Throughout my 16-year-long yoga practice, the longest I’d gone without attending class was a few weeks at most—and then it was only due to being sick.
Yet after my father passed away last year, yoga became burdensome. My emotions were so raw and fragile, it took every ounce of my strength to adapt to my loss and tend to my professional life, three kids, and my mom’s wellbeing.
Gradually, my favorite yoga teachers’ dharma talks weren’t penetrating. Asana sequences felt repetitious and uninspired. I wasn’t ready to push myself, cut myself any slack, harden, soften, or contemplate which action felt most appropriate. And while I was keenly aware that I desired to be present, I didn’t want to be in the presence of a class-community. After my father’s death, it was solitude I most craved—moments throughout busy days during which I could privately feel my heartbreak and let the tears roll.
Going on retreat in order to re-immerse
Six months after my dad’s death, I went on a four-day yoga retreat with my sister in Hawaii. I knew it would be the perfect opportunity time, place and scenario to roll out my yoga mat again.
We landed in Kauai, known as the Garden Isle, and I instantly felt its mana—magic power. Every vantage point presented views of ombre-green rolling hills, age-old trees,and grand cliffs. There was a life-affirming energy flowing andI felt an almost primal connection to the land.
Our 1000-acre retreat base at The Lodge at Kukui’ ula overlooks the Pacific’s crystal waters, setting a serene, soul-lifting vibe. We took part in the property’s Living Well Yoga Guru Series, through which the nation’s top wellness experts share their practice with members and guests on a monthly basis.
Each 4-day program has a new theme and guest teacher, who offers twice daily yoga practices at morning and sunset, daily meditation sessions, and topical discussions. On offer is also a range of activities, from mindful eating and qi gong to sound therapy.
We arrived early before our first yoga class in the gorgeous, open-air movement studio. I rolled out my mat next to my sister’s and made my way in to Easy Pose (Sukhasana) for the first time in half a year’s time. Soon after taking this seat I felt at ease, supported and blessed to rejoin the yoga community at large, here.
Our teacher, Chelsey Korus, shared a quiet from poet Dawna Markova in her opening Dharma talk: “I will not die an unlived life.” Hearing these words seemed fated. Losing my dad had left me somewhat apathetic and depleted of life-force. These words served as a gentle reminder of how fleeting and treasurable life is, and confirmed how hard I’d worked to move through unthinkable grief, to re-appreciate beauty in the world, and to seize life-affirming opportunities, such as this retreat.
It was fitting to re-enter my yoga practice with Korus as my instructor, as she exudes grace, strength, and resilience in teaching style, and is known for fearlessness in her practice and in life. Through movement, she cued us to tap in to our inner power, face obstacles head-on, and overcome them—particularly fitting for me given the challenge of mourning my dad, and subsequent resilience I’d been cultivating.
Suddenly, I was keenly aware of how removed I’d been from the level of discipline and accountability I receive from yoga work. But the time feltright to dive inward again;to notice and address what may need tending to.
Each day on retreat, I was reminded of my love of yoga. I left each session feeling more alive and thankful than I had in a long while. And I realized time and space hadn’t weakened my love for yoga. In fact, it had revitalized it.
3 Things I Learned After Taking a Break from My Practice
Sometimes in life, retreating is the only way to go forward. While I didn’t expect to withdraw from yoga, doing so became a necessary step in recovering from my great loss. Here are some pearls of wisdom I picked up during my hiatus from my practice:
It’s OK to press pause. After losing my dad, my emotions were thrown off-balance and my go-to health and fitness regimen stopped working. Stepping out of my weekly yoga class routine actually reduced the stress of keeping up with an ineffective, unsatisfying regimen. I learned not to harbor feelings of guilt or failure about pausing for better perspective; after all, doing so didn’t make me a “bad yogi.” A grieving spirit heals uniquely. There’s no one-size fits all treatment when you’re in deep mourning. Even therapeutic modalities—like meditation and yoga—didn’t resonate well or enough for me after my father passed away, and accepting this was a key to my healing.
Yoga teachings stay with us off the mat. Yoga is more than skin and muscle deep. Time spent studying the philosophy and principles of this ancient practice remain with us long after we leave class. The benefits of the kind of inner work yoga demands—mindfulness, compassion, and stamina—didn’t leave me, even though I felt called to take a break from my asana practice. And somewhere deep inside, I knew that if I remained patient and true to my heart, I would ultimately come back to the practice I loved so much.
Absence truly can make the heart grow fonder. Like any long-term relationship, outside forces can challenge the strength of its bond. While my yoga commitment was too challenging to stay committed to during a time of crisis and change, I learned that it was perfectly OK to step away and in doing so, I was able to remember how much I loved it. My mat and broader yoga community was right where I’d left it when I resumed in Kauai. Time apart actually enhanced my appreciation, respect, and love for my practice.
—Erika Prafder at yogajournal.com