On the Mat: How Yoga Helps Me Re-connect When My Body Feels like a Stranger

Today, I’m trying to put into words the special significance yoga has come to have in my life.

I know, I know–enough with the yoga talk already. For people who aren’t into yoga, who don’t want to get into yoga, or who are tired of people telling them yoga is a cure-all, I want to say that I hear you. I believe yoga can be for everyone (as in, you could do some form of yoga if you wanted to), but not everyone needs yoga, and it certainly can’t fix everything.

And yet, this practice feels so deeply personal and integral to how I come to peace with my body, settle into the experience of being inside the ever-changing single body I will inhabit during my life.

I’ve written before about the significant, critical mental shift I experienced while on the Find What Feels Good yoga retreat with everyone’s favorite internet guru, Adriene. But what I struggle to put into words is the everyday role yoga has in my life. When it isn’t about completely removing myself from the stressors of my everyday space and enjoying healthy meals someone else cooks for me for a full weekend. Because yeah, retreats are amazing. But they are a limited, privileged thing to which we have limited or no access.

My at home yoga practice is about showing up with myself, to meet the person I am on any given day, on the mat. The mat that somehow still collects cat hair though Artemis crossed the rainbow bridge last June. The mat that often stays unfurled in the center of my living room, parked right in front of the TV where I watch Adriene guide me through the motions.

For many years, I’ve told people yoga keeps me sane. This is definitely a big part of what yoga means to me. I can feel it in my stress levels and reactiveness when I’ve been away from the mat for too long. That’s not to say I flit around in a state of perfect calm and bliss when I’m practicing regularly–I’m still moody, passive-aggressively conflict avoidant, irritable me. I just have a little more clam and a little more distance from that version of myself. A little more patience with the world because I spent some time that morning being patient with me. 

This patience with myself brings me to the role yoga has taken on in the past year and a half, since I have developed a chronic pain condition and a series of minor but irritating injuries. The yoga asana practice (that’s the moving your body on the mat branch of yoga) inherently brings me into my body.

What does it mean to be in your body when that’s literally the only place we all reliably are? It means I am forced–invited, encouraged–to really feel into the experience of being myself. When I’m going through a pain flare or nursing an injured knee, it is so easy to be combative and resistant. To brush aside the sensation, want it to go away, want it to be otherwise. I am furious with my body for not being 100% healthy and able to do what I want it to do. I feel like it’s me vs. my knee, or me vs. the nerve endings at the base of my skull.

On the mat, however, I must remember it’s all, as Adriene says, one moving piece. Feeling into each pose slowly and carefully, I have to work with my body, not against or in spite of it. These moments on the mat remind me what my body can do and what doesn’t, at this time, feel good.

It’s the same miracle I found years ago when I did yoga in large classes for the first time in college–hop in the space of my mat, all social anxiety vanishes. Only now, it’s get on the mat, remember that my body is my body, not an enemy to work against, to fight, to try and whittle down and mold and strengthen and… the list goes on.

Even if the feeling of settling in and working with my body doesn’t always follow me off the mat, those moments are so crucial, so important. They remind me there is movement still available to me now, in this body, in spite of the limitations I’ve encountered. They remind me that I can still bring the breath.

So yes, I’m annoyed that my knee is still tweaked. I’m annoyed that I can possibly still get injured after the whirlwind of pain that was 2019. But I’m flowing along with the Yoga with Adriene March Calendar and its theme of CREATE, finding space to create a little peace in my body.

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