A Life Off the Mat


I’ve been talking a bit about yoga lately. Like many other athletic pursuits, it’s easy to find parallels between your run/swim/bike/etc. and life and to derive some lessons from those pursuits. However, for me, nothing has given me the tools to handle life situations more than yoga – breathe, mindfulness, patience, gratitude, self-compassion.

I think that’s why I come back to my mat again and again, both in life and in my writing.

I also love hearing about other people’s experiences with yoga. I can’t remember how I came across Martha’s blog but she was one of my first “blog” friends. She’s an incredible and strong woman and I’m honored to have her share her story here today.


yoga mat

A couple of months ago I went to visit my birth family, whom I’d only just met the Thanksgiving before. For those who don’t know me, I’ll share with you the backstory … the short version.

Adopted as a baby.

Found by my birth sister two years ago (after her tireless, 14-year search).

In one night, with one phone call, my world changed.

Missing pieces of me were put back into place.

So, when my sister called in February to say that Granddad wasn’t doing so well, I booked a ticket, hopped on a flight and landed in Philadelphia full of anticipation and melancholy (please, don’t let this be the last time I see him).

Upon arrival I hugged my aunt, uncle, sister and cousin. I settled into my spot as if I had been a part of this family my entire life – DeeDee’s daughter whom no one knew existed but who would be lovingly embraced as if she had been there from the beginning.

The next say, we visited the grandparents. I spoke with my 93-year-old grandfather as if I’d known him since the day I was born. I kissed Grandma on the cheek and held her hand.

When I returned home, back to my children, my house and my life, I’d never felt more complete.

I talked to the kids about their weekend, unpacked a little, and checked Facebook to find that pictures from the happy weekend had already been posted.

But staying true to the yin of my life’s yang, within minutes came a message to my inbox, making me question all of the good, the love, and the joy. A response to seeing those happy pictures online.

Angry accusations intended to make me cry.

“This is not your family and you don’t belong…”

Shock and sadness were my immediate emotions, followed by rage – a lifetime pattern of self-protection bubbling in my blood.

I’d rebut with words; my tongue was ripe and ready. This has always been my way.

But before my fingers could type their fighting response, a wave of something passed through me and stopped those hovering fingers from engaging in a war.

I didn’t recognize until later that the something was my yoga, coming to serve me off the mat.

Over the past 15 years of yoga practice I’ve taken thousands of breaths, done thousands of poses.

I’ve fought to get into shapes that my body resisted, and surprised myself by the effortlessness of poses when I stopped trying to push.

The ups and downs of all the years of sweaty hands on a sticky mat led me to this one difficult moment, which I could either allow myself to pass through enlightened or to choose to stay on the path more familiar.

This is what yoga does.

It asks and answers deeply personal questions. It’s a moving prayer for something that you need within your soul.

The practice in itself becomes an education about how you live your life. When you least expect it, it tests your readiness toward personal evolution.

Do you run away from a difficult pose? Do you compare yourself to others? Are you able to be present or do you watch the clock waiting for it to be over?

While the emotion of my hurt was still palpable in the minutes after receiving that message, it turned out that one of my prayers was being answered.

Without forethought I planted my feet onto the cool tile of my kitchen floor, shifting back and forth, back and forth, just as I do at the start of every yoga session.

I typed my response and ended it with one word.


The message disappeared and with it, my anger. My belief in the truth and my sincere wish for peace left no doubt about the intentions of my heart.

Several years into my practice, after beginning to acknowledge subtle changes in myself, I asked a teacher why people chose not to practice when the results were so powerful.

The answer, “They’re just not ready.”

And perhaps it’s that simple.

Yoga is more than most people know it to be.

It’s not just about getting bendy.

It’s not really about exercise.

At the end of that day when faced with the yin and the yang, the choice to respond without anger was (for the first time in my life) the only option.

All of those down dogs, chaturangas and triangles, sun salutations, headstands and shaky dancers, led me to this moment.

I’ve been ready, and my readiness brought me one step closer to the person that God intended me to be.

And with that came a freedom I wasn’t sure I’d ever find within myself.

Where have you unexpectedly found freedom?


Martha Merrill

Martha Merrill Wills is a mom to twin girls, a writer, runner, and yogi. Mad about social media and wild about words, her blog covers both, in addition to all the other stuff that happens in her head. Follow Martha on Facebook and on Twitter!


  1. says

    As an adopted person, this really resonated with me. I actually feel sorry for the person who was apparently jealous of the love you had found with your family. I’m happy that yoga helped you understand and respond in a healthy way.

    As a side note, my husband was recently found by a son that he didn’t know that he had, who was given up for adoption by his mother over 40 years ago. We have become a true family, and even added two twin grandsons to our extended family. Joy to you and your biological family.
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  2. says

    Martha is great! I, too, have followed her blog for the past year or so. I love when stories of how yoga teaches so much more than to be “bendy.” It’s bigger than that. It flows through every part of your life. Great response Martha. May that person who sent that horrible message find the same peace that you have in your heart.
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  3. says

    I’m an adoptee who has never met my birth family. I was holding my breath reading it. I absolutely love that yoga taught you that amazing response to the situation. What a powerful testimony to the practice. I’ve fallen out of the yoga habit, but you just gave me incentive to find it again.
    misszippy recently posted..Girls gone (not so) wild (and a great race)My Profile

  4. says

    I just found your blog and all I can say is, wow. What an inspiring post. I don’t practice yoga – I have always been intimidated by it. Perhaps I’ll have the courage to try it out…thanks for sharing the powerful benefits.
    Leah Davidson recently posted..Soccer tournamentMy Profile

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing your story. I do believe yoga can help you let go of things that anger or upset you. To me, it teaches you an ability to both control your mind and let it go at the same time. Control your anger and focus it on positive and let go of the negativity. Congrats on being able to invoke your yoga in such a difficult situation.
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  6. says

    I loved reading your story!! And, I love the way you dealt with a potentially awful response!!
    This makes me think I really should do yoga because my response would have been quick, hateful and would not have helped anything!!
    Thank you for sharing not only your life story but your yoga story!!
    Kim recently posted..Early MorningsMy Profile

  7. says

    My oh my oh my is this lovely. You are My yoga teacher today, my friend. This is EXACTLY why I practice – and what a great reminder to me and to everyone what yoga does for us OFF THE MAT. LOVE. Just LOVE.
    Ilene recently posted..Late One NightMy Profile

  8. says

    Such an amazing story of how yoga is more than just an ‘exercise.’
    Like I’ve told you before, I found such peace and calm when I practiced yoga. I’m looking seriously of how to add it back to my schedule, because of that.
    (And yes, I’d love to get some yoga in with you when you’re on Oahu! And I’ll continue to sit in awe of your awesome yogi talents.)
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  9. says

    What a beautiful place yoga holds in your life. Running is my “moving meditation,” but I can completely identify with what you have described here. And what a wonderful thing to bring peace into a potentially hostile situation Thank you for sharing!
    Sarah @runfargirl recently posted..The “Plan-less” PRMy Profile

  10. says

    Ive been reading Martha’s blog for a while now. What a beautiful and inspiring post. This must have been difficult to share. I am so glad you were able to find a natural way to help with that upsetting experience.
    Marcia @ findingfelicity recently posted..SpeakMy Profile


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