Today my mom can barely walk. But thirty five years ago she was a female pioneer, enrolling in yoga classes when few people knew what they were. She started doing yoga when her eldest child left home. It was a bold choice for a small town mother.
I’m pretty sure that Mom took yoga to quell the first pangs of empty nest syndrome. I had gone off to college and my sister — her “baby” — was already in high school. We lived in a small, traditional town in the Pennsylvania coal region. It was the kind of place where people distrusted any form of exotic behavior. Local opinion didn’t stop Mom, who went as far as visiting the ashram, while mastering downward dog and tree pose. She even met the yogi from India who founded the Kripalu retreat. Today I still wonder what prompted this strange choice from my normally conservative mother. Something about the yogic way of life appealed to her, but she’s long past the point of explaining what it was.
As a young adult I did not want to be like my mother in any way. Of course, we all end up displaying aspects of our parents’ character whether we like it or not. The one thing I did admire was her early interest in yoga and healing arts. I’ve followed her example by studying these practices for the past few years. Yesterday, I pursued that interest all the way to Times Square in New York City. To celebrate the summer solstice, I participated in a giant yoga event. About 11,000 people got down on their mats in streets that were blocked off from traffic. It’s hard to explain how amazing it felt to bend beneath a blue sky with New York neon spiraling around us, an occasional police siren disrupting our peaceful breath.
I wish my mother could have seen it. She laughs at everything these days, but this was truly entertaining. They say the study of yoga is a journey that can change your life. When I combine that practice with the experience of caring for my mom, I begin to see life as one long phase of transformation.