Monday, February 24, 2014

How Yoga First Changed My Life

Yoga started working on me in a basement about 10 years ago. I was looking for something more in yoga, and I found it. Jeffry Clark, an amazing yoga teacher, started leading yoga classes in his beautifully renovated basement room. My yoga experience up until than consisted of Iyengar, Ashtanga, and classes at the YMCA. Jeffry's classes were something I had never experienced before. The movements were connected, organic, graceful and choreographed with music and inspiring words. I went every Friday morning. After a few months, I started to notice how strange I felt after class. First of all, noticing how I felt was something new. Second, the feeling I was having was confusing. It was not the post yoga bliss that we often feel from yoga (at this point I didn't know the difference). It was like something was opening inside me, something was stirring and I didn't know what it was. When I would practice on my own at home, tears would come. Real tears of release. It was confusing. It was amazing! I felt lighter after every practice. I was beginning to feel. The icebergs around my heart were melting. My muscles, asleep from years of disintegration, were waking up. For a long time, sadness dominated my emotional body. There was a very deep well of tears that took several years to run dry.

Yoga gave me permission to be vulnerable, to be seen and heard. No masks, no pretension, no shields, no walls. Raw and real. A ripple effect of tears, repressed anger, love, and compassion.

Yoga brought attention to a neglected, undernourished body; yoga ignited a collapsing core; yoga opened me up in big expressive ways. 

The dictionary says vulnerability is "to be open to attack, to be easily hurt". To me, there is so much more behind this simple definition. To be vulnerable, at first, indeed feels risky and scary because of the high potential for being hurt physically, emotionally, or mentally; especially if there is a memory of being hurt. If we are living in perceived unsafe circumstances, we are in fear; and our primal brain defaults to fight or flight, and we do what we need to in order to survive. If we operate purely from this reptilian brain, whether safe or not, we remain in our conditioned ways of learning to just survive.
Yoga gave me a safe place. 

At first, I experienced some discomfort and pain in my body. But, yoga was not the cause of pain, I believe it was the awakening process of dormant emotions stored in my body that were now asking to be recognized and released. Stepping into this fire of vulnerability, in a safe way, has led to many big moments of transformation and over time has re-wired neuro pathways. These experiences have taught me how to engage, whether it is my thigh muscles or with the person in front of me. Yes, I risk being judged, criticized, falling on my face, or maybe even loved. But, I know when I am truly safe and I must trust that to engage with life, inner and outer, is to live a life that is more rich, more full, more connected, more vibrant and a lot less lonely.

(If you are not one of the 14 million who has already heard this….this is a great TEDtalk on vulnerability by Brene Brown.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

"Fierce Medicine"

Just finished reading Fierce Medicine, by Ana Forest, creator of Forest Yoga and teacher for 35+ years. Each chapter begins with a intriguing story from her life and includes specific yoga practices related to her experience and huge life lessons she learned during that time in her life. This book is for anyone who is curious about spirituality, the human experience and the incredible healing power of yoga.

What I found so amazing about her life story was her capacity to endure so much pain on all levels. Yet, her spirit kept calling her back to something more, something greater than each painful experience.  She learned to stand up against physical abuse as a child. She stood up against the ridicule and bullying at school. She got kicked in the face a lot by horses, yet learned to tame them. Also at a very young age, she was able to recognize and follow a small crack of beauty in a life full of darkness and despair. She lived through her own attempt at suicide; subsequently started to believe that her life had a purpose.

Pain is a messenger. Pain can manifest as traumas stuck in the body.  Ana asks her students to hold specific poses for minutes until they come face to face with their deeply rooted fears and traumas. As a result they are able to work through them and release their grip. Its not about forcing the body to do things beyond its limits. This practice can be very effective for those of us who tend to shut down and numb out; its about awakening the muscles and stored emotions.

Reading her book has asked me, personally, to look at the pain I experience, in a new way. This pain occurs in a couple places in my back and is sometimes heightened following a physically challenging yoga practice. Still, I am not convinced that I need to give up certain yoga practices because of it. So the question I now ask myself is, "can I be with the pain, listen to it, work with it and persevere to see if I can move it through?" But, being mindful not to just endure the pain or push beyond limits. Maybe it requires that I hold full wheel pose for five more conscious breaths. I don't know for sure. But I am willing to experiment.