How And When To Find Your Yoga Mat
“Its over there!” you say and point at your rolled up yoga mat in the corner of the room. But that of course is not what I mean. I am talking about finding your yoga mat when you need it, when the release from 20 minutes or an hour or more of yoga is exactly what you need to guide you back onto the right track, to help you find yourself.
When did I first find my yoga mat?
Strictly speaking the mat didn’t belong to me. It belonged to the wonderful yoga teacher donating her time to offer a free community outreach class in the psychiatric unit in which my mum was a patient. I was fifteen and had come to visit her for the day. She was delighted to tell me she’d signed up for yoga that day and asked me if I wanted to join her. In that awkward way that teens do I shrugged and reluctantly agreed. Twenty minutes into the class I realised how much I loved it, but as a teenager I kept that information to myself! Yoga came easily to me and at that time in my life ease was a golden chalice to be guarded with one’s life.
My mother was in the psychiatric unit as, for most of her adult life she had been addicted to alcohol and heroin. As a by product of her addictions she often made bad choices with men, going from one physically abusive relationship to another, which understandably paid its toll on her. My brothers, sister and I were privy to the fallout from all of it. She attempted sobriety a number of times over the years and sadly none of them took. She died in 2010 as a result of her addictions, having fallen when drunk and hitting her head on the pavement. She never regained consciousness.
There is of course so much more to say, so many layers to add to the short paragraph above but it would break my heart to do so. So I’ll leave it for now. The residual energy from dealing with the chaos of such a destructive life is immense, it bleeds into every corner of your sense of self until you don’t really know who you are. For a long time I believed I was the sum of my past, of everything bad thing that had been done to me or that I had witnessed. Changing that thinking is still very much a work in progress.
Healing the Self
Yoga was not my cure all, by any means, but it was part of the healing process.
One of the first questions we were asked as students on my teacher training course was how long we had been practicing yoga. When my turn came to answer, I muttered two years, feeling a little embarrassed in front of my fellow students who had answered with much larger numbers like 15 and 20 years. I felt like an imposter and in truth I didn’t much like the question. But of course, our teacher hadn’t asked the question to establish a hierarchy of practice, rather he was just interested in how long we had each been on our respective yoga journeys. I didn’t think my intermittent practice counted so I discounted my first class with my mother and the subsequent 2 years I’d practiced it from books as a teen. I discounted the 18 months of study from Leah Bracknell videos (note videos not DVDs!) at University, I put aside the few months of yoga on the beach in Spain and the many times thereafter that I came back to it in times of need. I decided that all of those times didn’t count. The only thing that counted was hard yoga study with consecutive days and weeks putting in the dedication on my mat with a certified teacher. So I established my number as 2. But really my number was 17. Every step we take on our yoga journey counts, but sometimes we will want to or need to pause longer between footsteps (perhaps for years).
What does yoga mean for you?
Much of this comes down to how you choose to quantify your yoga practice. You can define yoga as the physical practice of asana, which is fine, or you can begin to see it as something more transformative and that is when the healing side of yoga can begin. My time on my yoga mat is much like allowing myself to breath. It grounds me and provides me with a sense of purpose. The practice of asana (physical yoga) is like treading on stepping stones to bring me into the centre of a lake. I am not preoccupied with reaching the other side. Rather I prefer to find peace in the stillness of the lake, looking out over the grey water.
Three years ago I came back to yoga after a long hiatus, when once again I felt overwhelmed by the stresses of my life. But this time was different for me. Not only did I find yoga but I found my mother again too. In savasana I could feel her love. Those who know me personally will know that I don’t give over for a lot of ‘hippy’ talk. The science of yoga fascinates me but when looking at yoga philosophy I always search for the links between the metaphysical and physical aspects of yoga, looking for scientific backing wherever I can find it. But I could really feel her and as cliched as it may be, it felt like a cloud lifting. The turmoil I had been carrying around with me for so long ebbed whenever I practiced yoga. So as you can imagine I began to practice a lot. And at this point I realised that I wanted to take my practice further and share it with others, and so my yoga teacher journey began.
But how do you find your mat?
Allowing ourselves time to just sit on a yoga mat can feel like an indulgence. 90 minutes of yoga practice can be overwhelming when there are so many other things to do. The irony is of course that the more we feel there isn’t any time for yoga, the more we actually need it. So when considering how often you should find your way to your yoga mat, I would say do it when it feels healthy for you to do so and when you feel you need to. If you can’t get on your mat for a week or two, it really isn’t the end of the world. You wont have lost any ‘yoga points’. Like returning to any form of physical exertion it might take you a little longer to get back into it, buts thats ok too. Also consider the role that yoga plays in your life, is it central to everything you do or does it serve more as an aid to help you do the things you need to do by providing you with some time for reflection? If time is limited for you consider shortening your practice to 10 to 20 minutes each day. Better to do that than feel put off by the thought of doing an hour of yoga. Sometimes you don’t even need to get on your mat to practice, a moment of quite meditation or reflection can be as beneficial as an hour of exercise. Perhaps more so.
We are all on very different journeys but my personal experience is that in learning to love yoga I am beginning to learn to love my self and let go of some of the baggage I have been carrying around with me for so long.