Getting Over Guilt

Apr 23, 2008

Sometimes, guilt can be a useful motivator, but I love that it just doesn’t belong on the yoga mat.

by Elena Rover

When circumstances conspired that I wasn't at the studio for the last few weeks, I felt so guilty. I squeezed in one or two home sessions, but not anything resembling a regular practice. And my home version is just not the same as my favorite Tuesday/Thursday class at Little Buddhas. My teacher, Laurie Luongo, is so supportive – understanding the limitations of my 40+ body yet encouraging me to push a little more in each class, and getting a thrill out of every small improvement almost as much as I do. She’s so creative and class is never the same twice. And she taps into what the students need, adapting her session to be just right. Now that's a talented teacher!
So when I let her know I'd be showing up last night, I had some serious trepidations (read: guilt on top of guilt!), and low expectations knowing that I’d probably lost some of those hard-won gains in flexibility, strength, and awareness. She said "You'll come and do what works for you." Gotta love that! That's what yoga is for me--a place I go to focus, to learn, to get clear in my head again. Every time I practice, there's something new. It’s usually subtle – not a sudden ability to lift both feet in Crow, but when the same stiff hamstrings bring the usual frustration in a Forward Bend, but then I feel them release a little and find some peace as Laurie leads us in a set of flowing seated poses, from a Forward Stretch with legs together, to Cobbler’s, to a wide-legged Forward Stretch. I realize that I didn’t even notice I was being so critical of my body, until I find I’m no longer hating my hamstrings but appreciating those small gains I get on the mat – that benefit my body while doing even more for my psyche. Each class brings some lesson along those lines. Some of them are physical realizations. Some of them are emotional.

Tonight, as always, brought a boat-load of guilt to the studio – not just because of my recent absence but because of the disaster of unfinished work lying on my desk, my husband floundering to prep dinner, and my son who would not miss my empty chair at the table. As I grabbed my mat and car key, I was sorry I agreed to take the time out to go – but I knew I needed it. So I brought my overworked, sedentary, and stressed body, mind, and spirit for a yoga tune-up.

It's remarkable what happens a few minutes into the opening breath work. That cluttered desk and unmade dinner are completely gone. I hear only Laurie’s guidance, and my focus shifts to the mat. An hour later, emerging from Savasana, I felt calm and happy. My body had surprised me with a good session, not the poor performance I'd expected. I reached a little deeper into my twist, felt a little steadier in my Tree, got my heels farther down in Down Dog. And I hadn't forgotten how to rise into Headstand without the wall—and I just stayed there, balanced. Yay! I finished my practice with joy and gratitude.
No, that doesn't mean I've completely conquered guilt. I’m not suddenly fine with the work undone, family who miss me – or the bulging belly that gets in my way when I try to swing my leg from Down Dog to Lunge. And I still pine for the way I could move 20 years ago when I was in great shape, able to touch my forehead to my knee. But Laurie reminds me to find peace where I am today, to have gratitude for what my body can do, not to fight with it. And that acceptance translates into a healthier attitude, all around.
Because I felt good tonight, because I came home centered and smiling, I was able to spend a few extra minutes being good to myself. I passed on the leftover hot dogs and whipped up a delicious vegetarian dish I was craving. And I finished just in time for bedtime with my 3-year-old, a highlight of my day – without  a bit of guilt that I didn’t participate in the battle that is bathtime!

Landing back at my desk at 10PM, I had some appreciation for the fact that while the work will not lessen, I can carve out time to take care of myself – and there’s no reason to feel guilty about that. And whether I show up daily or once a month, I won’t find reprimands at Little Buddhas, only acceptance – like the love of a 3-year-old who really only remembers that you were there to read a story and give a hug and a kiss and a snuggle.


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