Sandwiched between long hours of sleep deprivation and the hopelessness that came when I realized there wasn’t a thing I could do to stop my baby from crying, I longed, for the first time in my life, to smoke a cigarette. The hacking cough that would have accompanied the puffs eluded me, because I never joined my peers, behind the school, when they drew their first puff. I had never smoked; yet I craved that slow inhalation that smokers take.
In that sleep-deprived, post-delivery daze, my imagination conjured up cravings of deep inhales with a vision of myself sitting at the kitchen table; relaxed, hands free, except for the cigarette, drawing long, slow puffs, thinking meditatively about what I would do next.
Funny, I didn’t give a thought to where I would find the minutes to sit, with idle hands. From the first hour that our first-born child crossed our threshold, my meals were eaten on the sofa, while I nursed him; then I changed his diaper; then I tried to rock him to sleep, or gave him a bath, or changed his clothes. When would I find the time to hold a lighted torch?
As soon as I got some sleep, months later, I would have reasonably weighed the probability of hurting the baby with the torch, and the dangers secondhand smoke. But those days were way, off into the future, at the time.
So, instead of smoking, I started yoga. Both vices involve deep breathing, and heavy exhales. The welcome departure I craved from the short gasps, sobs and inconsolable screams that accompanied my colicky baby. Car rides did work to stop the screaming, but because of my c-section, I could not drive. So, my husband would drive us when he came home from work, and I would sit in the backseat beside this little six-pound baby that needed the flannel-blankets my Mom had made for him last summer, propped up around him just to keep his head from falling.
Yoga is less expensive than smoking, but as I soon learned, eats more of my time.
My first yoga teacher was a kind woman with dark hair and dark eyes that fell in love with my baby. The class was Thursday nights at 7, in a large classroom in a building that held offices. There was a lighted candle, and six or seven of us. The poses were difficult; but the teacher was gentle. Learning the poses, especially because they were so challenging, gave my mind a welcome break.
Once, when my husband was out of town on Thursday, my teacher suggested I bring my baby along to class.
I bathed my little boy, and dressed him in his finest soft cotton sleeper, dotted with blue bears. His red hair set off the glow from his crystal blue eyes; and he beamed the minute my teacher said “Hello.” Sitting in his carrier, he sat beside me as we went through the poses in the candlelight room.
Halfway into the poses, he started to cry, and out of respect for the other students, I scooped him up and we went home. It is a myth to believe that babies naturally “settle down” just because they sense someone in the room is doing yoga.
My husband began to travel more and more; the practicality of a scheduled class became less of a reality. Fortunately, my passion for those long deep breaths didn’t die, despite my inability to attend as often as I liked. I discovered the world of VHS tapes — with complete yoga routines. A portable on-demand yoga studio that changed my life, and opened me to an entire new world. I craved the continuity, and I relaxed into the routines where someone else, gently told me what to do next. Someone else was in charge.
Then the bomb fell; my beloved teacher was moving away. “Your first yoga teacher always makes the deepest impression,” she told me. “You’ll think you’ll never replace her, but someone will come into your life that is better than me.”
My last teacher, my fourth, carried me through a deeper practice, deeper into my muscles; a place that I can’t imagine that first teacher showing me. This physical journey paralleled health issues I would soon face; and continues to reflect back to me the grooves that life’s pain and joy have brought into my life. She was bold, insisting I do balance poses while pregnant. My resistance finally lost to her will, and I soon found that standing in dancer’s pose, holding one leg behind me and tilting forward with my free arm outstretched, was the only time that my back was free from the weight of pregnancy; my lungs opened, and I was able to carry more air down to the beating heart of my baby. Good yoga teachers intuitively know not only what your body needs today; but what it will need as you evolve.
Still, in many ways, yoga is a habit; and a vice.
I will do yoga when I am sleep deprived, especially when my muscles ache, and sometimes I even cancel time with friends so that I can fit in the time for my yoga. I miss, from what I hear, great TV shows; they’re right in the middle of yoga.
Before I started yoga, I was unaware that there would be built-in triggers that would keep me tethered to this soothing practice. Now that the backs of my thighs and calves know how deeply they can be stretched in downward dog, they crave it; and remind me that they have not done this yet as I try to drift to sleep. That lower back of mine, reminding me of the burdens I carried throughout the day, is instantly soothed with a forward bend, either sitting or standing. Yoga is about balance. Each forward bend must be balanced with a backward bend. My muscles know this; they expect me to keep the demand.
I have learned, through yoga, how to take a breath so deep, that it begins from a deeper place than my belly button.
Out of the desperation of colic, yoga has become my vice, a very good one at that. The unexpected treat of yoga is how it allows me to discover, somewhat unexpectedly, who I am not, and who I am. This is why I return to the mat. Because I missed myself. I am no longer the person who can’t remember to buy trash bags at the grocery store, or the woman unable to cook a meal who pleases her family. With yoga, I remember who I am.
And yes, to answer all of those email questions about the best one to buy, here is a list: