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After losing her job, a woman embarks on a year of yoga

On Feb. 2 last year — Groundhog Day — it was the usual, busy Friday morning in my house as we hustled off to day care, school and work.

At 7:40 a.m., on my way to the office after dropping off my sons, I received an email from Google My Business informing me my access had changed and I was no longer able to manage my employer’s business pages.

“Must be a mistake,” I thought, quickly firing off an email to our digital marketing manager.

Seven minutes later, at the red light in front of Camden Yards, an email from Facebook hit my inbox informing me I was no longer an administrator for the company’s Facebook pages.

“Can’t be another mistake,” I said out loud as my heart raced. “I’m losing my job.”

Gulp.

Eleven years of hard work and dedication vanished in the minute or two it took my supervisor to coldly impart the news in person.

“You’ll find something,” added the human resources representative who was also present.

Anger, sadness, pain quickly surfaced. Disappointment and disbelief too. Grief.

It was certainly a blow to the ego. It was difficult to accept. But mostly, it was disorienting.

I was a working mother. That label defined me; that label was me.

At the end of the day, though, I had to see it as an opportunity. I felt broken, and I wanted to heal myself mentally and emotionally.

“Self-care is not selfish” became the mantra I repeated over and over — a phrase from a friend and former colleague.

The following Monday, I went straight to the gym. I teach weekly spin classes and made an early morning habit of the gym before work at least two days a week, so it felt normal. A normal day.

I needed someone to motivate me and, Qigong was one of the classes offered that morning. “A holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing, and meditation used for health, spirituality, and martial arts training,” read the sign outside the fitness studio. It continued, “Qigong is a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi), translated as ‘life energy’” and is “considered a soothing, calming, and healthy workout.”

Sold. My chi certainly needed a reboot, and I was open to trying something new. Relaxing and calming also sounded wonderful.

The class wasn’t a workout in the physical sense, but it was an ideal mental and emotional break. I focused on breathing and mindfulness. Slow movements. Deliberate movements. Not the quick, jerky movements I was used to with spinning, boxing or Zumba. Expelling bad chi and filling my body with new, fresh chi. Perfect.

The next day it was yoga. Time to be present. Time to be in the moment. Time to let go of what or who I thought I was or needed to be. Time to breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

Days, weeks, months — a year has passed since those initial days as I grasped for “something.” I practiced yoga at least two or three days a week and looked for work, applied for jobs and interviewed with several organizations. I continue to talk to people and expand my professional and personal networks with informational interviews.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I want and don’t want. I know I don’t just want “something.” And, I am comfortable with who I am and who I have become.

Practicing yoga has been a gift and has centered me. Yes, my flexibility has increased, I’ve toned and strengthened my muscles, and I’ve lost weight, among other health benefits to a regular practice. Moreover, though, it has afforded me the opportunity to focus on what is important, on what matters.

This time with my three boys (now 19 months, 7 and 8 years old) has also been a blessing. We have spent more time together in the past year than we ever had before, and I wouldn’t change that. Though it must be said that staying home with young children is a challenge and a lot of work.

Yoga has helped here, too.

“How do we practice yoga with compassion?” my instructor asked earlier this year.

Care. Kindness. Respect. Being present. Love.

Love for myself. Love for my family. Love for the other yogis in the room, and love for the wider world. Love for this incredible year.

This transformation has not been easy. But I’m grateful for it. I am no longer reliant on a label to define me. I am just me.

Sarah Hill Schlenker (shschlenker@gmail.com) works as a freelancer and consultant writing, editing, event planning and catering.

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