March 15, 2013. My alarm goes off at 6am. I contemplate blowing off my 630am yoga class and sleeping in, but end up dragging myself and my mat to the studio. A good practice, followed by a good, busy day at work – and a date with a nice guy I’d been on a few dates with already. I had a good feeling about him, and was excited to be seeing him again.
The date was lovely, and as I dropped him off at his place at the end of the evening (well after midnight) we even got into a little bit of smooching (woo hoo!). In the midst of all that, my phone rings. It’s my stepmother. Though it’s later than usual, my first thought is, “oh, she must be drunk – I don’t need her drama right now”. So, I dropped my phone into my purse. Then my date said (bless his heart), “maybe you should get it, it could be important.” He’s right. I rummage in my purse for the phone, but it’s too late – I miss the call. A minute later, my voicemail tone goes off, so I listen to the message.
She’s crying, so I immediately cut off voicemail and call her back. Even her drunken drama calls never have actual crying, so I figured something was up, and it wasn’t good. I get her on the line and she tells me that my father had suffered what appeared to be a heart attack and was in the ER.
I race home and packed a bag, trying to decide if I should wait it out in L.A. or head to Scottsdale. The phone rings again (2am by now) and I’m told that he’s been moved to ICU and they think he suffered congestive heart failure.
I pick up my bag, walked out the door, locked up and got into my car. I drove through the night to Scottsdale. It was probably the most stressful five hours of my life, yet I still felt a strange sense of calm as well. Weird.
From the very first day I was gone, I missed yoga, desperately. I missed it so badly I could feel it in my bones. I longed for it.
After several days of sitting in the hospital for 16+ hours a day, I NEEDED it.
But taking the time to gear up, find a studio and attend a class seemed like an out-of-the-question luxury that circumstances just would not – could not – allow. I’m his only child. My stepmother – a VERY recently recovered alcoholic – clung desperately to the wagon’s edge. I had to be strong for all three of us, and it was overwhelming. It made taking any personal indulgences such as yoga feel simply out of the question.
Nonetheless, my practice was very much with me during those switchback days of improvement, setback, setback, improvement, setback, etc. with my Dad’s condition. When I felt the world squeezing what felt like the very life out of me with a stranglehold of fear and sadness around my heart, I would stop, take a moment and literally “see” myself on my mat in my mind’s eye, and thereI would find my breath. I was able to remain (outwardly) calm in dealing with my Dad (who, even though in a medically induced coma at the time, I was certain could hear me), his doctors, my stepmom, and my own fears around possibly losing my father.
Yeah, just a little stress.
But along with my Mom (who flew across country to be with me, bless her sweet heart), cousin, best friends – yoga was helping me get through it, even though I did not practice. The ability to project strength by “breathing into the pain” I was feeling actually strengthened me. It was the most remarkable thing!
Photo by Stockfesh
It was then I realized that yoga had nothing to do with mats, poses, heat, or even working out – not really, not at its essence. It’s about creating an environment – without and within – wherein you can see, access and move into higher parts of yourself.
Once you learn that in class, you can carry it with you wherever you go. It was with me in the hospital, were we got to spend several strangely joyful days with Dad after he was successfully weaned from the ventilator. It helped me stay strong and enthusiastic about the difficult life changes my Dad was facing upon his return to his home – daily exercise, healthy eating, no smoking (all of which were clearly horrifying ideas to my steak-and-potatoes, chain smoking, couch potato Dad).
It was with me shortly after his shockingly early release from the hospital (we protested to his Dr., to no avail) when I tried in vain to revive him with CPR after another heart attack, which ultimately claimed his life. I remember actively seeking the solace of my inner mat space as I gave my father chest compressions and gazed into the fading life in his eyes – and it was there for me. It saved me, even as I could not save my Dad.
It was with me the next two days as I cleaned out his apartment, keeping me from crumbling under the heartbreaking weight of the task of essentially wiping away my father’s worldly existence.
Yoga was with me every step of the way, steadying me when I’d falter or slouch – much like our favorite yoga instructors so often do in our practice.
When I returned to Los Angeles, I VERY eagerly returned to the mat- but I was disheartened to find that it wasn’t the same. Even though yoga still bolstered my emotional strength while away from the mat (and does to this day), my new-found physical strength had faded fast and so my return was marred with frustration and impatience with myself. Couple that with unfortunate changes to the studio’s schedule which magnified the problem (suddenly, a dearth of the beginner classes I so desperately needed). I also found that the mat, which had been a solace from afar, was now a sort of magnet drawing out emotion that I didn’t need pulled out of me…I was already emotional enough, and the emotions that came up in practice were almost too much to bear. The day I had to fight hard to hide my sobs during shavasana, I knew I had to pull back. So, I started going less regularly.
When I met my now fiance, yoga class became just another thing to have to squeeze in, and I stopped going at all.
Today is a year since my father’s death. I’ve gained back the weight I’d lost in yoga, which would have made him VERY sad.
And so for him – but mostly for me – I’m heading back to the mat, today. This time, I’m taking on a 63 day marathon (one day for every year he lived). This time, it won’t be hot yoga (my search for a hot yoga place ANYWHERE near my new neighborhood continues…) but like I said – it’s not about the heat. It’s about my willingness to FINALLY show up and look inside myself through movement, breath and balance.
Hot or cold, that’s pure gold….but I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for hot yoga. And from now on, I’ll ALWAYS have a spot in my life for an active yoga practice.