The dead of winter has officially arrived. If it’s not snowing, it’s raining, sleeting and freezing. Roads and sidewalks in our wooded suburban enclave have grown treacherous.
Today, though bitter cold, was at least dry, so a few hours ago, Mike and I headed out and logged 4 miles. Not much, but enough to assure me that I can still do it. Mentally, it was a big accomplishment after two weeks of idleness.
Happily, I haven’t sunk into the foul mood that often grips me when I don’t exercise regularly. I’ve somehow managed, perhaps through seeing lots of great movies, reading some fabulous fiction and moving our adoption process briskly along, to remain positive and buoyant, to continue feeling the fullness of my life. I’ve reached a happy plateau with my efforts to shed my menopausal weight; I know I can survive spells of winter-induced laziness without losing my hard-fought baseline strength and endurance. Two weeks off from running isn’t going to undo all of the progress I have made over the last two years.
Meanwhile, this past week saw the re-emergence of a long-dormant force from my pre-cancer life, and I have found myself re-invigorated yet again. In my quest to diversify my on-going rehabilitation, as well as train for a half-marathon at the end of May, I have returned to yoga. And I am hooked all over again.
My friend Joe (or, “Coach,” as I now call him) is a tremendous runner. As in marathons. As in a level of athleticism that I can’t quite imagine, but to which I certainly aspire. I’ve asked for his guidance as I train for my first half-marathon, and he has repeatedly insisted on one thing: yoga. Yoga was a big part of my life for years, but even before my illness, I had gotten away from it. Stupid. Like a dear friend you fall out of touch with for no good reason, and then always wonder what happened to your connection.
Two weeks ago, after endless procrastinating, I signed up for a series of early morning (try 6 AM) core-strengthening yoga classes at the local studio where Coach Joe attends. In an ironic twist, the first class I signed up for was cancelled due to snow. (You know things are bleak when you can’t even do yoga because of inclement weather.) This past week, though, I was pumped up and ready to rock.
I called Joe on Tuesday night to confirm he’d be joining me. In a further bit of cosmic cruelty, he informed me he couldn’t make it this week because of an early work commitment. Bugger! He’s supposed to be my coach, and he’s leaving me in lurch to get up at 5 AM in the dead of winter and walk into my first legitimate yoga class in years. We’re off to a great start.
But on Wednesday morning, I popped out of bed, strangely excited. It felt great to be up when it was still pitch black outside, making a pot of coffee, slipping into my soft, stretchy clothes. I was really doing this. I headed to the studio, and when I walked in, was immediately enveloped in that familiar, yoga-inspired warmth. Back in the old days, I always loved the quiet moments before a class begins, limbering up on the mat, settling in with my breath, looking around and smiling at my fellow practitioners.
But this wasn’t just another yoga class. Not only was it another symbolic step on my journey to reclaim my life from cancer, but it was CORE-STRENGTHENING yoga. After two years of dedicated running, I have strong, powerful legs. My abdomen is another story altogether – the site of my disease that was mangled almost beyond recognition by back-to-back surgeries. Even three years later, it’s a lumpy oddity that has proved completely resistant to my efforts to bring my body back to something akin to its pre-cancer contours.
Nevertheless, I approached Wednesday morning with great eagerness. I had to start somewhere. I wasn’t going to compare myself to my classmates (always a taboo in yoga, but especially when you suspect you are the loan cancer warrior in a room full of lithe, limber experts.) Before walking into the studio, I’d imagined approaching the instructor to fill her in on my back-story – the cancer, the toll it has taken on my core. Once in the room, though, rolling out my mat and preparing to practice, I thought better of it. Why does it matter? I’m a strong, healthy woman, and starting now, I am going to re-engage with yoga at the pace that works for me, as the person I am now – not as a damaged version of the person I used to be.
The class was brilliant – like riding the proverbial bike. Downward dog! Warrior One! Pigeon! Plank Pose (well, not so much you) – how I have missed you!! It was the tearful and joyous reunion with that long-lost friend.
I found myself sweating and struggling within a matter of minutes, and often had to hang back at the easiest level of a series of postures. But I didn’t care. Even in the struggle, I felt ecstatic. The deep soreness in my abdomen and upper body the next day was the most perfect sort of pain.
It’s funny: the thing which finally drove me back to yoga was a desire to improve and strengthen as a runner. It hadn’t even occurred to me that it would also help me reclaim the very center of my self.