Breathe through.

Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor. – Thich Nhat Hanh

Routine. Some days, I wear it like an old sweater – soft and familiar. Wrapping me up like a hug, keeping me safe and warm. Routine can be so comforting. Knowing what comes next. Having a rhythm, a slow, steady beat, being able to sing along, not missing a step. Routine can keep me sane. I know where I’m going and what to expect when I get there. And when I feel out of control – like my life is happening around me and I am just helplessly watching – pulling on that old sweater and getting back into a rhythm is a relief. As if I’ve gotten my everyday back.

I know that my days are, in fact, not predictable. Anything is possible, each day new and fresh, with no moment ever the same. There is ebb and flow. It’s a good thing, but tough to remember when the tide is high. Routine helps me feel as though I can at least ride the wave safely, all while singing a familiar song that guides me toward the ground, the present, landing on my feet at the end of the day.

Sometimes, routine is a heavy weight on my shoulders. Hammering down, with its consistent, familiar beat that I now know well, and I know what comes next, and I can feel it, but I don’t want it. Wake up, get ready, make coffee, prepare lunch. Drive to work, sit at computer, drive home. Pick up the kid, make dinner, clean up. Bath time, bedtime, me time. Sleep. Repeat. Routine becomes monotonous, each beat wearing me down. That once comfy sweater becomes tiring to look at. The same outfit every day. Color fading, the sleeves wearing thin.

That’s what I found myself wearing this February. Outside, cold and gray, and inside, pulling on that tired old sweater to keep me warm. When really, I long for sunshine. To strip off the sweater, fling the windows open, and feel the warmth of the sky. Breathe in the fresh air and breathe out the stale, heavy routine.

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I tried kundalini yoga for the first time on Sunday morning. It was an 8 a.m. class that I’d been telling myself I should try for months, but never got around to it because 8 a.m. On a Sunday.

Growing up Catholic, church on Sunday mornings was a chore. My laziness finally won out and my mother gave up making me attend. By sixth grade, I had quit CCD. No more Tuesday nights in a stuffy trailer behind St. Dismas Parish, no more choir practice with Sisters Mary and Lucy. No more communions, no more confessions. I never got confirmed, and I wore the dropout status proudly – as if I had successfully escaped an evil cult and I was free to believe or not believe whatever I wanted.

And now here I am, leaning into a new Sunday morning routine. Longing for a set time to focus on me, light and energy, on a day that is typically associated with devotion and creation. It just seems so fitting, so right, to start off the week by being present. My own prayer. Maybe it’s a part of me that wants to belong to a church, a community, a faith. Whatever it is, it brought me to a sun-filled room early Sunday morning, rolling out my yoga mat, setting up blanket and bolster and water bottle around me. The instructor sat in front, dressed in white, a gong on one side of her and a harmonium on the other. There were three others, our mats arranged in a half circle. Ready to begin.

I thought it was going to be a gentle, easy practice. For the most part, it was. We were seated or on our backs the entire time. There was no sweat dripping from my face and onto the mat like I’ve experienced in other classes – my Saturday morning class, for example, surrounded by women older than me, thinner than me, stronger than me, holding poses much more gracefully than me. Anyone who tells you yoga is not a workout should take that yoga class. Hell, everyone should take any yoga class. It’s really just all around good for you.

But anyway. To briefly get you up to speed on what kundalini yoga is, and how it’s different from other types of yoga, here is a quote from The Huffington Post:

Some yogas (like Bikram) are structured as a physical workout. Others (like Jivamukti) put an emphasis on meditation. Kundalini Yoga is little of both, but with an added emphasis on consciousness that activates energy centers throughout the body. Kundalini class can be a good workout, but its teachers and students (often wearing white turbans) participate in each kriya with a quiet reverence more akin to a temple than a gym. If you like your physical exercise to come with a side of spiritual enlightenment, Kundalini Yoga might be for you.

See now why I wanted to try this on a Sunday morning? It just made sense.

Kundalini yoga can involve rapid, repetitive movements, which are what got to me. I started getting tired holding my arms out, twisting side to side, making sure my spine was straight and my core engaged. What I thought would be gentle became a workout of my body and my mind. On my hands and knees in tabletop position, I reached my right arm out and my left leg back. I held the posture for as long as the instructor told us, my body starting to shake. Pushing through made me feel light-headed but strong, forcing me to focus on my breath, which had become deep and grounding. My breath became a driving force, my strength, holding me up, keeping me up, the energy coming from deep in my gut and out through my nose and assuring me that I’ve got this. I can do this.

