A Mat of My Own

Road to Wellness

D iane Utaski Notes: For the holidays, this column will include stories in their own words of how yoga has changed people's lives.) I have a room of my own right now. Circumstances at present do not lend themselves to this.

I do, however, have a purple mat. Since March I've been rolling and unrolling this mat in the center of the room I sleep in. The one space I call my own, the one time I claim as my own, is on my yoga mat.

When the world outside me seems chaotic, there's always the purple mat to come home to. Each day, I find a little piece of heaven. My yoga routine is always changing. My personal practice reflects what's going on in my daily life.

At certain points, I find myself pushing too hard on the mat. I force myself to do 10 sun salutations, backbends, handstands, challenging vinyasas and an abundance of push-up positions. My tendency is to push too hard, to do things I'm not ready for and to skip steps. When I push too hard, I usually end up injuring myself. Nothing serious, just light pain in the low back or a crick in my neck. I sometimes fight against the softness of yoga, the inner journey of yoga.

I have recently become a certified Kripalu Yoga instructor. I chose a gentle and compassionate style that allows the student to pay attention to sensations, thoughts and feelings. The challenge for me is to slow down enough to allow inner sensations to emerge. My tendency is to go for the power yoga — to push through pain, to become hard, to deny the soft side of myself.

In my life I've struggled with being too sensitive. Now I believe there is no such thing as being too sensitive. It's part of me that I wish to nurture instead of push away. When I find myself overdoing it on my yoga mat, I find that in some circumstances of life I'm not listening to my feelings. Instead, I'm trying to solve the challenge by force rather than slowing down and listening.

Yoga has also helped me with body image. At first, slowing down caused me to be uncomfortable. This was another reason to do power yoga. I could avoid being in my body.

Yet yoga is about softness, the balance between pushing to one's edge, allowing sensation to build, and then releasing. What I have discovered is that the first step in yoga is to become quiet inside. To really fill out the cells and tissues of the body.

Many times the first thing I do is sit and meditate for five minutes. This allows me to come in contact with my state of body image for the day. Sometimes I still want to run away. Sometimes I'd rather start out with a vigorous flow of posture, without doing any meditation or warm-up so I can avoid being in my body.

Yet as I roll out my purple mat each day, I'm becoming comfortable with being myself in all my imperfections and insecurities. Yoga allows the wise inner voice inside to emerge. Even without a room of my own, I find myself grounded and rooted when I sit and move on my purple yoga mat..

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