Trigger warning: we’re going to some dark places, including miscarriage, but we end up in a good place.
Last year, Adriene Mishler was crowned “The Reigning Queen of Pandemic Yoga”. In a time when yoga studios were closed and when people were staying home to flatten the curve, more and more people turned to the online yoga community Yoga with Adriene, where the mantra is to “Find What Feels Good.” For many of us, Adriene had already been a staple, an important voice in our quest for self-care and wellness. What follows is not so much a review of Yoga with Adriene (which for the record, I think is great, but often slower than what I want. More power yoga, please, my love!) as it is the story of my journey with yoga over the last four years, through the use of Adriene’s annual 30 Days of Yoga series. It’s a story of grief, healing, illness, more healing, walking away from my yoga mat, and finding my way back. Spoiler alert: I find what feels good.
Season One: Revolution and My World is Rocked by Grief
I first jumped into a 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, the annual thirty-day program hosted by the yoga superstar each January on YouTube, in January 2017. At that point, I had practiced yoga off and on for half of my life (starting with Rodney Yee DVDs before getting ready to go to high school), I had even followed Adriene for years, but I had never developed a daily practice. That was my goal. Oh, little did I know.
That year the series was YWA: Revolution, and as far as I remember, it is still my favorite that Adriene has put together to date. I was full of enthusiasm and posted regular yoga snaps on Instagram. On the 21st day of the practice, I found out that I was pregnant. Each year when Google photos reminds me of that picture, it takes me right back. There I am, sitting cross-legged, wearing a “Who Runs the World?” tank and looking at my dog, Rory. It was the day of the Women’s March and I was already hoping I was having a girl, imagining telling her that I found out that she was coming the day of the march. Again, little did I know. What you can’t see on my face is how panicked I felt. That photo takes me back to my surprise, to telling our parents over FaceTime and how excited they were. It also takes me back to how afraid I was of losing myself as we worked to fit the joy of this surprise into the stable life we were trying to build. Halfway through the series, I started going to classes at a local studio. I was feeling so strong and healthy, the best I had ever felt physically. I had a job that I loved. I was so afraid that I was going to lose all of that. Julio promised I wouldn’t. We made budgets and schedules and spreadsheets. And then we lost the baby.
The miscarriage is the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to me. The OBGYN practice I was seeing was so cold and impersonal about it. We went in to see the baby and instead learned that I’d had a missed miscarriage. The baby was gone and my stupid body didn’t know it. I could either do something to bring my body up to speed or I could wait a few weeks to see if my body realized that the baby was gone and discontinued the pregnancy on its own. I opted for medical management, mostly because it was the Thursday before a three-day holiday weekend and I wanted to minimize the sick time I’d have to take (Note: this was a bad reason, and I regretted not taking the time). On Saturday evening, I took the medicine that would induce a miscarriage and the painkiller that I was given, and one of the two made me throw up violently. We weren’t sure if I could take more of the painkillers after that, so I was stuck, in pain that, at least as I remember it, was nearly as bad as childbirth, having hot and cold flashes, nauseated, starving but unable to keep anything down, and not miscarrying. This went on for five hours, and the whole time I was also afraid that I would have to try again the next day if it didn’t work. Eventually, it did. The next day, the worst of it was over, the pregnancy was over, and we were shell shocked. I felt bereaved, guilty, angry, and so, so sad. I still have flashbacks to the whole process—the emotional fallout, having to tell my parents, the physical part—four years later.
Season Two: Revolution Again, Healing
I clung to yoga. I went to classes at the studio almost every day. I went on yoga adventures. Yoga with Sharks, Goat Yoga, Yoga at a Butterfly Garden. In June, I decided to do Yoga Revolution again, trying to get back to that strong feeling that I had before the miscarriage and to heal the distrust it had caused me to feel toward my body. It helped. Throughout the rest of what was supposed to be my pregnancy, yoga was my refuge. When the due date came and went, I felt like maybe I could really start to heal.
I did yoga 368 times in 2017. When I was on the mat, I could process so many of the feelings that I tried to push away much of the day. I felt angry and confused for most of that year, but when I did yoga, I could get my mind and my body to calm down. This focus on healing quickly got dominated by my very type-A streak, moving more toward building muscle and doing cool poses than on doing the heart work, the hard work.
Season Three: True And I’m Dizzy All the Time
In January 2018, I was doing yoga most days, training to be a spin instructor, and I had taken up running. I convinced Julio to do 30 Days of Yoga with me. That year the practice, 30 Days of Yoga: True, was slower in pace in Revolution, cozier. We started the practice, but we were in such a muscular place that the calm, gentle focus of Adriene’s yoga just did not jive for us. In truth, we really needed it. We were pushing so hard in every arena of our lives that taking the time to slow down together would have been great for us, but instead, we tapped out.