I found power in the repetition, power in my breath. It felt energizing and good.

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Repetition. Routine. It can be so easy to let it weigh you down and feel smothered, powerless beneath the pounding rhythm. To let your tired arms drop and give up, no longer reaching for strength. But it’s there. Sometimes it just takes a breath of something new, and then deeper breaths – inhales and exhales so long and steady and focused until that stale energy is moving again and you find yourself still upright, still moving, still going strong.

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Today, the sun shines. The sky is blue. The windows are open, fresh air flows in, and I am here.

 

Start with the details.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, pen in hand. We are here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important.” – Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

7:30 AM. I woke up today to blue light. A few cries from Murdo on the monitor minutes before, but he had gone back to sleep. I was awake, with an urge to get up, to be alone in the quiet and stillness. I embraced this, because while the intentions are usually there – Wake up early! Set aside time for yourself! Start a positive tone for the day! – the physical ability to get my ass out of bed is typically not.

Mornings are difficult. When I was younger, I would proudly declare that I was not a morning person, that I loved sleeping in, and perhaps that was the young me embracing… youth. Because then it happened – I’m an adult, a parent, a homeowner, an employee, and my days are filled with to-do’s that I don’t really want to do, but I do them anyway, at least on the days when I can successfully practice self discipline, which is hard. And then the day is over, and all I want to do is something that will make me feel like me again, whatever that is. Instead, I fall asleep on the couch, dishes still left to be washed, the next day’s coffee and lunch still yet to be made, and I wake up cranky on the couch at midnight.

And so, there are mornings. When the house is quiet and dark, and everyone else is still asleep, and my brain still too groggy to think about to-do’s. On most weekdays since the new year began, I somehow make it to the yoga mat, because I’ve begun to crave that deep stretch and stillness, the movement of my body, waking up and connecting all the senses and every sleepy part of me. Weekends have been harder, and I find myself waking when little Murdo wakes, and my Saturdays and Sundays begins with him. Today, Sunday, I embraced the urge to rise, and to write. I set up on the couch in the living room next to our bay window, which is always cold in the winter because we never installed curtains, relying on large houseplants for semi-privacy. A cascading pothos plant that I’ve somehow kept alive for 10 years, a tall geranium that grows up along a stake, pink flowers just starting to bloom. A big tree-like plant whose name I don’t know, that my mom gave to me when she moved from Illinois to California just last year, and I resisted because I knew I’d kill it, but she gave it to me anyway and here it is, still alive, a sturdy thing. Just past the greenery, on the other side of my smudged window, snow. A light covering,¬† blades of dead grass peeking through. A solid gray sky. No movement, no birds or animals or people, no life, except for the trees’ strong dark branches giving way to the wind, back and forth. I wrote about it in my small teal spiral-bound notebook that I bought at Target just last week, with the intention of keeping up with a regular writing practice. Learning again to put pen to paper, and to let the words flow onto the page. My hand doesn’t cramp as much anymore.

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I’ve been thinking about creating a new space. My blog¬†Happy Jack Eats tells of stories and moments in a time before, and I tried to tell myself I could continue my story there, but something in me wants to begin again somewhere separate and new. I’ll archive Happy Jack Eats stories here. And on this page, and the next, and the next – who I continue to become every day.

I became a wife in 2010. Five years later, a mother. (I’ve had to pause this post several times already – to get Murdo up from his nap, to help him put together a puzzle, to turn on “Tiny Trucks” on Amazon Prime, to respond when he yelled from his big chair downstairs, “Mommy, I have a booger!” Sitting down to write looks different now, but each time, I come back to the computer and continue typing. Thoughts interrupted, new ones form. It’s okay. Just keep writing.) In the last couple of years, in hard ways, I’ve had to learn that yes, I am a wife and a mother, but I am also more. I am not defined by just my relationships, or my job, or the voice inside my head. That there is something higher, deeper, everywhere – a light that I’ve been purposely shutting out for most of my adult life.

Here, now, I am creating space for that light. Opening up to possibility. Leaning in, letting go. Soaking in the light, savoring the moments. And writing.