When grace leads you home
Grace was the first lesson yoga taught me, but I wasn’t paying attention at the time.
I was only 23, and newly married. It had been years since I’d been to a formal yoga class. I read about a class in downtown Lexington and dragged David with me.
The beautiful receptionist welcomed us, her face joyfully serene. She smelled like jasmine and had a tiny OM tattoo on her inner wrist. She stood and hugged us.
“My name is Grace,” she said. “Welcome to the yoga center”.
We climbed the stairs and entered a tiny room with only enough space for five mats.
Louise, the instructor, wore loose linen pants and her long gray hair in a braid. She explained the shape of the pose didn’t matter much, as long as we were breathing mindfully.
She led us through some down dogs and seated twists. I aligned my body and suddenly my heart and mind felt aligned as well.
Then we sat quietly, alone but together. The chattering monkeys in my head got just the tiniest bit quieter.
Louise talked about the practice of yoga. She explained it’s called a practice because you never master it, you only commit to the habit.
She spoke of cultivating sukha (sooh kuh), an ancient Sanskrit word which means “good fit” and refers to the place on a chariot where the wheel and axle meet.
The chariot allowed people to travel across Indonesia to Europe. If the axle and wheel worked together smoothly, then the ride was considered sukha.
Yoga was definitely sukha, or a good fit, for me. Dance told me my legs were too short. Gymnastics told me my back wasn’t flexible enough. Cheerleading told me my thighs were too fat.
But yoga told me I was already perfect, already at home.
Louise said she defined sukha as “grace,” a gift of unconditional love from God to help humans on their path. The mindful movement allowed us to receive that gift in our practice and attract more grace in our lives.
Our yoga practice was just as much about moving gracefully as it was about cultivating a heart that offers compassion, even when the experience doesn’t merit it.
I realized yoga was more than just calisthenics. It was holy work.
As Grace welcomed me at the door, so I then welcomed grace into my heart. Grace has stayed with me all these years, a silent partner in the LLC that is my life.
But I forgot again.
I fell back into old patterns, taking on the mantle of striving and self-judgment like a well-loved sweater.
My yoga practice looked professionally curated from the outside. My backbends grew deeper and my physical body shrank. The more I practiced, the more my outer body started to take on the shape my mind and society had deemed acceptable.
But then it all went to crap.
Life handed me a steaming pile of suffering in the form of a new infant, a terrible case of postpartum depression and a husband whose panic attacks had stopped responding to medication.
Wide-eyed anxiety and crushing depression aren’t generally the characteristics of good parenting and the constant crying of a newborn did not help our mental states.
I spent months curled up on the floor in tears. My body, mind and heart were so broken,
I got sick and couldn’t get well. My joints ached, I was exhausted all the time and I gained weight, even though I was breastfeeding.
I had terrible brain fog, but couldn’t sleep. I was unable to remember names, phone numbers or even basic vocabulary words. It was a migraine in every part of my body.
I was teaching yoga through this time, but I was disconnected from my job. It was easy to lead people through a sequence of poses, teach people how to breathe and give them time at the end of each class to rest in shavasana. I imagine my classes were as inspiring as listening to tax laws being read aloud.
But even though my life had fallen apart, Grace wasn’t finished with me.
A few months later, I went to a class. My expectations for my practice were non-existent. Just getting out of the house and to a class felt like a win.
My rounder, stiffer, still-healing body felt rusty and inadequate, every movement awkward. My mind was still in a fog of worry and new baby hormones.
I took child’s pose a lot, a pose traditionally used in class as a resting place to connect to the breath.
During my 19th child’s pose, I heard an angel singing. Well, it was Judy Collins singing, but it felt like a divine breadcrumb dropped in my path.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me …”
And just like that, my friend Grace led me home.
Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at erin@theOMplace.net or play along at www.theOMplaceChannel.com.