Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Centripetal Force of Yoga in my Life

The Centripetal Force of Yoga in my Life

Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

I have had a big year. Life has been like a giant roundabout, one of those merry-go-rounds they used have in playgrounds.


When I was little, we’d run to the roundabout. It was like a race to see who could get to it first. I’d often wait, with one or two others, as the rest of the kids bounded on. The runners, we’d grab one of the metal bars committed to getting it spinning. Walking first, I would move into a run, digging my feet into the dry clay below, breath fast, heart beating. When the roundabout got going faster than I could run, I would grasp the bar with both hands, pushing from my feet I would jump on the roundabout to join the others. Whirling.

Two forces took hold. The first, centrifugal. It whipped us mercilessly to the outside edge. If we were going fast enough, one or two of us kids would fly off- sometimes landing on their feet, sometimes rolling across the clay causing us to stop and see if they were okay. If they weren’t, we took them to their moms. I think this is why, at some point, they decided roundabouts were too dangerous.

When we were spinning, I became the second force. The centripetal force. This is the force that pulls you back to center. I would shuffle my feet to the middle of the roundabout, the world spiraling around me. As I saw others slipping away, I would grab hands, arms, or bodies and pull them back to safety.

I would pull them back to center.

Yes. Life, this year, has been a giant roundabout. So many good and horrible things have been the force behind the feet running, digging into the clay, and getting the roundabout spinning.

I have had the honor of presenting on a panel a Kripalu as a yoga researcher. I gave the commencement speech at Amherst Central High School, an honest-to-God, bucket-list dream. I spoke at the American Psychological Association on a positive body image panel with women I have admired from afar for years. I taught yoga on the lawn of the White House at the White House Easter Egg Roll with yogis I have only read about in magazines. Bucket-list? Yes. I could barely breathe all day. I turned 50 and started a not-for-profit, Yogis in Service (YIS; and was granted $15,000 from lululemon to build a yoga studio for YIS. Yep. More bucket-list dreams.

And my mom died.

Suddenly, I realized that for longer than I could stand, I had been on that roundabout barely holding myself together. I felt like the kid whose feet fell off and were dragging, shins scraping, outer thigh hitting the metal rim. I was the kid who was afraid to let go, knowing that if she does, she will hit the hard clay earth and tumble, maybe break.

I could only hold on as tight as I could. I could not feel. I could not cry. I was afraid my tears would loosen my grip. They would be party to my fall. Where was that girl? The one who shuffles herself to the middle and pulls those who are falling back to center. Where was she when I needed her most?

I found her on my yoga mat.

Through all of the centrifugal life forces, the good, the bad, and the horrifically devastating, the “I” that has grown out of years of yoga practice saw me struggling. I didn’t know she, my yoga, saw me. But she did. On my yoga mat, we caught eyes and at that moment, at that very moment, for the first time- in a long time- I believed that I might be okay. I believed that I might be able to loosen my grip and not get hurt.

As she held my eyes, yoga reached out her steady, centered hand. Our fingers touched. She reached more. I couldn’t. The other forces were pulling too hard. Our hands interlocked. I reached out my other hand and we grasped hands to forearms. I was going to be okay. My yoga, she pulled me to the center, a massive centripetal force, and held me. I exhaled. My shoulders softened. I cried.

Somewhere in a deeply grounded warrior one, I felt the roundabout slow. I moved into warrior three, my hands at my heart, in prayer. I held there, curiously noticing that I could stand on my one, earthy foot and feel strong. Slowly, I moved into warrior one, hands still at prayer.

I was in our back room. It is a beautiful room my husband built from the form of an old Florida room. It is square, lovingly detailed with intricately carved wood edging around the ceiling and a handcrafted fireplace. I had closed the French doors so the fire could create a heat to soften my practice. The air was warm and still in this room. In my warrior one, eyes closed, hands at my heart, I felt something. I can only describe it like a gentle breeze moving through and by me. Startled, I opened my eyes and looked around. Nothing. Nothing? Mom.

The Back Room, 2015

Yoga, you pulled me to center and stopped the roundabout. Then, you took me to my mom. You knew that sometimes, us kids, we need exactly that. You are my centripetal force. The gift that pulls me back to center. Before I even knew you, you were in me, embodied by the little me that made sure no one fell of the ride. Not on our watch, right yoga? Thank you for always being there. Because Lord knows, I need you.


Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag