MKY's beloved teacher, Kathy Livingston, first came to yoga in a moment of need. In her memoir Yin, Yang, Yogini: A Woman's Quest for Balance, Strength and Inner Peace, she recounts how yoga informed and helped her on her journey through fear. Having been raised on a steady diet of worst case scenarios, Kathy finds she has to reinvent herself in middle age in order to face and move through her reality. Below are excerpts from her relatable, humorous, and poignantly-told story.
I've come to yoga... because I'm falling apart. My therapist (a soft-spoken, slender lady whom I've recently begun seeing) believes it might pull me together. I'm doubtful, but what's to lose? I have a wonderful husband, three perfect boys and a charming little home in a New Jersey suburb. On the outside I appear content and in control, but something tugs violently at my heart each morning: the mistakes I've made, the wrong turns I've taken, the losses that come with middle age, including the deaths of both of my parents. I have yet to find the gains of aging (except at my waist). Might yoga be a path?
I need a path because life has come to a sudden halt, as if I've stubbed my toe at the gate to year fifty, and sit bleeding. I'm afraid to pick myself up and carry on. I'm afraid to move forward, and I can't go back, and in my paralyzed state, I wonder if I'll even be able to figure this yoga thing out at all. In the past, I would have turned to my mother; though she couldn't calm my fears because she had too many of her own, at least we could commiserate. But now she's gone, and there's no one who seems to understand the agitated state of my mind. When I crawl into bed at night, my thoughts take hours to settle, and even when I'm sleeping my worries seem to hum and vibrate beneath my pillow. I'm literally "driving myself crazy," and without my mom in the passenger seat, I know I can't continue to travel through life in this way.
I'm afraid of little things, like traffic merges and snapping turtles, but I'm also afraid of sending my fifteen-year-old son off to study in England for a month, afraid of flying, of losing my three nearly grown boys to adulthood and independence, frightened at the thought of them going off to college, afraid of illness, terrified of death -- my own and everyone else's -- and even scared of fully enjoying life because it can so easily slip between one's fingers. I hope -- and if I prayed I'd be praying -- that yoga will make a difference. But I'm not a spiritual woman and I'm certainly not an avid exerciser. I haven't been to church in more than twenty years, and the last time I moved fast enough to break a sweat, I was chasing a toddler around a park.
Kathy struggled to get comfortable in yoga classes and in yoga poses and with yoga philosophies, but along the way discovered that they nourished her. She leaned on yoga and her practice developed. Then, after two years of practice, Kathy was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was forced to face perhaps her greatest fear, her own mortality. She brought so much of what she was learning about herself and life in yoga to getting through her surgery, radiation, and nights of worry. Thankfully, she got through and is cancer-free today.
[My yoga teacher] Jeanine says that Mercury is in retrograde, which supposedly causes some kind of confusion in our lives. I guess I do feel a bit confused; getting to know and love this new person I've become is quite a challenge. I'm a person with seven pinpoint blue tattoos on my breast (used to guide the radiation therapists), a two-inch scar, and a calendar filled with doctor and treatment appointments, a person who had cancer, a person who may still have some cancer cells lurking around that need to be zapped for survival. I'm a woman I never imagined being, as if my past and future selves have just been introduced at a dance neither one of us really wants to attend. "Who is that awkward kid in the plaid dress?" my future self asks. Never mind; just dance with her, show her the steps.
But according to my yoga teachers, this is really not who I am anyway: we are not our thoughts, our words, or our worries. My divine and perfect self is and always has been here, like a cookie in a jar, waiting for a little kid to reach her hand in and pluck it out. I can almost see myself standing in front of that cookie jar, gathering my courage. We need so much courage just to love ourselves.