Healing the BodyMind Through Yoga

Early on in my yoga practice I would often experience an emotional reaction during corpse pose (savasana). Lying still, I would get a lump in my throat and suddenly find tears quietly rolling down my cheeks. I didn’t know it at the time, but my yoga practice was releasing long-held grief from my body.

When grief and recovery from trauma have been processed by the mind, life may begin to seem approachable again and many people feel they can move forward; but the same processes of recovery and healing are essential to the body as well.

Feeling a strong emotional release in a yoga pose or during final relaxation is far from uncommon. One of yoga’s most powerful side effects is its ability to release and heal the BodyMind. Not just the body. Not just the mind. The combined, interconnected, undivided BodyMind.

BodyMind is a term coined by Dr. Candace Pert, a neuropharmacologist who pioneered scientific research into the field of Mind-Body Medicine, advancing our understanding of what are called neuropeptides, or messenger molecules that carry information from the mind to the body and back again through body fluids. These neuropeptides are found throughout our bodies in the heart, sexual organs, and the limbic system, to name a few.

Dr. Pert breaks this concept down with an example of the gut. The entire lining of our intestines is lined with these particular transmitters. She posits, “It seems entirely possible to me that the richness of the receptors may be why a lot of people feel their emotions in their gut – why they have a ‘gut feeling.’”

She further comments: “I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body. The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.”

When we move our bodies through yoga, our BodyMind is allowed expression. It can begin to release emotion and tension that’s been stuck in our bodies perhaps years after we think we’ve mentally processed the event.

Exploring these heavy emotions in our yoga practice, whether intentionally or accidentally, might feel intimidating. Resourcing is a technique that helps us stay present during uncomfortable or overwhelming sensations by finding and connecting to a resource, such as the breath or one of the five senses. This connection works like an anchor for a boat and we can begin to observe sensations safely, without fear of getting lost in the sea of our experience.

mothersdayflierJoin me this Mother’s Day in San Diego at Yoga One for a special commemorative practice where we will explore three ways to use resourcing with yoga, as well as learn how to identify where emotions reside in our individual bodies. We will focus specifically on how to apply these tools when dealing with loss and grief.

This practice is for anyone interested in learning how to use yoga as a supportive healing modality, but especially for anyone who has lost their mother and would welcome a supportive, safe, non-judgemental environment to honor their mother on Mother’s Day.

Loss is something we will all experience in our lifetime. It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when. Our yoga practice will not show us a way out of grief, but it can show us a way through and support us through every stage of healing.

Note: If this is something you’re interested in but find the cost prohibitive or cannot attend for some other reason, please contact me to arrange a way for you to receive the information.

Stillness.

Stillness is a secret door,
isn’t it.

Hidden,
in plain view.

Locked,
until you find the key.

Plain to the untrained eye.

Uninteresting,
A dead end,
Boring.

Until you stumble into its wondrous garden of mind-blowing wonder.

What was that?
How can I get back there?

Call it meditation
Or call it prayer
Call it the universal pause
At the end of each exhale

You get there through God
I get there through stillness
They get there through movement
Others get there through alcohol

We must get there
Which is Here
The space between doing and thinking
Where everything,
I mean Everything
Reveals itself.

And when we come to,
our hearts will have expanded
through breakage or gratitude
at the smallness of being human
and the largeness of our experience.

We will return Here
you and I
to sit in the garden of Truth
where everything is as it is
and where the nothingness gets transformed
not into something,
but into Everything,
into All The Things,
into This.

This hug
This look
This pain
This heartbreak
This laughter
This wail
This darkness
This glow
This confusion
This anger
This love
This kiss
This question
This answer

This moment.

Love Itself

I’m in a kind of dance with love lately. Sometimes it’s cheek-to-cheek, sometimes it’s a graceful waltz, sometimes it’s a wild gleeful swing, and sometimes it’s a solo sway to the rhythm of my heart.

When my ears stumbled upon the words below, I felt compelled to share them here, as I think all our hearts are heretics of the free spirit.

One of my favorite people on the planet was Marguerite Porete, lived around 1300. And she lived a very — she was a Beguine, and she lived a very kind of proper, Beguine life as a lay monastic kind of person.

But she wrote a book called The Annihilation of the Simple Soul. And in that book she describes how she has fallen in love with love. And as a consequence, she has left behind the virtues. She leaves behind the virtues in order to embrace love itself. And then she quotes Augustine, “Love love and do what you will,” that this becomes the moral axis.

