By Janna Marlies Maron
Plank pose. I hold myself up with arms and feet. Blood pulsing through my biceps and I feel strong. Pull belly in and I feel healthy. Holding in plank pose I breathe in; I breathe out. I remember how hard it used to be for me to hold this pose. Just 15 seconds and I started to shake. I could not hold it the entire time and had to lower knees down for support. Today I do not shake. I hold until the teacher instructs us to release.
I pull hips up and back into downward facing dog and stretch heels down to the mat. Hands press the mat away; spine stretches. Again I recall what it was like when I first started practicing yoga. In downward dog, knees bent and heels up. Holding that position and I lost my breath.
I move through the poses and watch myself as if I am not me but another student in the class. I watch and remember what she was like when she first started to practice yoga. Not even when she first started, but when she was the most depressed after her diagnosis nearly three years ago. She felt weak and unhealthy. She spent half the class or more resting in child’s pose. She wondered why she was even there.
She could do one vinyasa flow: downward dog, step forward, half-way lift, fold, reach up, fold, step back to plank, high-to-low pushup, cobra, back to downward dog. Then she had to take rest. One flow and she was out of breath. Besides that she thought she would never be able to do up-dog–every flow from high to low pushup she had to go all the way to the floor. Then she lifted her chest, leaving the lower half of her body on the floor thinking there is no way she’ll ever lift her hips and knees off the ground in this pose.
Even in that one flow, the high-to-low push up got her every time. She felt almost as though she’d collapse to the ground from plank. And sometimes she would stay there for a breath or two before pushing up and back to downward dog. She felt as though her arms had no strength.
As soon as she reached downward dog, she dropped her knees and lowered her forehead down to the mat. There she stayed through the next flow. And sometimes the flow after that. There she stayed with her forehead on the mat, bowing down and asking for strength and health and healing. She wondered if she would ever feel strong again. She wondered if this weakness is what the rest of her life would be like. Always tired. Always out of breath. Always needing rest.
I meet that girl every time I go to yoga. She is there, waiting for me, reminding me what I have been through. Reminding me where I have come from. Reminding me that in the midst of feeling completely debilitated, she somehow still found her divine power. She harnessed that power into the affirmations “I choose strength” and “I choose health” even when she didn’t feel strong or healthy. She reminds me that if I don’t maintain the mantras and the affirmations; if I don’t continue the yoga; if I don’t keep it up, I will be like her again.
I hold myself up in plank pose and I don’t shake, but I remember that I used to shake and I remember what it felt like and I remember wanting to give up. I hold downward dog and I remember wondering if I’d ever be able to stretch my heels to the mat.
And then I show that girl. I show her how long I can hold plank and side plank. I show her how my heels reach the mat in downward dog. I show her how I can do more than one flow without resting; I can do almost the entire class without resting, and I don’t loose my breath. I show her how strong I am. I show her how healthy I am. I show her that it’s a good thing she didn’t give up when she wanted to. I show her that she is stronger than she thought she was. I show her that health is a choice, and that she is healthier than she thought she was. I show her that her hard work has brought the results she wanted. I show her that her mantras and affirmations work. I show her that choosing health means taking care of herself, like I have, like we have.
And I will show her all those things again tomorrow, when I meet her on the yoga mat.
Janna Marlies Maron is an independent author, editor, and publisher, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in June 2012. In the last three years she has been on a journey of healing through natural and alternative treatments, including regular yoga practice. She holds an MA in creative writing and is the publisher of Under the Gum Tree, a literary magazine publishing creative nonfiction and visual art. Her ebook, How to Manage Depression Without Drugs, was released in April 2014. Janna is also an adjunct professor of English at Sacramento City College and William Jessup University. She co-directs TrueStory, a nonfiction reading series and open mic in Sacramento, where she lives with her husband. Read more of her story of treating depression and MS without drugs at jannamarlies.com.