Two years ago, my mom and I went on a yoga retreat together in Nicaragua. She went from practicing yoga a handful of times in her life, to twice a day for seven days. One day, we completed 108 consecutive sun salutations each, side-by-side, keeping count by stones and shells at the top of our mats.
She was testing her limits physically, and I couldn’t help but feel responsible for coercing her halfway across the globe for a “relaxing” yoga retreat.
But of all the mother-daughter moments we’ve had together, what happened next is something I will never forget.
As a group, we decided to climb through seemingly unnavigable rocks jutting out of the ocean, then over the lip of a mountain that separated our beach from the next. And we observed silence for the first part of the trip.
Taking a risk
As we picked our way among the oceanside rocks, it became clear that it was more difficult than it looked from a distance. I stayed near my mom, trying to be of help, but I lacked the strength to provide her with a steady anchor to navigate the rocks. Self-doubt and fear mixed with salty, hot air.
While it was brewing in my mom’s mind to turn back, two of the men in our group (one of them a climber) silently took the lead. They helped my mom weave her way to the base of the mountain. I watched her progress like a nervous mother hen, tears welling in my eyes.
I whispered to no one in particular, “I’m just so proud of her.” Laced in those six words was a lifetime of gratitude.
My mom is the most selfless person I know. She devotes her life to her kids (and now her grand kids) and is the type of person who will know the names of your kids, where you grew up and your favorite restaurant after one meeting. This was always the butt of family jokes, but I think the rest of us quietly envied her magic.
She’s in her 60s, and whenever she’d play the “Guess My Age” game at the local amusement park, the guessers would be off by at least two decades. We only see each other a couple times a year, but she’s my best friend. So you can imagine why I had hoped that one of those two times wouldn’t end in disaster.
Finally, we made it to the last little push of our journey: the base of the mountain. That’s where, exhausted, we took this picture.
And now, we were trapped. Everyone else was going up, and if we turned back we had to go alone. I could tell that every part of my mom was saying no to the climb, and yet there was still something willing her to say yes. Maybe it was her newfound boldness, or her desire to not be a burden.
Maybe it was faith.
Whatever it was, she scaled the sheer face of scree, supported and cheered on by the group because by that time we had abandoned the silence.
As often happens in our lives, what at first seems impassable can be conquered.
It’s not over when you think it’s over
What happened next is that we were over the hill and into the hot, hot sun. All of us were proud of climbing the mountain, and especially congratulatory of my mom. This is where a Hollywood movie would end, on a high note. But as often happens in life, after you climb the mountain there’s a whole new set of challenges.
After the adrenaline stopped pumping through her body, my mom became dehydrated. As everyone walked swiftly ahead of us on the neighboring beach, fatigue overtook her and there was no one nearby to help.
I was almost out of water and had some granola bar left, both of which I offered. A bit delusional, she was resistant. How many times as a child had I refused what she knew was good for me?
I fought back tears, feeling scared and completely to blame. I couldn’t leave her in the middle of a foreign beach alone.
At that moment, I realized what it must be like to be a mother. To watch your children navigate the world, wishing you could be more of a support, and taking on their struggles as if they were your own.
Somehow, we dragged our way to the end of the beach to rejoin our group. After sitting, hydrating and eating (in that order), my mom recovered.
For the rest of our group, it was just another hike. For me and my mom, it was a balancing act and role reversal. I have always strived to emulate her selflessness, while she has worked toward taking more risks. These are mountains in both of our lives, and ones we will endlessly climb if only to say, “We did it!”
That day, true to yoga form, it wasn’t about the peak at all. It’s the willingness to try again, together, that matters most.
Try it: Embryo Pose
After Savasana, this is usually the pose you’ll pause in before returning to a seated position. I’m sure it’s the pose my mom wished she could have curled up in that day in Nicaragua.
I’ve never been taught the name for this pose, so I’ve named it myself, because it reminds me of the curling up and in of ourselves in the womb. This version, however, is a bit more restorative… without the amniotic fluid.
In this pose, we’ll be tuning into our inner energy. The energy on the whole right half of your body is masculine, while the left side is feminine. To come back to balance, choose which side you’ll lie on. For example, if you’ve been giving of yourself without taking time for self-care, lie on your left side. If you’ve been over-scheduling or overdoing, lie on your right side. (If you are pregnant, please lie on your left side, regardless.)
- Grab a pillow for your knees before you begin and set a timer for 2 minutes or more.
- Lie on your side of choice, bending the knees in to 90 degrees away from the hips. Place the pillow in between your knees.
- Stretch out the arm closest to the mat, and place the side of your face on your bicep. Allow your other arm to rest gently in front of you. Close your eyes.
- Stay in this posture for your desired length of time. Allow the breath to be soft and effortless and let yourself melt into the support of the earth on each exhale.
- When you’re ready to come up, press both palms down and lift the upper body first, then take the pillow to the side and sit cross-legged to observe the effects of the pose in the body and mind.