So it’s no longer the church telling her what to do. She says, “I leave the little church and now I go into the large church, the great church.” So, she left the little church of the virtues. Because she, I think, discovered the source of the virtues themselves, codified and rigorously enforced.

She was burned at the stake as a heretic of the free spirit.

That’s the heresy. I think she was 600 years ahead of her time. And we all have that possibility now of making that discovery, stepping out.

Most of us have, I think, in this room, probably stepped out of the little church and may be finding our way to the big church. – Arthur Zajonc

Coming Home

rainbowI tap on the walls of my heart.

Are you in there? Can we talk?

She seems so close at times, resting a few inches deep in my chest, only a whisper away. Yet today it feels I must travel miles to see her clearly.

So I begin my journey. Miles in silence, miles in movement, miles in questioning.

Where are you? When will you speak? I cannot hear you. Are you saying something? Come closer still.

When all is silent I know it is not because she lacks the courage to speak but because I lack the courage to listen.

So I stop asking, stop moving, stop meditating, stop trying so hard to catch her.

And I start listening. To the wind howl and the rain drop. To the birds chatting and the leaves rustling. To the ambulance wail and the motorcycle’s blast. To my baby’s giggles and my dog’s bark. To my own footsteps and the silence between my breaths. To my own heart beat.

Slowly I begin to hear her. Speaking the truths she always speaks.

She is back, a few inches deep in my chest. A whisper away. Where she always was.

Waiting for me to come home.

Finding Our Soul Rhythm

“A child’s natural rhythm is much closer to a soul rhythm than that of most adults.”-Shefali Tsabary

reflectionLately my son has been trying to talk. He curls up his tongue and spits out whatever noises, grunts, or howls he can muster.

Unlike when he was learning to walk, he’s not cautious about it. He just keeps hammering away at sounds until, word by word, he’ll slowly begin to talk.

It’s made me wonder, When did I stop trying that hard?

Because if he tried to talk like I sometimes attempt new things, well, he’d never talk. He’d get frustrated with slow progress or self-conscious at how he appears and stop trying so whole-heartedly.

I love observing his nature and seeing how limitless, curious, and in sync with our natural rhythms we all start out. Somewhere along the line we forget that moving in time with our nature, trusting our five senses and listening to our intuition is how we accomplished amazing feats like crawling, walking, and learning to speak. No one tells babies this is what they should do. They are just naturally propelled forward by an innate drive to grow because it is how they survive and thrive.

I often observe myself reaching out for answers instead of diving in. I know people have been where I am or stuck where I’m stuck or going where I want to go, and so I want them to give me the shortcut so I can skip the hard stuff and get right to the gold.

The self-help empire is booming ($10 billion/year in the U.S. alone) because people are obsessed with getting happy, fixing themselves, self-improvement, and with “getting there.” On the surface this seems like a good thing, but what is being sacrificed in exchange?

Are we letting other people tell us what happy looks like, feels like, tastes like? Are we subscribing to other people’s definition of success, failure, and growth? Have we lost touch with our own version of happy? Have we stopped following our dreams, our instincts and listening to our soul speak?

We are here to support each other as we grow, often in deeply personal and intimate ways, but there is some work we must do alone. If we try to cheat and get the answer from someone else it may get us by for a while, but at the end of our lives we may realize we were walking someone else’s path the whole time and not our own.

Trusting my heart sometimes feels awkward because I spend so much time in my head. Speaking my truth sometimes feels vulnerable because I spend so much time listening to other people’s truth. Then I do the things I do to reconnect, recenter, self-regulate, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so awkward, so vulnerable. It just feels so right.

In those moments I know how my son feels: at home in his body, full of trust for his process and in sync with his soul rhythm.

If Walking Down the Street Was a Yoga Pose

If walking down the street was a yoga pose, how would we do it? Would we walk more mindfully, consciously, and with attention to how our breath informs our every step?

If sitting in a chair was a yoga pose, would we place our limbs with intention, keep our spine lifted and our gaze soft?

If having a conversation was a yoga pose, would we stay present the whole way through, listen attentively to every word, stay open and receptive?

If weathering difficult times was a yoga pose, would we root down into our reality, hug in to ourselves, and find the space we need to breathe, to survive, to endure?

If loving other people was a yoga pose, would we keep practicing it over and over, year after year, finding more expansiveness as we soften, stretch, and open?

