*Note: this post is part of a 20-day writing prompt 101 program I’m participating in. Today’s Prompt: “Tell us the story of your most prized-possession.”
My most prized possession is something I doubt you’d want to go near. It’s not pretty. It stinks a little. And the varying shades of blue on its surface are not some artistic mosaic of creative intuit, but rather the cumulative sum of sweat, tears, and a little blood. On one end of it, there’s a few nicks. On the other, a trace of stubborn sticky name tag residue from a recent 6-day teacher training in a remote region of the Arizona desert I endured.
It’s my yoga mat: a six-pound, 71″ x 26″ beast that’s followed me to Seattle, San Francisco, that arid desert in Arizona, an old textile mill-turned studio in the Berkshires, a Miami beach, countless airplane overhead bins, and on the back of my bicycle en route to the studio in Cambridge, MA, I’m currently practicing at. For the most part, where I go, it goes.
I have other mats of different sizes, textures, and colors, but always come back to this one: my beat up blue mat. Maybe it’s the visible scars that draw me to it – as though every discoloration and marring were evidence of the effort I’ve put into the often times ugly process of better understanding myself through years of ninety-minute stretches on its sturdy surface. Or perhaps it’s simpler than that: I know it, it knows me.
My most prized possession is not intended to sit pretty on a shelf somewhere. No, the beauty of my beat up blue mat lies within its flaws. And unlike the Honda CRV I’m told is losing value each month I put off selling the damn thing, my mat’s value continues to rise. Neither time nor wear and tear could ever diminish it’s worth. To me anyway. Every time I roll it out, balance on it, stumble on it, cry on it, even curse at it, it delivers:
The way that we see things today does not have to be the way we saw them yesterday. That is because the situations, our relationships to them, and we ourselves have changed in the interim. This notion of constant change suggests that we do not have to be discouraged. – T.K.V. Desikachar
My beat up blue mat kicked midlife blues in the ass. In many ways, it acted as my GPS through a series of changes that began at age 40. Some might call that a midlife crisis, and I very well could have, but dragging my mat into a hot studio every morning at 6 AM in the throes of a painful divorce and financial tailspin shifted my point of view. Instead of staring helplessly down the back nine, I chose to tee off for the first time. Rolling out my mat, day in and day out, despite the wild fluctuations of emotions I was experiencing at the time, enabled me to approach life as a brand new beginning and opportunity to reinvent myself – physically, emotionally, spiritually.
It absorbed the sweat as I gritted through pose after pose, helping me rebuild my semi-starved, former runner’s weak frame into something more powerful than I thought my DNA would allow. It collected tears of frustration and anger and reminded me to keep moving through the inevitable discomforts that arise with change. It hugged my fatigued bones in Svasana at the end of every practice – shortening the distance between some Greater Force looking out for me and whatever earthly nuisances were conspiring to pin me down. My Svasanas on my beat up blue mat, even today, in better times, give me a glimpse of God.
When you inhale, you are taking the strength from God. When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world. – B.K.S. Iyengar
My beat up blue mat taught me how to play with pit bulls. Time on my mat has cultivated a diorama of courage and grace that has led to some interesting revelations – most notably that I adore animal rescue work (read more here: I’m Going Home!). Courage gained from Handstands, agonizingly long held Warriors and Plank poses made locking myself in a glass-enclosed dog run with two spry, pent-up pitties seem entirely doable – if somewhat insane – last summer at Main Line Animal Rescue. Grace from balancing in Tree pose, eyes skyward toward God, followed me into the fields with the many distressed doggies I worked with trying their best to acclimate to human beings after being abused and neglected their entire lives.
My mat continues to nudge me toward giving at every opportunity. Toward the hard-working student in front of me in line at the grocery who didn’t have enough cash. Buy her yogurt and granola. To the volunteer application I just submitted to the Boston Animal Shelter. Orientation is this month. The more I receive on my mat, the more I want to give back. The more I want to serve.
Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play. – Heraclitus
My beat up blue mat thinks I’m Peter Pan. I don’t know if there is a giddier feeling, at age 46, than floating upside down on my hands for five, or, on a good day, ten seconds. The strength, focus, balance, and elasticity that comes with a daily yoga practice to me is youth defined. The period of time in my thirties when I quit practicing yoga, and ran marathons, bicycled centuries, swam miles, and disciplined myself with military precision down to a certain weight, I now realize, made me older. I may have looked younger, and tighter, but I was tenser. My body and spirit felt clenched, as though every goal reached was just short of something higher, harder, that I had yet to attain. My beat up blue mat talks back to me when old feelings of inadequacy show up in a pose. I fall out, and it collects me, reminding me that I’ve crossed a dangerous threshold reserved for unhappy adults. Yes I take my practice seriously, but with the playful quality of a child exploring Neverland.
My beat up blue mat inspires me to talk to strangers, like I did as a kid before worrying about imposing on other people’s space. It has led me into studios all over the country, and now New England after living most of my life in Seattle. I chat up fellow yogis, teachers, post-practice baristas, anyone walking a dog, construction guys who sometimes whistle (if I smile big enough), in a way I was too afraid to before entering this spectacular relationship with my beat up blue mat.
The moment I begin to feel old or defeated is when I know it’s time to roll out my beat up blue mat.
*If you want to find more of the quotes I’ve shared in this post, consider this gem of a book: 1,001 Pearls of Wisdom – Take Your Practice Beyond The Mat