Grace was the first lesson that yoga taught me, but I wasn’t paying attention at the time. I was only 23, years away from my last 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, a little OM tattoo peeking out from under her sleeve. She stood and hugged us.
“My name is Grace. Welcome to the yoga center”.
We climbed the stairs and entered a tiny room, only enough space for 5 mats. Louise, the instructor, wore loose linen pants and her long gray hair in a braid. She explained that 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 that it’s called a practice because you never master it, you only commit to the habit. She spoke of cultivating sukha (pronounced sooh’ kuh), an ancient Sanskrit word that literally 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. Like all women, I had been encultured to notice all the ways I did not fit. I was too loud. Too bossy. Too fat. Too short. But yoga told me I was already perfect, already at home.
But 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 had 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 grew more curated, my physical body more flexible. It became a push rather than a practice. The more I pushed, the more my body took on the shape that my mind and society had deemed acceptable.
But then it all went to shit. 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 mind and heart felt broken, my joints achey. I was exhausted all the time, had terrible brain fog, but couldn’t sleep. I was unable to remember names, phone numbers, basic vocabulary words.
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, give them time at the end of each class to rest in shavasana. I imagine those classes were about 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 nineteenth 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 welcomed me home.