Hello, curvy lovelies,
The past couple weeks have been spent making incredibly difficult decisions, celebrating my dad’s life and grieving with family. I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this process here, but I think the best way is how I try to approach all the other issues we discuss: with honesty and an open heart.
Pic at right: Dad and I hanging out; we were both such wee babes.
Yoga Off the Mat
This time has illuminated my off-the-mat yoga practice. Until the first terrible week was over, I couldn’t even consider getting on my mat for a physical practice. It was the most I could do to meet my most basic of needs. But somehow, even though I hardly slept and sometimes barely felt functional, my practice became more vivid to me than ever before.
The night that my dad became incredibly ill, he was transferred to the ICU. I believe the term hot mess was invented for just these situations, because that’s exactly how I felt. I had no clue how I could possibly handle the situation at all, much less with any semblance of sanity or grace. I felt panicky and distraught. And I allowed those feelings in as they came; after all, it was an incredibly difficult situation. But after a few hours, I had a very clear thought: “it doesn’t have to be this way.” I thought to myself, “I can choose how I want to respond in this situation and how I want my final time with my dad to be.” This was an incredibly liberating moment for me, as I remembered the yoga sutra my teacher, Cora, always reminds me of — YS 1.1, Atha Yoganushasanam, “Now the practice of yoga begins.”
Yoga = Union
Despite this thought, of course, there were still many times that I found myself checked out. I would be sitting beside him, holding his hand, but I would be a million miles away. And then I would notice that and consciously draw myself back, reminding myself that, despite the intense pain of the situation, I wanted to remember what it felt like to be able to share my dad’s last days with him. That what I wanted more than anything was to feel love and connection with my dad, and for him to feel that back, even though I didn’t know for certain what he could or couldn’t hear.
It wasn’t unlike drawing my attention to my breath in meditation or noticing that my back pinky toe isn’t pressing down in Warrior 2. Goodness knows that when I first started my practice, I could have never described how my pinky toe felt in a pose, or even my foot (or probably my leg). Similarly, several years ago, I could have never articulated my needs or feelings much beyond “good” or “bad,” and I would often think I was “over” a hard situation despite the fact that I was grinding my teeth at night, getting migraines, starting the next crazy diet or any other number of red flags that said I was anything but.
Pic at left: Dad and I at the rehearsal dinner before my wedding.
Breath and Connection
On the day that my dad passed away, I’d been matching my breath to his to connect with him even more, an idea I got from a book I recently re-read (that I very highly recommend) called Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death by Roshi Joan Halifax. I found this practice grounding and very helpful. I’ve been fascinated by the similarities between yoga, breath practice and the cycle of life ever since one of my yoga teachers told me something that one of his teachers taught him while she was dying — that pranayama and meditation teach us to observe the pause after our exhale without gripping or anxiety, and this awareness helps prepare us for that time when the inhale doesn’t come.
My dad breathed his last breath in my presence, at a time when my mom and sister had stepped out of the room momentarily. I took his hand, told him it was okay to go (I was the last of us to do this for whatever reason), and then he was quickly, gently gone. There was nothing dramatic to mark the moment; the way that I knew was that his inhale didn’t come. In that moment, while I certainly felt sadness, I also felt a peace like none other. I really haven’t found words to describe that experience, and I’m not sure I ever will.
Embodiment and the Way Forward
The reason that I believe so strongly in the work our curvy community does is because it helps ground us in our bodies, which is something that doesn’t come naturally to many of us, especially those of us with histories of body image, dieting or any other number of related issues. What I’ve found is that, when I’m standing firmly on my own two feet, I’m better able to feel rooted enough to allow my heart to open to my lived experience — whether in embracing more intentional decisions about my health, being present in conversations with friends, or facing the hardest moments squarely.
My dad was truly proud of Curvy Yoga, and I’ve seen firsthand, now more than ever, the wide and deep benefits of the work we’re doing together. May we all continue to live into our lives as fully as we’re able at any given moment and embrace the curves of life.