By Megan Wirts
I have become one of those people that does yoga every day (almost), drinks water (mostly coffee), goes hiking (For real!) and avoids fast food (Because I'm afraid of germs, I desperately miss french fries.). How did I get here? A worldwide pandemic, anxiety and lots of time.
Over the years I dipped my toes in yoga. I was first introduced to it in high school and I was terrified of it. The church youth group I attended informed me that yoga was a gateway to hell and I believed them. During my first year of college, my theater professor started each class with a gentle yoga flow and deep breathing meditation. I was horrified and also intrigued by this supposed blasphemy. My professor was the calmest, kindest, most graceful woman I had ever met. She walked with a lightness, spoke so gently and powerfully at the same time and radiated joy and peace. At this point, I believed that yoga had 50/50 odds of sending me hellbound. I took the chance because I absolutely loved that class even though part of me still felt like I might be opening up some demonic portal with every deep breath I took. (I didn't, or did I? 2020 has been a wild year.)
Eventually I realized that yoga is nothing like what my youth group leader warned me about. That dude was ridiculously wrong. It's not even on the same plane as demons and hellfire. In fact, practicing yoga has brought more peace to my life than I ever imagined possible. I am a better person, wife, mother and friend because of yoga. If it wasn't for yoga, we wouldn't be surviving, even thriving, in virtual school. When we are frustrated, we breathe. Since we are breathing, there's less time for yelling and crying. (There's definitely still some yelling and crying. I do live with teenagers.) Sometimes I even feel like I may walk with the same lightness that my former professor walked with and sometimes I can feel joy and peace radiating from my own self.
This year has given me (and much of the world) the opportunity to pause. It was in that pause, that I discovered I was more capable, worthy and loved than I realized. My anxiety was at an all time high (whose hasn't been?!). I was having full blown panic attacks weekly (and still do occasionally). I felt on edge, irritable and agitated most of the time. It's 2020 after all. I tried all my usual go-tos to calm my nerves: binge watching The Golden Girls, binge eating ice cream, diving deep into Hallmark Movies, snuggling my dogs, being smothered by my 25lb weighted blanket, and medication. Nothing. Was. Helping. Until one day I remembered to breathe, I mean really breathe. Deep. Slow. Breaths. And it helped! So, I kept breathing.
The breathing turned into movement and the movement turned into yoga. Then I convinced my teenage daughter and my neighbor girls to join me. Now we have a daily routine (almost) of "Yoga with Auntie Megs" and it has given me life during this pandemic. We all have decided that yoga makes us feel like powerful goddesses of peace and love. It's pure freaking joy.
Recently I took a virtual class (Rise Up with Jen Monroe at Rising Strong Wellness) where we practiced yoga and talked about everything from body positivity, breaking cycles, trauma, limiting beliefs, goal setting, self-care, self-love and so much more. One night we discussed moving with joy and moving intentionally and it resonated in my core. Instead of beating myself up over the things my body can't do anymore, I started to fall in love with the ways my body can move now. I may require assistance when walking, I have difficulty with balance, my muscles ache and sometimes have a mind of their own, but I can still move. I might not be doing headstands or attempting to do the splits, but I can do a solid downward dog and yoga has made me accidentally able to do planks!
Yoga is wonderful but I needed to get out of my house. By the time May rolled around, cabin fever was setting in and I was ready to go out into the world, but not in a public place. I needed an outdoor adventure. My best friends have been hiking the North Country Trail for years and at the beginning of quarantine in March, they started taking my kids with them twice a week and by May they'd all walked 100 miles. I loved hearing their stories about the trail and seeing their photos and I decided I needed to experience it, not just live vicariously.
At the beginning of this year, I ordered myself some outdoorsy type walking sticks. I wanted them so that I could safely walk around my yard with my dogs in the winter because my cane wasn't keeping me stable enough and pushing a walker through snow sucks. Then I started noticing that with my bright yellow walking sticks, I could stand taller and I felt more balanced. I never intended to actually use them to go hiking. I just didn't want to fall on my butt in my yard. Then 2020 happened.
I had been practicing walking around my yard and I thought maybe I could do this out in the woods too. So, I convinced my friends to take me to the easiest part of the trail that they knew. The first time we went, I was exhausted before we even finished the first mile, but I kept going and I'm still going.
Since I started hiking with my friends and family in May, I have walked almost 70 miles! I do need to keep my eyes on the ground, take plenty of breaks, and I'm not the fastest hiker, but I'm hiking. I'm doing. I'm not trying anymore. I'm not looking at photos, I'm taking the photos and I'm in the photos. I'm living.
Sometimes when I'm on my yoga mat or in the middle of the forest, I feel like I'm in the eye of a hurricane. The entire world is in chaos and spinning out of control around me but I'm still breathing. My yellow sticks and hiking with my family has saved me. Sitting on my yoga mat and breathing has allowed me to find peace, stillness and strength. Finding joy in the way my body moves, feels and is, has given me freedom. This hasn't been easy and it's not perfect, but I love my life. In the midst of a pandemic I found peace. I found joy. I found love.