Every once in a while--probably on the rare days when I remember to match my socks and put on mascara--these women get the (mistaken) impression that I am wise, and they ask me hard questions. The other day I got one of these questions. A mama had just been through five days (that is not a typo) of labor, had finally delivered a beautiful baby, and had at least one other older child at home. She asked me in her email if I could recommend anything, herbal or the like, that would increase her energy so she could heal and take care of her baby and her other children and do all of the other things that a regular life requires.
When I read her email, it sounded frantic and stressed to me, and I worried for her. In my opinion, she was a superhero, and in hers, she was falling short. But when I walked away for a while and came back to reread it, I realized that her tone was perfectly normal. The frantic and stressed voice had been my own. Her email had hit a nerve with me, because while her circumstances were different, her situation was universal.
This is what we do, isn't it? We try so hard, and want to do so much, and when we fall short of our own expectations, instead of adjusting the expectations, we adjust us. We go to bed later, or set the alarm earlier. We sacrifice our yoga class or our ladies night out and trade it for an extra load of laundry or yet another trip to the grocery store. We become martyrs.
I saw myself doing this recently. Life had gotten stressful and overwhelming, as it does, and I decided that a daily yoga practice was in order. It's healthier than wine or a pint of ice cream in front of Netflix, I reasoned, and I started to set the alarm earlier and earlier. And when it went off, I resented the hell out of it. I would still put my feet to the hardwoods and lay out my mat, but my breathing was stiff and my asana lacked heart.
I was so damn tired.
Yet even though I was exhausted, when it came time to close the practice and rest in savasana, I would fidget. When I teach yoga I tell my classes often how savasana is the most important part, but lying there on my mat, only feet from my washer and dryer, I would think:
"maybe I should just throw a load of laundry in," or
"if I skip this and unload the dishwasher I can leave for work five minutes earlier," or
"if I got in the shower right now I might even have time to shave my legs!"
Eventually I would give up trying to find inner peace and instead, I would find a chore.
There's a problem with that though- there will always be another chore. I am yet to find the last one. They keep popping up like a game of whack-a-mole. I fold and put away the last load of laundry and return to find the basket full of that day's clothes, or I clean the kitchen to a shine and five minutes later there are greasy fingerprints at four different heights along each cabinet. I can safely say that there has never been a time in recent memory where I have truly rested, settling onto the couch after a long day, and thought "Whew! That was a tough day. But at least everything is done."
And although I don't know for sure, because I have never been there myself, I also have a nagging suspicion that if by some miracle I did finish it all, it would be sort of anti-climatic. I doubt Ed McMahon would ring my doorbell holding balloons and an oversized check, and that is probably a good thing, as I would not be wearing a bra or decent pants.
So I thought for a long time before I responded to that mom's email. I thought about how I drink too much coffee in the mornings, chasing wakefulness but finding jitteriness instead, and then drink calming tea in the afternoons to bring my heart rate back down to a reasonable level. I thought about the evenings when I sometimes drink too much wine, chasing relaxation, and wake up instead with a headache, needing more coffee and a full repeat of the cycle.
I thought about one of my lifelines, an ongoing group text that I have on my phone, where we each come sometimes to say things like "is it okay to not shower and spend three hours watching Netflix in my bed on a Saturday afternoon?' and the others of us inevitably answer "YES! Absolutely," giving each other permission to relax easily and freely even when we struggle to give it to ourselves.
One of these texters is a dear friend who has done great things for her health in the last year, setting and achieving amazing fitness goals and inspiring me every step of the way. We walked and talked together the other day, and we agreed how the best gift we can give to our husbands and families is to honor our needs.
Granted, her needs include running nine miles on a Sunday morning, and mine include pressing the snooze button nine times that same morning, but we're each saying the same thing. While sometimes it can feel selfish or even indulgent to take time for ourselves, no one wants a sad, broken mama. We need to do the things that heal us.
The more I thought about that woman who labored for five days, the more I wanted to tell her what a hero I thought she was, because sometimes it's important to think about how much we have achieved instead of how much we haven't. So I started to look for our heroic acts. Clearly my friend who rises before the sun and pounds the pavement is a hero. But then when I got a message from a friend who was suffering, and I immediately told her she was a hero too, just for getting out of bed each morning when she didn't really feel like she could.
Later, when I shared my chocolate with my whiny four year old, even though I really wanted the whole thing for myself, I was like "Damn. Now I am kind of a hero too."
And if we want to keep saving the world, us heroes have got to rest.
"I know just the thing for you! It's a widely known remedy but still not used enough, and it can heal or at least put a dent in almost anything that ails you. It's free, and anyone can do it, regardless of athletic ability. The miracle remedy, sweet mama, is rest. Give yourself permission to honor your body's needs, because you just came through battle, and you are a hero. "
And then, I took my own advice. I continue to strive for a daily yoga practice, but the practice is evolving. Sometimes I still wake early and do sun salutations until my arms shake and sweat drips onto my mat, and when I lie in savasana on those days, I make myself rest there until my breath stills, even if there is a pile of laundry waiting.
Other days my alarm goes off and I make my way downstairs, unfurl my mat, lie down on it, place a a blanket over my body, and go back to sleep.
|Sometimes, THIS is my yoga.|
I've decided not to feel guilty, no matter how my practice evolves.
After all, I am a hero.