Returning to the Mat: How Yoga Heals

There’s a Rumi poem that begins: “Out vastitude ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I’m pretty sure that, there in that field you will find a yoga festival taking place.

Yoga specified the first eight years of my thirties. It took me virtually the world in search of retreats and teachings, it helped me stay unshut through a major break-up, and brought me new relationships. I felt stronger, increasingly alive, increasingly unshut and unfluctuating than I had overly realized possible. Inspired to share the souvenir of yoga, I trained as a teacher and went on to spend several years leading classes in New York—even a couple of classes at a Wanderlust Festival.

Yoga and life went hand-in-hand for me. In between my full-time job, life was spent at the local studio where I taught in the evening, and with the polity sharing and playing music. Back at home I was either immersed in the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita, and asana, meditation and chanting were simply part of daily routine.

And then life happened.

But the end of my 30s saw changes that would unwittingly take me far yonder from yoga, and, as it turns out, into a place of stress, illness and unsure depression.

Unable to pay the rent, my yoga studio closed, and as various people in the sangha drifted apart, it was time for me to leave too. I had a new partner, we were hoping to have a baby, and apartments were larger and increasingly affordable several miles away. But without a year of no pregnancy, and then two years, and then three, yoga lost its place within my daily routine and indeed in my life altogether.

The upper forfeit of fertility treatments—both Western and Eastern—required second jobs then third jobs, and a lot of time spent in waiting rooms or traveling to appointments leaving little time for practice and study. And as months of vacuum and thwarting continued, weight proceeds and a loss of strength and flexibility (compacted by psoriasis that now spread over my unshortened body) deterred me from anything other than a home practice when time and willpower allowed—which was maybe once a month. In my mind, yoga was now for other people: People who were healthier, younger, increasingly emotionally-balanced, less jaded.

But yoga operates like grace…

… And it will come for you the moment it sees a one-liner of an unshut doorway. It was on a rare day this past summer that I felt the urge to roll out my mat. It had been months since I had washed-up so, and many of the postures I had treasured were painful, but that small step towards yoga was all Yoga needed to see.

At the very end of that short practice I picked my phone and saw a voicemail. It was the leasing owner of an suite towers nearby looking for a yoga teacher for its residents. They had tabbed my number by mistake, but something in me said to follow up and offer to fill the position.

As it turned out, the job wasn’t as I had been pitched. It ended up stuff just one evening—for which I never got paid—but it felt increasingly like it was I who had been handed a gift. Considering during the class, I felt that familiar feeling that yoga has unchangingly brought me: A groundedness, a lightness and a heart that feels connected to every other stuff in the room and beyond.

With that nudge, I decided to throne to a yoga festival that a friend had told me she was going to. It wasn’t a Wanderlust Festival this time but Lovelight Festival in Baltimore, and the minute I swung the car into the field, it was well-spoken a new installment for my relationship with yoga had begun.

Yoga gives way to a new dawn.

For the next 36 hours from dawn until the early hours of the morning, often in driving rain, I bounced from yoga matriculation to chanting to dancing to hearing the Sutras stuff read. My daily routine was yoga once again—and all those thoughts of wrongdoings and rightdoings of the last three years were gone. The sense that yoga was only for healthy, happy people had passed. We were all there, hundreds of people of all month and shapes and colors and genders with our unique stories of emotional and physical struggle, and our unique paths back to healing. And we all became one through our deep, and sometimes incomprehensible, desire for love, peace and wholeness.

It’s not often recited but the remainder of Rumi’s poem says: “When the soul lies in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, plane the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.”

Yoga feels to me like the field Rumi is pointing to—a paradoxical place where everything dissolves into well-constructed unity—and I’m grateful to be heading in that direction once again. I realize now that I can’t compromise on yoga. If it’s a side-job versus time spent in sadhana, then the job has to go. And if it is a seeking for doctors and healers to fix me—versus healing my heart, soul and mind to winnow fully where I am—then I segregate the latter.

Whatever it takes to rekindle the heart’s desire for yoga, I’d recommend doing it. Perhaps it is the smell of Nag Champa, or the sound of a harmonium warming up. Perhaps it is the finger of those scratchy yoga blankets over your soul in Savasana as the lights are dimmed, or the words sthira-sukham-asanam replaying in your head, or the fluttery excitement of a weekend retreat or festival. We each have our sensory fire-lighters that can rekindle our yoga practice.

And the weightier thing is that yoga didn’t go anywhere, considering that field where we lay out our mats, is right here in our hearts. We just have to take a step toward it.


Helen Avery is a senior writer at Wanderlust. She is a journalist, writer, yoga teacher, minister-in-training, and full-time dog walker of Millie.


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Yoga Benefits

  • Improves your core strength
  • Yoga can contribute to healthy bone density
  • Certain hatha yoga poses contribute to health
  • Direct and master your own energy
  • Hatha yoga strengthens your immune system
  • You will be able to reach your highest potential