You can always go to the mat.


Recently I started working with a wellness coach. It wasn’t something I’d planned – I haven’t been putting much emphasis on fitness or diet over the last few years, but still felt like I was living a reasonably healthy lifestyle. But when my yoga instructor, Kathleen, announced in class that she needed a few free clients to finish up her certification process, I remembered that I would like my pants to fit better and impulsively threw my hat in the ring.

During our first face-to-face session, Kathleen asked me to set a 10-12 week goal. I told her that I would like to make it through one of the more difficult yoga classes at our gym “without dying” and shared that I had been sticking to the gentle yoga classes out of fear that the harder ones would prove to be too challenging for me to make it all the way through without stopping.

“Well, that’s okay,” she said. “You can always go to the mat.”

You can always go to the mat! Of course. This is part of the reason yoga speaks to me so much more than other kinds of fitness classes: the knowledge that the mat is always available to me – that in fact, I am encouraged to use it if I think I need it.

I’m not particularly competitive, and I have a rebellious streak; so I find chirpy instructors exhorting the class to “raise those legs higher, ladies!” the opposite of motivating. But the gentle reminder that the mat is there for me and that it’s OK to use it inspires me to push myself so much harder than anyone else ever could. Because if I know I have a soft spot to rest, why not shoot for the moon and see what happens?

This is a great metaphor for the rest of life, isn’t it? If you know you can always rest, or take a step back, or crouch down in the middle of whatever hard thing you’re doing and put your forehead on the floor – without feeling like a failure – it makes that hard drive toward a big goal feel so much more doable. It takes away some of the fear and the doubt.

As Kathleen listened and I talked, I realized that I had far more to say on the topic of health and fitness than I would have expected. I had bigger goals than I had let myself embrace. For years I’d been doggedly focused on the day-to-day: just make it to the gym today. Twice this week. Rinse, repeat; without thinking much about the larger picture, or how I might want to look or feel in six months or a year.

Not really like me, eh? Usually, I am the queen of the big picture. But not in this particular area of my life, apparently. See, I’ve never seen myself as particularly athletic, and the way I’ve gone about planning my fitness routine has reflected that. I don’t take hard classes. (I’m not sure I can get through them.) I don’t sign up to run 5Ks. (I’m not sure I want to get through them.)

But as a mom of many and a business owner I’ve made it through so many hectic periods of my life by resting hard when I need to. In life and in my work I ‘hit the mat’ regularly when my energy levels are low or I hit a stumbling block.

And I’ve seen how sometimes a little bit of rest gives me so much more energy to power through the rest of a project and make so much more progress than I otherwise would have.

So why wouldn’t I give myself the same freedom and permission to rest – and to still see my efforts as valuable and successful – when it comes to more physical pursuits?

This week was the boys’ spring break. We had major (and expensive) car trouble during a trip to Indianapolis and I wound up stranded there overnight. Needless to say, I got pretty far behind on both my fitness and my work goals. But even though I’ve been having a lot of success with my fitness goals and I’m in the middle of writing my next book, I decided to hit the mat. The rest of the week became more about rest and recovery than forward motion and momentum.

But sometimes, that’s exactly what we need. And come Monday, I know I’ll be ready to hit the ground running again. I’ll finish the book. I’ll go to the harder yoga class. Maybe I’ll even plan to sign up for a 5K. (Okay, probably not.)

Whatever the challenge – whether it’s a hard fitness class or a big writing goal or a particularly challenging period of motherhood – the mat is always available to us. Sometimes we have to create “the mat” for ourselves, and often we have to give ourselves permission to claim it – which means we have to ignore the chirpy voices around us telling us to just power through.

But what I’ve learned is that resting is not giving up. It’s what allows me to reach further and aim higher and stay optimistic. Respite is always available to me.

I can always go to the mat. And it’s amazing how much just knowing that gives me the energy to keep on going.