Life has a funny way of bringing us to the doors we are supposed to walk through. And that is exactly what happened with yoga and I. I literally came to a door.
I was walking down a neighborhood street in Portland, Oregon when I passed directly in front of a half open door. Flickering candlelight, calm scent of burning incense and lush plants hinting at an oasis directly across the threshold. My very first yoga studio.
And when I passed through that door, and found my yoga practice, my life changed for the better.
But so much of this story is what led me to yoga in the first place. Six months before I started my yoga practice, I lost the one person who, without fail, always believed in me – my Mom. I still recall vividly the calm that settled over me when she flat lined in the hospital. I was the only one with her and there was something about it that brought me peace. Perhaps because I knew that after a treacherous four-year battle with leukemia she was no longer suffering.
But that peace did not last long. It was kicked very ceremoniously out the door by Grief, an overwhelming presence that lay on me like a ton of bricks. Is it a coincidence that the spelling of “Grief” so resembles the word “Thief”? I think not, because to me they’ve always been one and the same. Grief stole everything from me. It sucked from me my energy and passion for life like a vampire who leaves his victim listless. It hid my goals from me like a cruel game of hide and seek. I had recently fallen deep in love and it stole that very rare lightness and brightness of feeling that being in love gives us (perhaps only a few times in life). And worst of all, it took my self-confidence and I no longer had sense of self. Like a thief, Grief would never return any of these valuables.
But in yoga, I learned to root myself, to strengthen my core, to find balance. All of this can be said for the physical benefits I experienced, but also for its effects on my mind and spirit. Yoga is a physical practice that encourages meditation. Through the repetition and control of your breath and the movement through postures it elongates your spine, counteracts the harmful bodily effects of the repetitive activities in our daily lives (long hours at a computer, lifting heavy things, negative thoughts), and allows you to work through difficult emotions. It teaches you to witness those emotions, and to let them pass. Yoga leads to the balanced health of your three core parts – Mind, Body and Spirit.
That yoga studio was my oasis for many months. Some days were harder than others and Grief stuck around for a long time. Years even. But in yoga I confronted it head on. I learned to use my breath to relax in times of emotional distress. As I pushed my body into challenging positions, my physical strength grew and brought with it my self-confidence. I broke Grief’s stride. I wrung it out of me in twists. It couldn’t push me down as I balanced firmly on my mat, feet rooted in the floor. It wasn’t uncommon for tears to roll down my cheeks at the end of a session, but it felt calm and natural, clean and cathartic. And while Grief may have led me to yoga, it’s not why I stayed.
Yoga was, and is, where I find my balance, my strength and my peace of mind.
Julie Fornaro has been practicing yoga for twelve years and has used her practice to transcend many of life’s challenges. When not on her yoga mat, you may find her pursuing one of her other many passions – travel, wine tasting, salsa dancing, painting or helping businesses and non-profits grow through savvy marketing strategies.