Hold the Pose: Self-Care for the Holidays
Regina Moya | December 2019
I love the holidays, but I tend to overdo it. Turkey for fifty—no problem. Santa cupcakes in three flavors for my kid’s kindergarten class—you got it. Often I have a tendency to take on so much I feel in slight danger of meltdown, but I remind myself: “hold the pose.”
Upon moving to downtown San Antonio, I discovered a lovely yoga studio just two blocks away from my house. I started taking classes there—and soon became quite fond of them. In addition to the physical benefits, the most marvelous thing about yoga—unlike any other exercise—is that the discipline it requires kills two birds with one stone: while you’re focused on engaging the muscles in your body to achieve a pose, something similar is happening in your mind. The thoughts my brain so tightly twists into impossible knots throughout the day seem to loosen up and untangle, and I become calmer. I have a mental picture as I twist my body into weird positions: I imagine the connections in my brain twisting and engaging with each other.
It took some time for me to discover the deeper meaning of a practice that initially felt like physical torture, nothing more. I must confess that at first, my main motivation to join the studio was to acquire that beautiful, sculpted body yogis develop over the years (if you’ve ever read Yoga Journal, you know what I’m talking about!).
But it wasn’t until one class in particular that something clicked. After we settled into an awkward pose, the teacher said, “Hold it. Hold it and visit the pose.” While I was sweating profusely, a specific memory suddenly came to my mind. I remembered being a little girl one Sunday in the Our Lady of Carmen Church in Mexico City needing to pee, and my mom telling me, “Hold it. Hold it until the mass is over.”
For some reason, this mental image opened up a whole new universe of reflection, as if at a party the host opened up an awning for guests to discover thousands of stars in the night sky. In nearly all religions, despite their differences, voluntary physical discomfort—withdrawal, discomfort, poverty, silence—is mentioned as an effort to approach God. Buddha, St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa of Calcutta—all of them have spoken to these notions. Since the beginning of time, humans have had an instinctive understanding that when the body is strengthened, the mind and soul are, too. It’s that "martyrdom of pinpricks" that St. Thérèse of Lisieux spoke of; winning small, everyday battles, suffered for God's sake, gives them a higher meaning.
I am fortunate to have been born in a time and place where I have not yet experienced war. I came into this world in a strong body that does not have to endure the suffering of a terrible disease. I have three healthy children, and a husband who loves me. What a privilege this is! However, with such pampering, with so many luxuries and care, when will
I become strong? When will I obtain this spiritual dimension for which I so deeply long? Because until now, this life has spared me a terrible suffering that would lead me to transcend as a human being, I’ve felt the need to look for it myself in my everyday existence. Life is going by too fast, and if don't start changing now, then when?
You may laugh at the silly things I've begun to do. I now turn on the shower to warm water; not freezing—I am not the Dalai Lama, after all—but colder than my usual, comfortable temperature.
I don’t change the channel when a song I don’t like comes on the radio; instead, I listen to it patiently until the end.
I now kneel down in the mornings and offer my day to God; this is no small feat—you should hear my knees crack, and I don’t have a carpet in my room.
I try not to interrupt people when they talk; rather, I listen to what they have to say and try not to talk so much about myself or my adventures.
Now, when I return to the yoga studio and feel uncomfortable in any pose, I know that discomfort is making me str?onger. Hold it. Hold it. The concept of holding a pose and finding comfort in that discomfort applies to any situation in life, no matter what you’re going through.
Even in doing the thing I love to do most in life, which is writing, even then, there will be these little “cherry on the cake” moments that I despise, because as my grandmother used to say to me, el Cielo no está en esta Tierra. Heaven is not in this Earth. The frenetic pace of revising, the pressure of having a deadline, the anxiety of waking up and not being inspired at all…for three days in a row! But still, just the mental idea of enduring it, and giving these uncomfortable feelings a sense and a direction, I want to believe, will make the piece you are working on a little bit more interesting, a little bit more alive. Maybe no one will notice it, but you will.
The beauty of any yoga class is that after 60 or 70 minutes of struggle and discomfort comes the time when all the hardship passes and you finish in a pose called Shavasana. Lying on your back, surrendering yourself to the universe with open arms, exhausted and grateful to be resting in such a relaxed state, you might feel like falling asleep right there on your mat.
Yoga for me has become a great metaphor for life. In light of those uncomfortable or mortifying moments you endure during your day—the child who drives you crazy, the husband who does a selfish thing that vexes you, the boss who doesn’t appreciate your efforts, the fun thing you have to postpone because you were assigned the stupid task of making ten thousand paper snowflakes for your kid's classroom, and the everyday tortures of being a working writer—remember that everything will pass, because no pose and no moment in life is eternal. Soon, you will reach that Shavasana state and you will feel empowered to be a teeny bit stronger than you were yesterday. Why? Because you held the pose.
Regina Moya is a Mexican writer, born in 1978. She is the author of Memorias de dos Mujeres Mexicanas (2002), Donde Anidan las Palomas (2003), and Turkey Day (2017). She teaches creative writing and illustration courses to migrant children in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband and three children.