By Connie Tsujimoto
Life is change,
Growth is optional,
The words on the greeting card challenged me. After my marriage of 42 years ended, it was hard to find my footing. Then, faced with sudden retirement from a career I loved, I lost critical social ties.
When I filed for Social Security, I knew I had crossed the threshold into the unknown. Even as my Christian faith carried me, I had broken connections that needed repair. I had serious mind-body-spirit work to do.
At 65 years old, hardly fit or a free spirit, I sought out a yoga class – or it sought me. A new wellness studio opened in East Aurora a few steps from my door. I registered for five weeks of Introduction to Yoga.
Susan, the teacher-owner, created an atmosphere that began to steady my nerves. Focus on your breath, she’d say. Filling the body with oxygen – who knew the sense of calm it brings. At first, all of me was tense.
“Soften your jaw, relax your shoulders,” she’d prompt us. Pressure to perform? Leave perfection at the door. Sure, I tip over in warrior poses, grow tree poses with seriously shaky roots and execute downward facing dog without a smidgen of flow or grace, but Susan would say, “Let go of the harsh voice of judgment.”
Yoga meets you where you are; it’s an invitation to explore. How often do we concede after brief exposure to a new activity that we’ll never be able to find a comfort level and quit before finding out if we might later embrace it? I registered for a second session of Intro to Yoga.
After two years of practice, the benefits of yoga have multiplied. Before, the concept of mindfulness exasperated me. I had no concrete examples of how it could transform a life. Until now.
I find stillness. Whether we watch Fox News or CNN, the endless political chatter can numb us from listening to our own thoughts. When I walk into the yoga studio, with its candles, soft music, big windows to view the change of seasons, straps, blocks, bolsters, pillows and blankets, time slows down.
Practicing yoga creates space in my mind, and doing heart openers, cat/cow and sun salutations encourages my body to stretch, gently. It is enough to just … be.
Finding your focus – a principle of yoga is gratitude – to be grateful for our bodies, minds and spirits, promotes healthy thinking and actions. To slow down, reflect and express gratitude short-circuits the need to chase the elusive “more” in our culture and the temptation to consider everyone else’s circumstances superior to our own.
Finding your fierce: When I practice warrior poses, the intensity of holding the pose – while still breathing – reminds me that I am strong – and getting stronger. Now I welcome challenges – pigeon poses, lizard poses and half frogs.
Practice concludes with shavasana – a time of relaxation, reflection and a quiet namaste which translates to, “May the light in me honor the light in you.” Stillness, focus, strength – these I nurture in the studio and draw from in my life outside.
For me, yoga was a choice. It didn’t alter the changes in my life, but it has become a vital part of finding my way through them.
Connie Tsujimoto is a writer who lives in East Aurora.