We were ending our practice in savasana, and our yogi invited us to imagine a warm glow, starting in our chest, and then imagine it radiating outward, until it covered our entire bodies like a blanket and began spreading out into the world.
Lying in the perfect corpse pose that night, I vividly imagined the light growing and spreading outward, and the mental visualization left me trembling, and embarrassingly close to tears.
It was then that I recognized…I did not feel safe within my own body.
The beginning, for me.
My story is riddled with ups and downs, incredible joy and incredible sorrow, and also layers of trauma and what some would call abuse that I didn’t fully identify until within the last six months.
I thought all of the events, actions, and words were normal, and that it was normal to adapt over and over to accommodate what it seemed that others wanted or needed from me. And, like many people who’ve lived similar stories, that created a violent distrust…within myself. Of my own judgment, of my own identity, of my own capabilities.
But then in my very first yoga class, I found myself in eagle pose, my muscles trembling from the effort, and frantically looking around at the others in the room. We all looked similar but no two looked the same, and I realized there was no one to duplicate.
Eagle pose is one of my favorite poses, because it demands so much of me. It’s one of those poses that demands you trust yourself-to maintain balance, and more importantly, to know your limits. Because chances are they’ll be different than the limits of the person next to you.
Chaos and the body.
Growing up around chaos, I learned to feel comfortable amidst upheaval, uncertainty, and shifting expectations and demands. That was my norm. Stillness was distressing and silence was panic-inducing.
That’s not unusual. It’s quite possible that individuals who’ve experienced trauma or abuse simply cannot live peacefully. Because, as odd as it sounds, stability and peace can feel unsafe. The moment routine sets in the individual will panic and either manufacture or seek out a heaping spoonful of chaos-without even recognizing that they’re doing so!
And put in the context of yoga, an affinity for chaos makes controlled breathing the worst thing humanly possible. I began to feel trapped by the counting and the repetition, and before I knew it, my heart was racing. While everyone else in the studio seemed perfectly calm, I was a nervous wreck, simply because our yogi had asked us to engage in the very peaceful practice of controlled breathing.
Finally, we released the breath, and my heart stopped pounding. And I recognized that I was coming face-to-face with a distrust of another kind: that of control over my own basic functions. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to breathe again if I had to keep practicing the rhythm of deep inhale, holding the breath, and then letting it out again (that thought literally passed through my mind).
I recognized the discomfort and reminded myself that all was well, because in that space I was safe. And I felt my attention shift slightly, taking a half-a-step back from high alert and taking that same half step towards approaching the environment with observation and curiosity first. My first instinct truly still lies in the ‘accuse and distrust’ camp, but I can now feel that it is possible to live differently.
Keeping you in the body.
I keep coming back to yoga partially I can measure my own progress, in my own way. Not my number of reps but by how my body feels. I’m learning to tune into how I’m truly doing by how much I can sink into chair pose or if I can hold a 90 degree warrior for the entirety of the sequence.
What I’m saying is, for as long as I’ve actively ignored my own body, I’m finally actively engaging with it.
At the very end of savasana, my yogi sometimes has us roll onto our left side, elbow under the ear, knees at ninety degrees, and our right hands planted on the ground in front of our chest, so that our arms are at a ninety degree angle as well.
One night in particular, after a flow that required lots of core strength in particular, I rolled onto my side, assumed the position, and felt something very strange: I felt contained within my own body.
I could instantly feel my limbs, the shape of my frame, the fact that I was breathing, and for the first time, I felt safe within the confines of this body that I have recently come to know, newly appreciate, and finally learn to respect.
Ahimsa means ‘not to injure’, it’s the practice of letting your body dictate how deep you go into pose, how far you stretch, and how much you can take. It requires listening to and honoring your body, and it’s shifting my perspective (slowly but surely) towards my own.
There is so much that I have yet to learn-about yoga, about myself, hell, about life. But as I learn to give compassion towards my own suffering through reflection, learning, and sharing with other people, I’m learning compassion on my body through yoga.
Why tell you all of this?
My hope is that, if you’re read this far, one of two things has happened:
1. You are either reassured that you’re not the only one who’s experienced trauma or are now a little more familiar with a little bit of what it feels like to have done so.
2. Yoga now appears more practical for overall wellness. It’s certainly not “easy exercise” and I invite you to consider adding it to your health routine.
Be well, and I promise to work my way towards doing the same.
And with that, I humbly bow to you.