If getting older was a yoga pose, would we observe our wrinkles without judgement, allow our hair to gray with grace, and stand tall in the body that has stood by us our entire life?

If today was a yoga pose, would we live every minute mindfully, simultaneously stand our ground while submitting to our hearts and aligning our actions with our intentions?

Alignment. Presence. Patience. Strength. Acceptance. We practice these things on our mats all the time, but all of life can be a yoga pose. We can limit the benefits of yoga to a few hours a week or we can tap into these same benefits every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.

photo: Corinne of Corinne’s Yoga Things

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

A Question For All the Lonely People

Who are you?

Are you a 25-year-old widow like I was or are you a 40-year-old single mother?

Are you a 62-year-old divorced man or are you a 15-year-old boy who feels like an outcast?

Are you a 27-year-old soul-seeker who can’t find their match or an 80-year-old grandmother whose children live on the other side of the country?

Not so long ago, I thought I was alone also. I wasn’t, but the thought that I was kept me from reaching out, from feeling supported, and from finding the enoughness in my solitude.

Enoughness. The feeling that you are enough exactly as you are right now.

I spent years eating dinners on Friday nights alone. I would ride my bike past the lovers at sunset and wonder when it would be my turn. I would dread coming home to an empty house and the silence no noise could mask.

What kept me company was loneliness, and not the kind that goes away when you sleep. The kind that settles in your bones and follows you like a shadow and on the best days waits for you to crawl into bed to remind you.

I really thought I was alone. I thought I was alone in my loneliness. I thought the rest of the world had a sleeping baby and a spouse who came home and a dog who warmed their heart.

I didn’t realize until very recently (this week, in fact) that people are as alone as I once was, with one difference: They are speaking up, they are speaking out, and they are finding the enoughness in their solitude.

That’s the most courageous thing ever. To tell the world where you really are. To tell the world you are hurting. To tell the world you are human.

I couldn’t do it. For decades I kept it bottled up inside and drank from it only when no one was looking, struggling through a hangover of sadness for years.

It blows me away that in our culture we greet each other with How are you and answer I’m fine, when too often that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Whether you’re a stranger, my neighbor, my mother or my friend, the next time I see you I don’t want to talk about the weather and I don’t want to hear how your weekend was. I want to hear your heart beat and when is the last time it broke and what are you afraid of and where do you go when you’re sad and what will be your last words on this earth.

Tell me those words. Tell me your dying words. I want to hear them now, on this street corner, waiting for the light to turn green with the sun shining on this perfect day where darkness and shadow don’t exist. I want to hear them now.

Because that’s what I’m really asking you when I say How are you.

I’m saying I’m human and you’re human. I want to know it’s okay to be us. To be human, to be imperfect, to not have all the answers, to not have a buffer to life. I want to know it’s okay to bleed in public, through tears or words or laughter. I want to know you won’t turn your head when I say I’m not okay, when I say I’m working through something, when I say I can’t fake it anymore.

Do me that favor. Tell me how you are, so that whether my life feels full or empty I will feel connected to my truth and to your truth and to the space in between us, so that the next time I find my true self picking up the remains of my small self that has shattered in a thousand little pieces on my kitchen floor, I will not be afraid to show my scarred face in public.

And the next time I’m three years into a deep depression I will not be afraid you will ask me how I am.

And the next time I get a phone call that someone I love tried to kill themselves, I won’t wonder how I missed the signs. I won’t wonder what I could have done.

I will have seen the signs because they weren’t afraid to show me. I will have done what I could have done because I wasn’t afraid to see their pain and their need.

In your darkness you can’t see me, but I am here. When the light rises you will see all of us. All of us lonely people who made it through by hanging on and refusing to let the darkness snuff out our light inside.

We see you, as clearly as we see our own face in the mirror. We see your enoughness, we see your struggle, we see your humanity.

We’re here and we hear you. What do you have to say?

Originally published on elephantjournal.

We are the Space

YouAreTheSky

We are the space that holds the light {however bright it may be.}
We are the space that holds the darkness {however dark it may get.}
We are the space that holds the energy {however charged and wild.}
We are the space that holds the silence {however long and still.}

We are the space that holds the laughter {giggles, belly laughs and laugh/cry combos.}
We are the space that holds the grief {heartbreaks, heartaches and heart roars.}
We are the space that holds the beginning {the wondering, the exploring, the innocence.}
We are the space that holds the ending {the fragility, the no mores and the emptiness.}

We are the space that holds life {in our bellies, in our hearts and in our eyes.}
We are the space that holds death {of our partners, of our children and of our dreams.}
We are the space that holds the question {who am I?}
We are the space that holds the answer {when it comes, in its own time, when we least expect.}

We are the space all our experiences flow through, the space our being rests in, grows in, lives and dies in.