The irony was that in this season of my life, despite how strong I felt, I still ended up feeling disconnected from and betrayed by my body. Over the course of the year, I started to feel increasingly run down. It was easy for me to attribute this feeling to stress because my symptoms were so vague. I was exercising a lot and I felt great when I exercised, but the rest of the time I felt exhausted. I have felt exhausted for much of my adult life and I always attributed it to stress (shoutout to grad school!), but my symptoms started to get concerning to me as the summer ended. My limbs felt heavy; my heart would race or it would skip a beat and then beat twice like it was trying to catch up; I felt light-headed whenever I went from bending down to standing up (which, as a librarian, I did a lot); my hands tingled; I couldn’t focus; I started seeing flashes of light in my peripheral vision; I felt like I could cry even when nothing was wrong. All of this, by the way, made it very hard to do yoga. A simple forward fold to Mountain Pose made me feel like I could faint.
In August, I ended up in the ER because Urgent Care said my symptoms could be anything from anxiety to MS. Great. After a round of tests, it was suggested that I had hypothyroidism and that I follow up with a primary care physician (which I did not have). The next day, my dad died. Understandably, my health went on the back burner for a while. I ended up going to one doctor (“I don’t think that’s what’s going on,” she said and never followed up.), a midwife (“Why don’t we try treating your thyroid and see what happens?”), a cardiologist (“Aren’t you too young to be here?” he asked), an endocrinologist (“You might just be sensitive,” she said.), and another doctor (“We need to get your TSH as close to 0 as we can.”), but I finally got some answers. My heart is fine and I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. As soon as the midwife put me on the very lowest level of levothyroxine, I felt much better. My heart beat normally for the first time in over a year. It took another year for my new primary care physician to find the right dose for me. Getting the diagnosis felt like a battle because, despite how very wrong I felt, my levels were always in the subclinical range and I never had the most classic symptoms, just the more vague ones. But a lot suddenly made sense: years of feeling anxious in my body but not in my mind, chronic fatigue, difficulty getting pregnant, the random twinges I would feel in my throat, what I thought was a heart murmur—all of those could be attributed to my thyroid. Suddenly, I could do yoga again without getting dizzy, too.
But, in January 2020, I wasn’t doing yoga anymore. It was the perfect time to do another 30 Days of Yoga with Adriene, really, because I had come almost full circle. I was pregnant again, due a little more than a month before our first baby’s due date. My emotions were all over. Mostly, I was so happy and relieved, but mixed in there was a shot of fear and the grief over not getting to tell my dad about this baby. The timing for another practice was too perfect. I resisted. Instead, I focused on strength training, trying to build plenty of muscle before I had to modify. When all the things that 2020 threw at us all started to unfold, a regular yoga practice would have been an incredibly valuable thing to have in my routine. Instead, I watched a lot of Law and Order: SVU and went on long walks.
Season Four: Breath and Healing
In January 2021, however, I was eager to do 30 Days of Yoga: Breath. Coming back to the 30 Days of Yoga felt like meeting up with an old friend.
My life had changed so radically in the previous year. I finally had the daughter I had longed for. There aren’t words sufficient for that joy and relief. We started our farm. With the pandemic, I felt like I was basically on the space station, isolated from our family and friends, not going to work, not volunteering, not even teaching barre at the yoga studio I love anymore. Returning to Yoga with Adriene was something so familiar that it provided more comfort than I had anticipated.
The daily practice was most obviously a little block of time for me to take care of myself during days that were very busy with baby and animals and chores and learning how to spin yarn and keep bees. I push myself very hard and I have finally realized that the true genius of Yoga with Adriene is that through her calm tone, gentle flows, and silly jokes, she creates a pocket of time in which I cannot push myself. And, after everything that happened in the last four years, at least during the practice, I do not want to.
The focus on the breath in this year’s program made it even slower than usual, and I was so proud of myself, busy bee that I am, that I stuck with it. I did every practice, even the ones that were just breathing exercises. Sometimes I had to stay up after everyone was in bed. A couple of times, I did yoga with my daughter on the mat with me. But, I stuck with it. What I started to realize, as I showed up each day, was that Yoga with Adriene felt like a connective ribbon to me, one end tied to where I was in 2017, the other tied to my wrist today. Sometimes, I look back with such pain at what I went through, with my health, with my fertility, grief, and angst, and the dark, angry, frantic pieces of myself that it brought forward. I cannot change the past; I cannot wish away the pain I felt and caused, but I can take some deep breaths and commit to finding some calm. I walk away from the mat a little bit happier, a little bit healed. I am certainly leaps away from where I was four years ago. I feel stronger, physically and emotionally, more in control. I have come through some journeys that taught me just how important finding my calm is. There was no point along the way that being calmer wouldn’t have helped. On hard days, when I struggle to calm myself, I know that my friend Adriene will be there, too.
And that’s why I’m still showing up, every day, even after the 30 Days ended.