Back to Myself

I went to a yoga class Friday, the first time I’ve taken a yoga class since Harper was born. I was never a very advanced student of yoga, but I’ve taken a few classes in my time—but all that stopped about halfway through my pregnancy. I didn’t know it then, but postpartum anxiety and depression can begin before you give birth, and looking back on that time of my life, I can’t help but see how plainly I was struggling. And when you’re struggling, the first things that get dropped are often the very things that would make life easier for yourself: rest, exercise, cooking good meals. On and on. So yoga dropped by the wayside, and I powered through on my own.

After Harper was born, I spiraled into an anxiety so powerful I could barely function. If she needed medication, I would read the instructions over and over to make sure I was doing it right—and then I would ask someone else to double check the dosage. What if I was accidentally doubling it, without realizing it? I read online that water was toxic to infants, and so any bottle or medicine dropper that touched her lips then had to be completely dry, without a single drop of moisture. I held them up to the light to check. (I’m pretty sure the article was trying to get parents not to give their babies water in their bottles—not warning new mothers against the dangers of toxic water droplets. But I couldn’t distinguish between those things then. Everything was terrifying.)

By the time we moved to Charlotte, I had begun treatment for my postpartum anxiety, but it would be a long, difficult road up from the bottom for me. I remember trying to go to a yoga class at the YMCA near our apartment one Saturday morning. I had left Harper with Jesse; she was probably seven or eight months old then.

When I rolled out my mat and sat down to prepare for class, I felt that familiar panic rising. What if she needed me and I had my phone off? What if there was an emergency and Jesse had to rush her to the hospital, and I didn’t know it because I was in down dog? The class hadn’t started yet, so I quickly sent Jesse a text, hoping for an “everything’s fine!” message, which would help calm me down long enough for the class. But he didn’t see the message, which only amped up my panic. Minutes passed. I waited. Nothing.

Eventually, I rolled my mat back up before class started and left to go home. Of course everything was fine—and logically, I knew it would be, but logic and anxiety never speak to one another, at least not for me.

That was the last time I tried a yoga class.  

Until Friday. I dropped Harper off with her grandparents and took my mat to a sunny studio with white walls and cork floors. I was a little nervous—how would I do after so long? I’ve done some yoga on my own at home here and there, but that never really feels like it counts.

The class was beautiful. It was hard, I could feel how out of alignment I am, but I found the poses coming back to me. I could feel where my shoulder blades needed to be, and how good it felt to twist. My muscles were stiff, but I could feel them start to release, I could feel how much I’ve been carrying, and how much more I have to let go of.

The past few months have been hard. They’ve been good—so good—with lots of beautiful beginnings and new adventures. But the end of our lives in Mexico was difficult, sad, and stressful. I was sick so often. And the move itself was…just next level. I’ll tell that story one day. You probably already know the rest—moving, buying a house and a car, packing, unpacking. All of it good, but taxing to my system, which was already wearing thin.  

Finishing the guidebook was demanding and difficult, but it’s done at last, and I’m so proud of how it turned out. And so now I turn my attention to what my body has been telling me to do for months: to heal. To stretch and release. To eat well and slow down. To take long walks with good friends. To make things that are just for me. 

In the yoga class, we were doing a breathing exercise, and our teacher asked us to pay attention to our breath and to notice which was easier, inhaling or exhaling. That was easy: my inhales were quick and often not as deep as I felt I needed. I could exhale twice or three times as long as I could inhale, easily.

“They say,” our teacher told us, her voice that calming yoga-teacher voice, even and smooth, “that if you exhale easier than you inhale, you’re better at giving to other people than you are giving to yourself.”

When I was younger, I played flute. I remember breathing exercises, learning how to control my exhales, to stretch them out longer and longer, to extend the time between my breaths, the pride I felt at being able to breath out longer than the other kids, at being able to control that part of my breathing so well it stretched on forever. I was also an asthmatic kid, and I remember asthma attacks, gasping for breath, the terror that comes with not being able to fill your lungs. Like drowning on dry land.

I grew out of my childhood asthma eventually, but sometimes I find myself taking a deep breath, a sharp inhale, as if to prove to myself that the air is still there.  

In class last week, I thought about those words—better at giving to others. About conversations I’ve had with other mothers, about how modern motherhood feels like a never-ending giving of ourselves, of forgetting ourselves. I worked to bring my inhales and my exhales into balance, counting the seconds. In and out. In and out.

What yoga feels like for me is this: a gift to myself, for myself. An hour of focusing on my breath and my body. Healing myself, caring for myself. I want to teach Harper that this is what you do—not for someone else. For you. And so, I’m back in the yoga studio, I’m back on the mat. And it feels so good.