72: A Journey of a Lifetime

72: A Journey of a Lifetime

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

A Journey of a Lifetime

Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.

~Edwin Way Teale

When Debbie turned forty she invited a bunch of us over to her house to celebrate. “Join me for Yoga and Chair Massages” read the invitation. I got the chair massages piece, and was really looking forward to it. At thirty-seven, I was developing chronic neck and back pain. For several months I sounded suspiciously like my grandfather as I groaned when I rose out of bed.

It was the yoga piece I did not get. Why yoga? It was a party after all and from what I knew, yoga meant we would be sitting still and breathing. As an avid runner and mother of three, living on the Main Line of Philadelphia, I didn’t sit still much and couldn’t see the purpose in it.

But Debbie was a dear friend and the first of my friends turning forty, so I went. I saw the yoga class as something to get through before I could move on to the massage and birthday cake.

As we gathered in Debbie’s basement, the instructor, Julie, lowered the lights and asked each of us to sit on one of the mats that she had laid out side by side all over the floor. The room was warm from the heater. Candles on the casement window ledges surrounded the mats. The effect made me feel like I was stepping into a cocoon — would I emerge changed?

Still cynical, and convinced that my current fitness regimen of running four to five times a week would make this barely a workout, I sat on my mat. Though the guest next to me was only five inches away, it felt like we were miles apart.

Julie sat cross-legged at the front of the room and began guiding us through the warm-up. I closed my eyes and listened to her voice as she told us what body part to place where. I began to feel a peaceful warmth take over my body. I lost all awareness of those around me. Strangely, I began to experience a heightened sense of myself.

After the warm-up, we stood. As Julie continued, my breath moved in sync with my body. “Breathe in as you lift your leg up and breathe out as you place it behind you.”

We picked up the pace. We moved seamlessly from pose to pose. I felt graceful and in tune with Julie’s voice and my responses — nothing else. Though I was unaware of it at the time, the practice became quite strenuous. I began dripping with sweat and gladly accepted a towel from Julie.

In what seemed like a single breath, we settled into Sivasana, lying on our backs for final relaxation. On the mat, in my dark and peaceful space, I smiled. It was quite a different smile from the cynical one I had entered with.

I couldn’t believe an hour had passed.

In that single hour, many things changed for me. I understood the power of taking time for myself, being present, and finding peace. I was left with the yearning to feel this way again and again. Before this moment, I wasn’t even aware my life was out of balance. I should have seen the signs. My physical and mental exhaustion, my short temper with my children, the feeling of always rushing from activity to activity. I began to search for ways to find the peacefulness I felt in Debbie’s basement again and again.

I started a regular yoga practice with Julie and I became hooked. I noticed physical changes first. I didn’t sound quite like my grandfather when I rose out of bed each morning, and my runs no longer ended with me holding my lower back. I felt as if I were standing up taller. I became more aware of when I could push a little harder, as well as when my tired body needed a rest.

Subtle but noticeable emotional changes began in my daily life. I felt gentler, and seemed to approach tense situations calmly. By slowing down, I found myself fully noticing and enjoying each activity. Without my constant focus on the goal, I began to see the beauty in the journey of each day.

As my personal yoga practice deepened, so did its effect on the rest of my family. I stopped trying to pack three to four activities into a single day, and instead tried to really enjoy one. We started to walk to the park instead of driving, telling stories as the path slowly wound towards our destination.

Perhaps the most profound impact was a decision my husband and I made about two years after I began practicing yoga. While I was undergoing tremendous personal change, Howard was stuck in a stressful and relentless surgical career at the University of Pennsylvania. The academic world was no longer insulated from the troubles emerging in healthcare, and the impact on my husband came in the form of increased operating schedules in multiple hospitals that translated into late nights, weekends, and the phone ringing twenty-four hours a day. He was a man who cherished being with his family and exercising, as well as working, yet it seemed he barely saw the former two for the latter.

Looking for a balanced life, he accepted a job offer and we moved our family to a beach community on the Jersey Shore. It was a bold, brave move, and we’ve never looked back.

Howard began his job and the kids settled into their new schools. I had embraced the yogic lifestyle and shared it with my family. I wanted to take it to the next level. As a teacher I could share what I’d gained from yoga — body, mind, and spirit — each and every day. I realized it was time to make formal what had been brewing for almost three years. I called up the local yoga studio and inquired about teacher training.

I became a yoga instructor and opened my own studio in the town we have now called home for seven years. I have been practicing yoga for almost ten years. (I know because Debbie called yesterday to make plans for her fiftieth!) When I think back on life before yoga, I do not chastise myself that I was so blind to the imbalances in my life at that time. I understand that yoga came to me when I needed it. I merely opened my eyes and accepted it.

Whether on or off my mat, I try to practice yoga each day. I’ve learned there is a reason it is called a practice. It is never perfected, and neither are we. Today, I simply try to accept the gifts my practice has allowed me to enjoy and look at each day as a new opportunity.

~Stacy Ross

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