31 Jan A Year on my Mat
By: Stefanie Castro, RN, BSN
A year ago I had the simplest intentions; I wanted to work out and get fit. Even with that in mind, I still had not planned on practicing daily for an entire year. My yoga journey began when the opportunity arose to participate in the studio’s 28-day challenge, where you attend one class daily for the entire month of February. Little did I know this practice would become much more than a workout; it would become a work-in with the individual I was and wanted to be into the future.
In the past I never considered myself a physically strong person. Because of my chronic illness, I’ve lived with medical professionals constantly reminding me how sick I am. But to my surprise, since starting this challenge, I found that I was able to combat even common colds better than in the past. I feel physically stronger. With this newfound confidence, I started to reach outside my comfort zone on my yoga mat, trying poses that felt unreachable in the past. Headstands, crow pose, half moon, standing bow are just a handful of poses I’ve been able to try. Sometimes I can’t complete the pose in its entirety, but I’ve learned that’s the beauty of life: I keep getting back up and trying again.
I am aware of how incredibly blessed I am. As I look back on a year ago, though, I think I had lost a little bit of myself. I had the habit of putting myself last, to which I know many moms can relate. My initial reasons for going to my mat shifted from the need to exercise to a need for self-discovery. My mat became a place of solitude, in the most profound and positive way. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable confronting my thoughts, but I didn’t ignore how I felt. Instead I embraced it and as a result I often found answers I couldn’t otherwise when I was off the mat. I didn’t have any distractions or anyone asking something of me. For an hour each day, I turned off the constant environmental chatter I had grown accustomed to and focused on my voice within. It was the only time of day when the goal was to comfort myself.
Once I reached my 28-day goal, I began exploring the idea of taking the challenge a step further. I decided to see how far I could go on the mat consecutively in the studio. I reached 71 consecutive days at the yoga studio itself, before leaving on a family vacation last April. From that point, I decided to take my yoga mat with me and keep practicing daily. Then I decided I was going to challenge myself to get to my mat for an entire year. The longest consecutive stretch in studio was 92 days straight, before another family getaway arose during the summer. If I couldn’t make it to the studio, be it for a family trip, personal illness, or work, I would practice from home or the hotel room. I ended up practicing outside of the studio 50 times this past year.
Although most of my days were in the studio, the universe had a way of reminding me I wasn’t in control. My absence from the studio began with family trips. Later, we had to overcome some personal struggles as well, forcing me to practice at home. We were hit with the stomach flu, a family member fell gravely ill, and, most recently, I suffered a car accident. Many of these situations allowed for a quick return back to the studio, but the accident has been the most difficult roadblock. I continue to have to work through the physical and mental hardships it caused. I’ve had to listen to my body more carefully, causing some resentment and anger towards the situation. But when I get to my mat, my instructors remind me that I am lucky to be able to have my yoga practice. I couldn’t agree more, especially after a tougher ending to the year than I anticipated.
As a mother, it took a lot of self-discipline to accomplish these goals on the mat. I don’t know about you, but it’s always been hard for me to take time for myself. I’m constantly apologizing for carving time out to do something that is solely for my own benefit. Most of my attempts, especially in my home, usually end with my children finding me and interrupting any type of quiet time. Since becoming a mom, all my decisions have been for the betterment of my children. But one big revelation from this entire journey is the fact that something good for me will spill over as something that benefits my family. Additionally, it has taken the efforts of many around me to help get me to this milestone. My husband, my parents, and extended family members have been cheering me on during this challenge. It takes a village, not only when raising kids, but also when trying to accomplish something for yourself after you have children.
When I decided to take on this yearlong challenge, it did not come without some comments from others. Most of my classes are in a hot room over 100 degrees. I find the atmosphere cleansing, not only physically but mentally as well. While many people are proud of my accomplishment, some simply exclaim, “You’re crazy! I could never!” When I hear that, all I hear is someone who is limiting themselves. I sometimes wonder: Is that how you face a challenge in your daily life? Do you simply pass it off as something you could never do? My love for this type of yoga wasn’t overnight. It took time to adapt and welcome the challenge each day, but looking back, what I’ve gained is so much more than I ever thought possible. When I stand in my classes now, I see my reflection in the mirror and I have a new respect for the individual I see in front of me.
This practice has allowed me a great deal of self-reflection. I am not perfect and I’ve learned to embrace more of my imperfections than in the past. I am a work in progress and my journey doesn’t end with one pose. Life is a lot like yoga; it’s about practice, not perfection. I should emphasize that is a big part of motherhood. I will never have all the answers nor will I always do everything exactly right. But what is perceived as my flaws will be where I learn the most. I have to embrace the moments I fall because without them I cannot strive to be better. If you’re reading this and wondering if you can take on a similar challenge in your life: throw out the reasons not to do it and embrace the reasons you should. Take it from someone who already had a full plate. I felt as if I was going to tip over with responsibility and this challenge brought me stability and self-improvement in the most incredible way, strengthening me as a wife, mother, daughter and friend.
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