I’m going to say before I begin telling this story that this post is different in many ways from what I usually post. It’s not completely peppy and joyful but it’s something I’ve been wanting to say for months now. Somehow this past week I felt like this was finally the right moment to get it all out because when a wave of inspiration hits me, I have to take it and run with it before it’s gone. I’m sure other bloggers who are reading this will feel me on that level.
While I’ll get into emotions really fast, there is a positive outcome to this story and that outcome is how yoga and cycling has helped me become a brighter, more balanced individual in dealing with something most 21-year (now 22-year) olds usually don’t have to handle and that’s grieving over the loss of your best friend, and in my case that best friend was my mom.
I wrote a post back in 2015 on how a specific yoga studio and the practice itself impacted my life and at the time, it was because I was recovering from disordered eating. Back then, it made me feel stronger not only mentally but also physically. I published it in May of that year and that following summer, I remember spending 3-4x days a week at a yoga studio, in dripping sweat and working long hours at a restaurant afterwards. Yoga WAS my summer. It was everything to me. Until I got an injury from it in late July and had to stop working out altogether.
You can bet the first person I called crying because of it was my mom. She was there to listen to me complain about not being able to work out, not being able to flow and then hearing me freak out as to how I would even walk at work (I was a host at the time).
But things are a little different now. And here’s why.
In August 2015, that same year I was falling in love with the practice of yoga, my mom found a lump on her breast. We all thought it was benign but just to be certain, my mom had a mastectomy that following fall just before Thanksgiving.
At this time while my mom was recovering, I finally fell back into yoga after being without it for a good 3-4 months.
Woo, problem solved.
But not quite.
A few months went by as normal as my mom was recovering from her mastectomy with the help of my step-dad. I was finishing my second semester of my junior year and before I knew it, I was taking my final exams. But during April, my mom began having pains in her arm near the breast that was removed. She said the pain was so excruciating that she couldn’t think or do anything, focus on work or even breathe right.
She ended up having malignant tumors in her arm, which she got removed. Problem solved, this time? Unfortunately not quite. Yet again.
With the help of my mom’s doctors in Kansas, we discovered that she had Soft Tissue Sarcoma which is a rare form of cancer with less than 200,000 cases per year consisting of soft tissue tumors. Cases mostly involve tumors in a patient’s leg or arm, resulting in amputation but my mom’s tumors had started in her chest and spread to her lungs, side of her arm near her armpit and eventually, the bottom of her spine. Therefore, doctors simply just couldn’t remove them.
When I found out that my mom was diagnosed with cancer, I remember sitting at a table in the Whole Foods I worked at. I was on my break and had only been working there for a few weeks. It was May. This is when I began my grieving process.
To the people closest to me, they know this. I came home from work that night and told my two roommates, my brother, and even the guy I was talking to at the time.
I leaned on these people all throughout the summer. The summer I didn’t see my mom once as she went through several rounds of chemotherapy down in Texas. I called her as frequently as I could and thought about her constantly but stayed busy with other people, other things and other commitments. Aside from work, a boy, friends, and family, there was yoga.
And then there was cycling.
I had heard in the past that people coped through difficult break-ups or depression by going to yoga or SoulCycle (a popular spin studio for those who don’t know) classes before but never thought it could happen to me.
I worked out to release endorphins, sure, but I never thought it could be a form of therapy. Until last year.
When I started working at Whole Foods last May (around the time my mom was diagnosed), I also began taking spin and yoga classes at a Chicago-based studio called Studio Three. I would go as much as I could around my work schedule and whenever problems with my mom would arise whether she was feeling sick from her chemo or unable to answer my calls, I would go flow or spin it out. It did the trick.
Certain songs in the studio would move me. Certain poses. Certain instructors. Going to my yoga or spin class was the highlight of my day because it was (and still is) my own form of therapy and helped me grieve since day 1.
One of my yoga classes I’ll always remember in terms of comforting me through this grieving process. It was a Monday night class with an instructor who I can say has tremendously impacted my practice. At the beginning of every class he would talk about what going on in the outside world could be forgotten about inside of the heated yoga studio. One hour of disconnecting and taking our love in the studio back out into this world filled with so many problems.
This class in particular ended with laying in savasana like most yoga flows and the instructor, Danny, started talking about our heart chakra. When studying the different chakras, the heart chakra is green, representing self-love, generosity, compassion and helps strengthen our bonds with others.
Danny had us place our hands on our hearts while going through the process of pranayama – inhaling and exhaling breath slowly and deeply. He then told us to open the “green light” in our heart chakra and extend it to somebody in need. I automatically thought of my mom who I was about to see in just a week (for Thanksgiving).
I remember I listened to his words and tried not to cry as tears literally swelled up in my eyes. I had never been so moved in a “workout class” until then. This is when I knew that I was grieving and yoga was my coping mechanism.
When I saw my mom the week of Thanksgiving, we were getting ready to go to church and I asked her to take a photo of me doing wheel pose on her driveway. She laughed like I was crazy but did it anyway. She knew how much I loved it and how much it helped me during this period of time. While it might have been silly, she did it because she cared.
In the 8 months that my mom battled cancer, I grieved. When my mom lost her battle to cancer on January 5th of this year, the only thing I wanted to do was go to yoga. That night I was scheduled to go to a 5:30p.m. hot power flow. While I considered at first skipping it, I ended up going because it was and still is what helps me keep going.
When I’m in a spin class and think how I’ll get up the next hill or push through another sprint, my mom is the first thought that comes to my mind. My mind clicks to seeing her in pain and how she was the strongest person I knew. If she managed getting through the pain she experienced, I know I can get through the smallest, most trivial problems. She’s always at the base of what I do, whether it comes to blogging, taking risks, making goals or meeting new friends.
My mom was there for me to call when I took my first spin class ever – at SoulCycle in Santa Monica in December 2014 – and was there when I took my first yoga class – at Cleveland Yoga in May 2014. The two studios that have forever changed the way I view yoga and cycling.
She listened to me talk about my stupid foot injury from a yoga sculpt class and there to pay for my yoga memberships.
Although my mom isn’t physically here anymore for me to call or hug, she’s with me in spirit and through my practices and my rides, my chaturangas and my tapbacks, my crow poses and my sprints.
She’s the reason why I’m in Chicago, she’s the reason why Chickpea in The City exists and she’s why I’m doing all of this and so passionate about it in the first place.
If I can do one thing through any of this, I want to show people that no it’s not easy, it hasn’t been easy the past year and there are always hard days ahead, but this life I’ve been living is so worth it and I have my mom to thank for that.
And thank you to my friends, family, followers, readers and instructors. Thank you to those who impacted me and were there for me most, even without knowing it.
Portraits done by Lylah Rose Wolff Photography