Is that my hair on the floor?

by Bella Rum

My yoga instructor is a lovely woman. She’s physically attractive, but she also has this calm and soothing manner that spills over onto others. I’ve often wondered if she acquired these qualities through years of practicing yoga, or if she’s a good yoga instructor because these elements of her personality have always existed. My guess is that she’s always been this way, but she found the perfect complement to her qualities when she decided to become a yoga instructor and a doula.

When I started her class, I was struck by her youthful appearance. Her face and especially her body could easily belong to a woman fifteen or twenty years younger. However, in the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that she has suddenly and dramatically aged – practically overnight. Her body is still beautiful, but her face appeares haggard and drawn. Her skin looks dehydrated, the color is flat and every fine wrinkle has become a ravine. Her hair is lifeless and lackluster and looks as if she barely runs a comb through it before leaving the house. The transformation has been remarkable. I first noticed it about six weeks ago.

She sometimes shares small bits of her life at the end of class – not too personal but enough for us to get a sense of who she is. A couple of weeks ago, she mentioned that her mother was ill. Mystery solved. I know first hand what stress can do to the human body. There was a time when I underestimated its leveling quality. No longer.

My instructor’s mother lives in Maryland. Until Thursday, she was still maintaining her usual routine plus driving up to Maryland as often as possible to see her mother. While she was driving to MD, I imagine the stress was driving her into physical and mental decline. She arrived to class late on Thursday, looking distressed, she quickly told us that she had received a phone call that morning and her mother was near the end. In tears, she asked if we would mind if she left immediately. Of course, we all told her to go to her mother.

I recall looking in the mirror after spending four months in the long-term care facility with Dad. I’d spent the previous six months getting into great shape. The day before Dad had the stroke, I looked and felt better than I had in years. Four months later, I looked at least ten years older and that was only the beginning – when I should have still been fresh for the fight. Within a couple of years, I was working diligently on heart disease. It’s true what they say… stress, it’s a killer. Prolonged stress takes a tremendous toll, especially at a certain age.

Occasionally, I look back on that period and ponder what I could have done differently. What would have created a favorable outcome for both Dad and myself? Regular breaks and a serious support system would have helped. And not trying to do everything myself would have been the act of a reasonable person, but no one has ever accused me of being reasonable. Even though there were a million signs to the contrary (my hair was falling out for crying out loud), I thought I was bulletproof back then. I couldn’t listen to reason when H tried to tell me I was doing too much.

It’s done and I’m not sure how I could have coped any better than I did. Well, there were a few things, but would I change the most important decisions that I made during those days? Given the same circumstances? Probably not. I’d like to believe that I would approach the situation in a more moderate way today – ask for a little more cooperation from others, take more breaks, but I am who I am. Once I’ve charted my course, I dive in, start paddling as if demons are chasing me, and I never ever look back. Surely not the best way, but it’s my way, and I think I’m pretty much stuck with it.

As for my yoga instructor, I’m thinking of her and hoping that she charts a course that ends in good health and peace of mind.