I used to say that yoga saved my life – twice. Now, I wonder if it also killed me.
Years ago I was quite sick. The kind of sick that the doctors said was completely made up even though I was so lethargic, I couldn’t move off the couch, my intestines were in pain constantly and it eventually got to the point that my throat would close off and I had no voice. My digestive tract was shot and all the physical symptoms that you could imagine to go with it came.
I was shutting down and no one knew what was happening. None of the specialists could find anything on their scopes or tests and so I continued to fade away.
I called whatever was happening “the dyingness”.
Now, years later, I can see that I wasn’t really wrong in calling it that. In fact, I wonder what I intuitively knew on some level even if I didn’t know then how to work with it. Though I tried to take steps to end or ease the suffering, it also felt so complete and as though it would just win. It felt like this dyingness was me.
In a sense, I was dying.
From a healing perspective, I had trouble assimilating emotion and letting it move through me. I stuck it into my body, storing up bits and pieces to become the past that would continue to drag me down. Stagnation seeped through every part of me and I was drowning in it. I was so cut off from my body that I couldn’t listen to it. Couldn’t hear it screaming out (nor could I speak it or be heard without a voice) and so, it started to deteriorate. To die.
Through that process of dying yoga came to me, prescribed by my naturopathic doctor to help strengthen my digestion. So, I went to class. Once a week for years and years. I didn’t do more than that one class and I never practice at home – I was too afraid I would hurt myself because I didn’t know what I was doing.
Working with my naturopath, I started to feel better. The dyingness (a form of aggressive candida throughout my whole body – including my brain) started its slow process of healing. Seven years of vigilant effort and the candida came into balance.
Somehow it came into balance in the midst of the rest of me sliding completely off kilter. A massive trauma along the same timeline as moving to a new country and a new high-level corporate job and even though my physical body seemed to be technically healing, my emotional body remained stunted and my psychological and spiritual bodies shattered.
What I didn’t realize for several years was that, I believed I was dead. I had walked into a traumatic experience and believed I died in that room. I held that belief so strongly that it felt true and became confusing because it wasn’t. I was technically alive though felt as though walking dead. The disconnect felt irreconcilable many times. I was disconnected in every possible sense.
In the midst of the move to New York, I didn’t practice for three months. Then, one very cold snowy day, I knew I had to go to a class and so I wandered to the one studio that came up in my google search and arrived to the gracious and open arms of a tiny Brooklyn studio complete with boot sludge piled in the back of the room.
A year passed of going to class again once a week. Of crying on the mat more than I ever had. Of trying to remain invisible in the room. Trying to hide the emotions that wanted to burst forth. Then, through synchronicity, an email arrived from a woman I didn’t know offering a Healer and Yoga Teacher training. I tested the idea out with some others though my heart already knew the connection the moment I read the subject line. I had no intention of teaching at all, yet the healer aspect appealed to me.
So I went. Five years ago today I arrived in Puerto Rico, in the rain. I stood at the airport after collecting my suitcase and stared out at the downpour. Exhausted, and stuck in place unable to take another step forward. I knew that if I stepped into this there was no stepping back and, even though I was in such a place of perpetual pain, I knew that pain – it was comfortable. I wanted to heal and yet…. I remember lifting my legs and feet slowly. Heavily placing each one back down on the rain-covered pavement and I made my way.
Part of the requirement for the training was a daily practice. In the months prior, I had upped my practice to three times a week in anticipation. I didn’t think I could “do” yoga every day and yet, something in me desired it. Which is why, five years later, I can say that I’ve never missed a day of practice. Whether my leg was healing from surgery and I couldn’t walk, or I was in any number of small spaces while traveling (including the room of a barge), or sick with a cold or what have you. The commitment to my practice is stronger than any distraction.
In reaching this moment of five years, I’ve been thinking about my practice and why. Why I do it. What brings me back to the mat every day. Time and time again.
It’s not that it’s become a vice or something that I strive for. In fact (aside from noticing that it’s been five years) this practice keeps teaching me to let go of the outcome. To understand that practice doesn’t make perfect – practice makes practice. There’s always more. There’s always a new situation – some new thing to notice or be with. It’s endless and infinite and wondrous in it’s continuity.
Through this practice that girl who kept dying could both finally die and let go of those old modes of living and being that were creating her dis-ease and also build new, healthful, patterns. I’ve learned how to balance my energy, be with sensation, have and release emotion. How to be with and release trauma – to learn that even though the process may take seven years (or more!) it’s a process. And even if something is never wholly “healed” that’s okay too. The holding on and letting go. The ability to find ease in a challenging posture and stay there and be with it. To find ease in balancing (when it used to be what I avoided most). To understand that it’s safe and okay to move from my coveted spot in the room. To understand that it’s okay to stay there when I need to. To understand that all those other iterations of me weren’t “bad” or “worse” and that I’m not “better” or “good” now. To cultivate compassion for myself as I move through this practice. I’m a human in the state of learning how to be just that.
So is everyone else.
My process is different than yours. My practice is different than yours. My teaching will be different than yours and different than other teachers.
There is no one right way.
There is no one way to be.
Through this practice, teaching has become a necessary part of it for me. It’s a practice through which I learn so much. I learn how to be completely present and in the moment. To trust what comes through as what needs to be said or heard or done, even if the responses aren’t favourable. To let go of feeling like no one likes me if they don’t show up for class – to understand instead that they’re receiving what they need elsewhere and isn’t that great? The many gifts I’ve received through teaching and through my own practice could never be described, all I know is that I feel continuously grateful. Continuously renewed. Always trying something different. Always learning to not be attached to any outcome or desired result. To let go of expectations and that every time everything is completely different.
As I mentioned, I was afraid to practice at home by myself for a long time. I was afraid that I didn’t know what I was doing and would hurt myself. Until a teacher told me something very profound. She said, “Just get on the mat and move…. And every time you hear yourself say the world “should” – like “I should do this or that” – don’t do that thing”. It’s not as hard as I had made it out to be for all those years, living in fear. Get on the mat and move. Get out of my head and into my body. That is something that needs to be done. Needs to happen experientially. Understanding the principles in books is great, applying them works even better. For me, I had to learn how to move the energy down. I had to learn how to feel safe in my own body.
I had to learn that I wasn’t dead.
As my physical body grew to feel safe and secure to be in, my emotions could move through more and more and I became more comfortable with them (still an ongoing practice for me). Old memories could rise up and out (and continue to) through the physical releasing and then the practice of letting them just go. Not analyzing and replanting them into my being. Trusting the process. As the e-motions started to move more released in my thinking. New thoughts took place and took root. Old beliefs and structures fell apart. They died – layer upon layer – and there are always more. As more of them died, I could start to return. My spirit returned to me. I was no longer fragmented. I became part of myself again. More whole.
This hasn’t been a linear process by any means. All of it was happening on all levels at once. Being in cycles and flow is a part of the practice for me too. Learning how to not take things so seriously (most of all, myself). To let myself be alive and to thrive.
So yes, yoga in many ways has been helpful in saving my life. It also has been a tool of death. To help me learn how to die and be reborn. Not better or worse. Simply, a newer version of myself continuing to practice learning how to be me.