The child's pose

Grace was the first les­son that yoga taught me, but I wasn’t pay­ing atten­tion at the time. I was only 23, years away from my last for­mal yoga class. I read about a class in down­town Lexington and dragged David with me.

The beau­ti­ful recep­tion­ist wel­comed us, her face joy­ful­ly serene. She smelled like jas­mine, a lit­tle OM tat­too peek­ing out from under her sleeve. She stood and hugged us.

“My name is Grace. Welcome to the yoga center.”

We climbed the stairs and entered a tiny room, with only enough space for five mats. Louise, the instruc­tor, wore loose linen pants and her long gray hair in a braid. She explained that the shape of the pose didn’t mat­ter much, as long as we were breath­ing mind­ful­ly. She led us through some down dogs and seat­ed twists. I aligned my body, and sud­den­ly my heart and mind felt aligned as well. Then we sat qui­et­ly, alone but togeth­er. The chat­ter­ing mon­keys in my head got just the tini­est bit quieter.

Louise talked about the prac­tice of yoga. She explained that it’s called a prac­tice because you nev­er mas­ter it; you only com­mit to the habit. She spoke of cul­ti­vat­ing sukha (pro­nounced sooh’ kuh), an ancient Sanskrit word that lit­er­al­ly means good fit and refers to the place on a char­i­ot where the wheel and axle meet. The char­i­ot allowed peo­ple to trav­el across Indonesia to Europe. If the axle and wheel worked togeth­er smooth­ly, then the ride was con­sid­ered sukha.

Yoga was def­i­nite­ly sukha, or a good fit, for me. Like all women, I had been encul­tured to notice all the ways I did not fit. I was too loud. Too bossy. Too fat. Too short. But yoga told me I was already per­fect, already at home.

But Louise said she defined sukha as grace, a gift of uncon­di­tion­al love from God to help humans on their path. The mind­ful move­ment allowed us to receive that gift in our prac­tice and attract more grace in our lives. Our yoga prac­tice was just as much about mov­ing grace­ful­ly as it was about cul­ti­vat­ing a heart that offers com­pas­sion, even when the expe­ri­ence doesn’t mer­it it. I real­ized yoga was more than just cal­is­then­ics. It was holy work.

As Grace had wel­comed me at the door, so I then wel­comed grace into my heart. Grace has stayed with me all these years, a silent part­ner in the LLC that is my life.

But I for­got again.

I fell back into old pat­terns, tak­ing on the man­tle of striv­ing and self-judg­ment like a well-loved sweater. My yoga prac­tice grew more curat­ed, my phys­i­cal body more flex­i­ble. It became a push rather than a prac­tice. The more I pushed, the more my body took on the shape that my mind and soci­ety had deemed acceptable.

But then it all went to shit. Life hand­ed me a steam­ing pile of suf­fer­ing in the form of a new infant, a ter­ri­ble case of post­par­tum depres­sion, and a hus­band whose pan­ic attacks had stopped respond­ing to med­ica­tion. Wide-eyed anx­i­ety and crush­ing depres­sion aren’t gen­er­al­ly the char­ac­ter­is­tics of good par­ent­ing — and the con­stant cry­ing of a new­born did not help our men­tal states.

I spent months curled up on the floor in tears. My mind and heart felt bro­ken, my joints achy. I was exhaust­ed all the time, had ter­ri­ble brain fog, but couldn’t sleep. I was unable to remem­ber names, phone num­bers, basic vocab­u­lary words.

I was teach­ing yoga through this time, but I was dis­con­nect­ed from my job. It was easy to lead peo­ple through a sequence of pos­es, teach peo­ple how to breathe, give them time at the end of each class to rest in shavasana. I imag­ine those class­es were about as inspir­ing as lis­ten­ing to tax laws being read aloud.

But even though my life had fall­en apart, Grace wasn’t fin­ished with me. A few months lat­er, I went to a class. My expec­ta­tions for my prac­tice were non-exis­tent. Just get­ting out of the house and to a class felt like a win. My rounder, stiffer, still-heal­ing body felt rusty and inad­e­quate, every move­ment awk­ward. My mind was still in a fog of wor­ry and new baby hor­mones. I took child’s pose a lot, a pose tra­di­tion­al­ly used in class as a rest­ing place to con­nect to the breath.

During my nine­teenth child’s pose, I heard an angel singing. Well, it was Judy Collins singing, but it felt like a divine bread­crumb dropped in my path.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me…

And just like that, my friend Grace wel­comed me home.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.