Like most, I came to yoga because I needed to lose weight, and yoga seemed less harsh (and less work) than lifting or running. I still carried 25 pounds of baby weight after two years, and I felt ready for a change and craved balance. That change came in the form of a yoga class at the YMCA more than ten years ago. I found that class so difficult and discouraging I didn’t go back, hitting the gym instead.
Fast forward six years. The kids grew, but something was still missing. I longed for me, myself, the person I lost so long ago. In 2013, I tried yoga again. I attended a local yoga studio I resonated with and grew stronger in body and resilience. A subtle shift began as layers of dirt and dust began to wash away, and I became whole and confident again. Two life-changing events occurred that September. I realized my marriage would not be sustainable for the long term, and my sister, at at just short of 32, was diagnosed with stage four, small cell lung cancer.
We put the question of my marriage’s sustainability on hold when my sister and her son moved in with our family. Our kids already went to the same school, and it seemed logical they lived with us. During the week, they stayed with my family. On the weekends, my sister and her son went to our parents’ home on the lake. I juggled a full-time job, being a full-time mom (to all the kids), and my sister’s caregiver. Every evening I still went to yoga after dinner when everyone else settled in for the night. As fall changed into winter, I knew my sister would not survive. In August, her chances were slim. By December, she lived with so much pain, and chemo was not working. After Christmas, she told us all she was just done.
She embraced hospice in January 2014 at the lake house with my parents. She died on the 23rd, with our parents by her side as she took her last breath at thirty-two years and three months. My parents, the first to hold her when she arrived in this world, were the last to hold her when she left.
Our world crumbled.
Nothing was the same for years. They say families either come together or break apart after a death, and ours broke apart, flying in all directions. My parents, swimming in their own grief, isolated themselves by staying at the lake. Monthly family celebrations stopped, and holidays felt forced. We all floated in space, unsure of what to do, where to turn, or how to move forward. Yoga solved that for me.
I went to church and prayed, but yoga saved me. Yoga met me where I was. Yoga forgave. It gave me the tools (asana, breath, and meditation) and the stability to walk my path of grief in a healthy manner, in my time. Yoga allowed me to be myself. I didn’t have to pretend, trust, hold hope, or practice faith on my mat, I just needed to get on my mat and let yoga do the work.
People are not meant to live in grief for years, yet so many people do. Yoga changes that for people willing to get on their mat and be open to the opportunity. Yoga asks us to observe ourselves, to cultivate the awareness to see our habits and patterns, and discern what we need at that moment. The practice gives us balance. It gives people tangible, concrete systems to work with to bring immediate relief from suffering. This is how we know yoga works, and that is exactly what I did. I suffered and grieved. I went to asana class and cried on my mat. I prayed, meditated, practiced breathwork, and the cloudiness began to lift. As I watched others around me continue to suffer, I began to understand the power that yoga had and still has for me.
When I decided to leave my marriage, I got on my mat. When my dad died in February 2021 of COVID-19, I got on my mat. Each time I started the grieving process all over again, but each time knowing there was an end in sight. I just needed to be on my mat, and yoga would take care of the rest.
Annie Hayes has been called a wellness deviant, a badass with kindness, and the sweetest person when she wants you to do core. An M.B.A.-wielding yogi and meditation practitioner, and a National Board-Certified Health and Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC), Annie’s aim is to bring affordable wellness and yoga to all communities.