A few years ago, a wave of events rippled into my life: A family member was diagnosed with a critical illness. Our home flooded. Our income dropped. I could have handled each of these experiences on its own. But all this happened at once.
I spent my days going to social service agencies asking for help—while trying to make everyday life happen: food shopping, going to work and taking care of our family. After a while, under the extenuating hardships and the everyday demands of life, I began to crumble.
After yet another day in another social service agency, I came home weary from hearing “No” or “We’ll get back to you.” I stood at the bottom of our staircase and, through warm, silent tears, I said to my husband, “This experience of trying to get help is exhausting. Help has to feel like help.” Metaphorically and physically buckling at my knees, I hit the floor.
When life floored me, I was tempted to jump back up, to activate the social conditioning many of us receive: Be a strong black woman. But this time, my experiences were so devastating, no amount of cultural self-talk could lift me. The floor caught me, held me and began to transform me. I decided to stay there and listen to what the floor had to teach me.
I surrendered to my mat. The language my instructors used in asana classes spoke to me: Focus on your breath. Stay in this moment. Listen to your body. Set intentions. The flow of yoga sequences guided me to keep my heart open at a time when it felt safer to withdraw. My mat became my refuge, my guide, a container for my tears.
My prayer and gratitude practices deepened and shifted. The language of my prayers began to include “Use me” and “What is this here to teach me?” I began a daily practice of writing in a gratitude journal, recording the deliciously small pleasures of life, like a store having my favorite bean pie or hearing a joke on the radio that made me belly laugh.
Nature called me and I obeyed. I allowed the sound of waterfalls to resonate in my body. I communed with the trees, breathing in their life energy and wisdom. Their whisper seemed to promise, “I got you.”
Creating sacred practices around ordinary, everyday experiences felt like me being kind to myself. When I threw something away, I said, I release what no longer serves me. If I can practice this mantra with a soiled napkin, I can learn to practice it with socially conditioned thoughts like ‘be a strong black woman.’ These practices made room for my rebirth. The floor and my mat comforted me and were my guides. They taught me to release the need to be a strong black woman and embrace surrender and help.
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Tamara Cress, RYT-200, M.A., CCC-SLP, is a school librarian, speech-language therapist and a passionate, nomadic yoga teacher who makes yoga accessible for everybody’s body. In addition to teaching weekly yoga classes, she facilitates mindfulness-based yoga sessions at family and community gatherings to help connect us to our own inner wisdom and to each other through movement, breath, storytelling and fun.