This morning I was ironing a few of my mom’s clothes. After about a half hour, my arm started to ache a little as I stared at a heap of laundry waiting to be pressed.
My mom has had a herniated disc for most of my life. She had surgery when I was 4, after which she ended up in the 1% that no one wants to be in, the 1% that suffers severe complications, further nerve damage, lifelong scar tissue and varying levels of immobility. Her life — our lives — after surgery became about building a new life around pain tolerance. We’d start each day with “How’s your back today, Mom?” and end most evenings giving her a heat pack and massaging tiger balm into her spasms. It became our new normal as she overcame her new normal.
Most nights after dinner, I’d bounce around her as she did her exercises in a little corner of her room. God, I must have been annoying. But she was patient and loving, as mothers are. She taught me how to make flash cards while holding a one-legged bridge and quizzed me on spelling while balancing her upper back on a medicine ball. I never thought this was strange, what else could moms do after dinner every night? I had no idea how hard she was working every day to recover, to strengthen her spine, to become who she was before I could remember.
Over the years, she learned to manage and mask her pain beautifully. She has lived a normal and even adventurous life, knowing her physical limitations but embracing every moment of her mobility. If you were to meet her, you’d never know that her daily level of pain is more than most of us could think to bare for a moment. You’d never know that the slight raise in her left eyebrow meant that she was smiling through hours of shooting nerve pain down her legs. You’d never know that you were in the presence of a 4 foot 11 inch warrior.
Two months ago, my mom had her first acute disc episode since before her surgery 23 years ago. She ended up in the emergency room, unable to stand, unable to walk or even sit. They mentioned the possibility of another surgery. We all shuddered.
It has been challenging to be far away. To carry the responsibilities of my life, of my business and of my team while my whole heart is with her. As I circle in and out of my hometown of Cleveland, I can’t help but feel dejavu. As I lay next to her in the same room doing the same exercises, I join her in bridge pose, I pass her her resistance band, I count our breaths together and I turn my face away, tearing up, wondering how different her life could have been if she were part of the 99%. I feel guilt rush over me for even noticing the momentary ache in my arm, and wonder how long it will be before the daily household tasks will be pain-free for her again. I make a mental note to up my strength training regimen. I iron everything in her closet.
When I was first starting Sukoon, I thought it was about hijab. But looking back, it was always destined to be so much bigger than that. It was about community (shout out to our Kickstarter backers!), about empowerment, about access to a lifestyle we all want to have the option to live. For me, I know now that it was about my mom.
There has been so much in life that she hasn’t been able to experience, and that she has urged me to experience because of her own limitations. She listens longingly to my stories of hikes to Half-Dome, she looks admiringly at my race medals, and she holds my hand as we do yoga together on my visits home. She is why Sukoon is about doing right by our selves and our bodies.
It’s about becoming our best selves, a right (NOT a privilege) that we all deserve regardless of how we choose to cover, or of our body type. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about access: to wellness, to potential, to flexibility and mobility; to the breadth of the human experience; to the views we earn and to the adrenaline of crossing a finish line.
It’s about finding your strength, finding your why, and using it to #FindYourSukoon.
I can't think of a better way to start Women's History Month than to celebrate my persistent, resilient mother and honor the life she taught me to live.