Honor that space. Hold that space. Enter that space daily through our breath or through our yoga or through a hug, a cry, a laugh, a word or a pause. Create the doorway into our self and then walk through it and witness the magnificence that is called being human.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

Soul Work

To get right to the point, Why are you here?

Let’s put our learned answers aside for a moment because I’m interested in your answer, not something you learned from a doctrine or a book or an authority figure.

And I’m not even that interested in your answer. I’m interested in your asking the question and sitting with that space in between the asking and the answering.

That space, that’s what I’m after. For you, for me, for all of us soul-seekers and truth-speakers.

A few weeks ago my teacher posed that question to a room full of yogis high on meditation and asana: Why are you here?

Tonight I ended up at this same question oddly enough through what I thought was a very innocent analysis of why Rich and Strong are so sought-after in our society. To put it another way, why Weak and Vulnerable are what we try to hide away from the world. Not what we try to deny – because deep within, in our most private of moments all of us surrender to weak and vulnerable. What is interesting to me is why we try to hide it away.

Here’s what I came up with (non-scientifically speaking):
If we reveal to the world that we are weak or vulnerable there are a few things we fear will happen:

We will get hurt.
We will be outcast and not accepted.
We will feel embarrassed.
We will look pitiful.

Wrap these up into one line and it sounds a lot like this: We will not be loved.

Follow me into this hypothetical world of We are not loved. What are our options then?
Some people avoid their reality.
Some people kill themselves.
Some people confront their reality.

Why do these drastic measures seem the only option in a world where we don’t feel loved? Because many of us would ask in that moment, Why am I here if I am not loved?

Feeling loved is powerful, healing, and vital to our thriving. But in our hypothetical world of not being loved we aren’t concerned with thriving.

We are concerned with surviving.

So the more important question in that moment seems to be not do we feel loved, but Do we love ourselves?

What I observe is that most of us don’t wrestle with these two questions – Do I love myself and Why am I here – until we have no other choice. Until life takes everything away from us that matters and strips us of every label, identity, and story we ever had.

Then all we’re left with is that question, why are we here, and the haunting echo of nothingness.

Our minds will give us answers, just as they do with the other powerful question – Who Am I? – but while the answer would be helpful, I believe the transformation happens in between the question and the answer, in the darkness. In the silence.

In the absence of knowing we bathe in pure being. The answer doesn’t matter and the question doesn’t matter. This matters. This being. This wholeness.

If we are lucky enough to get an answer, to learn our dharma, then we are both privileged and tasked with the obligation to live it.

Maybe that’s why we don’t ask the question in the first place until it’s the only thing we have left to hold onto. Maybe it’s why we cling to what we know and what other people think of us. Maybe it’s why we spend our lives trying to prove we’re strong enough, good enough, and just plain enough. Because if the world takes away its good impression of us what do we have left?

We have ourselves. And we have questions. Questions that have no answers. Darkness everywhere we turn until we look within. There we find the ember of being that is the only light that ever mattered.

Stoke that ember. Stoke it like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

I Don’t Want to Know What Kind of Yoga You Practice

garudasana

I don’t want to know if you feel strong after yoga.
I want to know if you feel softened, receptive, and open to grace.

I don’t want to know if you can touch your toes.
I want to know if you can touch your heart, my heart and the world with your truth.

I don’t want to know if you can reach the sky as you rise.
I want to know if you can kiss the earth in mourning, in joy and in between.

I don’t want to know if you can balance on your head.
I want to know if you can shake and wobble and not give up.

I don’t want to know how often you practice.
I want to know how often you cry at the sheer beauty of your own heartbeat.

I don’t want to know what brand of clothes you’re wearing.
I want to know if you’re comfortable in your own skin and how it stretches over your bones just perfectly.

I don’t want to know how yoga has fixed you.
I want to know if you know you weren’t broken to begin with.

I don’t want to know if you meditate or not.
I want to know if you can look in the mirror and see who you really are.

I don’t want to know what kind of yoga you practice.
I want to know what kind of life you live.