Born in the year of the dragon, my father sometimes says about me — with a temper to match.
“She’s so chill,” said no one ever about my disposition.
Back when I worked in the high-stress marketing department of a hospital system, a former colleague was stunned when she learned that I enjoyed practicing yoga when I could find the time. “You’re not asking the right question,” I told her. “You can’t ask why yoga doesn’t make me calmer at work. You have to ask what I would be like without it.”
I fell in love with the ashtanga yoga practice somewhere around 1999 or 2000. I practiced only sporadically for the first many years. It took me a very long time to find my ashtanga teacher, but I have been doing the traditional six-day-a-week practice since, and found that it has done wonders in helping me deal with conditions ripe for stress. Take the last two years alone, when I’ve had a miscarriage, a major car accident, a work upheaval, and the launch of my own small business. Amazing people — and my consistent practice — have helped me through every part of those journeys.
And . . . tomorrow is the last day I get to practice for at least three months. I’ll be slinging a hammock of rest over the hot summer months, starting with Tuesday’s new moon. It’s not because I’m pregnant, but because I’ve been trying for just over a year to get pregnant. And it’s not because I have evidence that the change offers a concrete way to increase my chances of getting pregnant.
What am I doing?
Last fall, I was practicing second series up to karandavasana. For the past few months, I haven’t even been practicing full primary series. More recently, I’ve been stopping at navasana. My directive, I know, is to not let myself heat up too much as I try to nurture a conducive physical and emotional environment for conception and pregnancy. (As a side note, my ob/gyn says that the silver lining of my miscarriage two years ago is that I know I can conceive. But there is also the thing about being 39 — no one says it’s too late. But . . . even I agree that it feels harder.)
And then something came out of left field. It was explained to me a few weeks ago that there are women who ended up stopping their practice entirely before finally getting pregnant. In the ashtanga world, we hear of women who practice — and hard — up until delivery. We also hear of women who stop for the first trimester. And I think we hear of just about everything in between. But stopping to try to get pregnant was an interesting concept for me to consider. (To be honest, I initially viewed it as nothing short of the nuclear option.) These stories were not offered to me as a “you should,” but as a “you might want to know.” It was also emphasized that this had to be my decision and no one else’s — only I could know what the best course is.
I resisted the idea of it — of course I resisted the notion of not practicing for three months. But I was also intrigued. “Faith is the opposite of certainty,” I was told earlier this year, and the spirit of it has stayed with me.
I should admit that I was a tad concerned about writing this post because I didn’t want any other ashtangi trying to get pregnant to look at it and see it as an endorsement one way or another. The more I know about pregnancy and practice, the less I feel qualified to say anything about the relationship of the two. How much to practice? What to practice? When to practice? My answer pretty much goes along these lines these days: “A woman should talk to her teacher and work it out with her teacher, her own observations, and her wisdom about what is best.”
I decided to write this post anyway, but promised myself that I would be very clear in saying that I can’t weigh in on the whole practice-and-pregnancy question beyond simply sharing what is happening with me. This is a koan I am living, and I can’t verbalize any answers that would be satisfying to the intellectual mind.
So, last week, I gave serious thought to the idea of stopping practice temporarily and then decided it was not for me. I didn’t make that decision out of a fear of missing out, as the #FOMO hashtag in our culture signals so well. I’ve never been competitive about my practice. I don’t care what I practice to, and I don’t care if I look bad-ass like the yogis on Instagram. And I’m not afraid to lose my community of fellow ashtangis, because I can stay in their energetic orbits without being the shala space.
I told myself that hitting “pause” was not for me because I had not been given enough evidence that there was any benefit to stopping practice outright versus doing half-primary and modifying it any way necessary to ensure I don’t heat up too much. Nothing can guarantee that I will get pregnant, so why deprive myself of my emotional-plus-some regulator?
But two things happened to convince me otherwise. I can’t get into them here, but let’s just say that I try to listen to the universe, and I talked to two very strong and insightful women hours apart who uttered two very short questions that made me reconsider. (One practices ashtanga, and one does not practice yoga at all.)
I went back to my teacher and told her that I had changed my mind, and would be going for what was behind door number 2.
This morning, during what I knew would be my second-to-last practice, I started to cry. It has only been post-decision that I have started having a more subtle understanding of what I had been holding on to.
On the long drive home, I cried some more. Sad? Yes. Scared? Yes. Optimistic? Yes. Happy? Yes.
Discovery and liberation come in many forms.
The universe has given me so much in the past two years. But it has asked a tremendous amount from me too, and I have learned, and gained, with every loss. There are people and things and habits and countless other stuff too that we all feel we cannot live without. And if they are taken away, we sometimes realize that we didn’t really need them after all — at least we didn’t need them in quite the way we thought we did.
What percolated as I drove through the rainy, steamy humidity this morning was that I was afraid to give up my practice — for however long; the amount of time is not the point — because I was afraid of who I would be without it. How would I make any big decisions in my life? Would I return to being a stress case? Would I return to being Rose circa 2007, 2005 or 2003? (It seems so obvious to type it out now, but I had been missing that element of sheer fear before.)
Here’s the thing: The very thought of not practicing meant I had to stare down the smoky barrel of the question I had been avoiding all this time.
Who am I without this practice, and why is that person not enough?