceptible shift. Yoga was much more than a workout. It helped me unwind tension in my body, quiet my overthinking mind, and soften life’s sharper edges. In my twenties—while working in science journalism—I joined a teacher training program to learn more and deepen my practice. Both humbling and healing, the experience ushered me into a lifelong relationship with yoga.
In the years before having a baby, I continued to study with incredible yoga mentors and became a seasoned teacher myself. I practiced yoga daily, either in a long stretch of time at home or with others at my local studio. I also became versed in other mind-body therapies, earning a master’s degree in holistic health and healing, as well as certifications in life coaching and Reiki. In short, I was resourced.
I had all the tools, and yet when I became a mom, those tools suddenly seemed beyond reach. I couldn’t find an hour to practice, not once a week and certainly not everyday. My muscles and joints hurt when I tried to move through sun salutations. There never seemed to be enough quiet time to meditate. The weight of stress brought me to my knees…and I stayed there. For many (many) months, I abandoned my yoga practice altogether.
I was suffering, and I wasn’t going to find relief by digging in my heels, burying my head in the sand, or yearning for the past. Yoga therapist Marlysa Sullivan writes: “The teachings of yoga do not ask us to ignore or isolate ourselves from life, but rather to experience and change our relationship with it.” To heal, I needed to invite yoga into my present life, just as it was.
I was a tired, overwhelmed mom with very little downtime. And, I was a yogi scientist with an abundance of resources. So, I experimented with the science and art of yoga. In precious moments—a few minutes each day—I practiced methods that nourished my body and mind. I played with movements and poses that brought comfort and energy, breathwork and meditations that cultivated calm and connection, habits and routines that inspired joy and fulfillment. Slowly but surely, yoga helped me move, feel, and live with ease again.
Health and wellbeing are not inescapably tied to how much stress we experience, but instead to how we manage that stress. The stress shines a light on how well we adapt to change, be it a challenge or a threat. Modern life is the perfect storm for chronic stress. And, we can learn how to respond to that stress in a healthy way. We can elevate our wellbeing with yoga. With practice.
As a new mom, I found this practice in moments. I developed a healthier relationship with stress through tiny, subtle drops of yoga. To this day, these easy yet powerful yoga moments remain central to what I practice and teach. Connection is found in a five-minute meditation before rising in the morning. Calm in a handful of conscious breaths in the midst of a busy day. Joy in some gentle twists while dinner is on the stove. Peace in a brief legs-up-the-wall at bedtime.
I love both guiding and joining group yoga classes. And, we don’t need leggings, sticky mats, or an hour to experience the benefits of yoga. We just need to practice. Often. Practice allows us to cope with in-the-moment, run-of-the-mill stress. It also helps us recover more quickly when faced with bigger threats and challenges. To paraphrase Dr. Timothy McCall, yoga is a slow yet strong medicine. Resilience is cultivated over time. It’s gathered—almost imperceptibly yet quite significantly—in a collection of moments.
We all have the capacity to be yogi scientists. We can borrow practices from beloved classes and teachers and sprinkle them into our everyday lives. Change our relationship with stress. Move, feel, and live with ease.
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