There is a reason I haven’t been doing much yoga asana (postures) lately.
I could say its because I don’t have time because it’s a pandemic and I’m covered in kids all day everyday. Which is true.
I could say its because I am filling any ‘spare’ non-kid time trying to save small business (and my salary) from being eaten by the pandemic shut down. Which is true.
I could say its because I’m working a double shift everyday and I’m tired. Which is true.
But that’s not why I’m not doing yoga (asana). I’ve been making time for my practice every single day, come hell or high water, for almost a decade. There is always a way.
The truth is, it just hurts. And it reminds me of what hurts. And I am afraid to feel that part of me right now.
The rigors of the daily life of a mother, let alone a solo mother, are busy. The life of an entrepreneur are also busy. And I generally handle busy well. I’m a busy body. It’s a great escape. A (bad) habit I’ve been raising my awareness to and curbing for decades.
Stillness, on the other hand, is a portal to whatever is real. And what is real has both edges. The edge of deep joy and bliss and its counterpart, suffering, grief, pain, loss, sadness. Love and fear.
For decades, yoga has been relative stillness for me. It has been my portal to what is real.
And I say relative stillness because when you are a busy body, a vigorous vinyasa practice is stillness. As I’ve shed that busy-body part of me, and stopped running from feeling, my practice has slowed as well. The stillness has become more still. The access to real takes less vinyasa’s, less miles, less digging, less sweating.
Now, when I drop into my body, its just real.
For the most part, me and my body have had a good run. Its been fit, strong, nimble and quick for 40 years. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been in physical arts since I was 6. Whatever I’ve thrown at this body, it could physically handle. Karate tournaments, soccer, running, diving, navy seal training, rock climbing, rollerblading, diving, ice hockey, anything. I was a decent athlete. Not a star, but I was always in training and could always hang with anything physically and process the challenge.
But little did I know that throwing emotions and emotional triathlons at your body also requires training and processing. But instead of processing emotions in a healthy way, I just (unconsciously) decided to open a little self storage unit, a locker, where I stuff my emotions. All of them – joy, excitement, conflict, grief, sadness, anger, injustice. The self storage center is called ‘my hips.’ Its a five star facility. Really secure. Easy to fill up and kind of forget about until its overflowing.
Mine started overflowing in high school. A snap and pop here, a pulled muscle there and the beginning of the instability and chronic pain.
But I lived by a some (misunderstood) Navy Seal (maybe Marines?) quote.
“Pain is weakness leaving the body.”
I was so invested in this philosophy, I made it one of my senior yearbook quotes. My body did what my brain told it to do. It was not a two way message system. There was no listening to my body unless it told me to workout, eat more pasta or study longer so I could run faster, bench press more and get straight A’s. The more pain, the better.
But, there were subtle lessons. Athletics was also responsible to some degree for introducing me to the holistic approach to vitality and success. Coaches and athletes know it isn’t just about the body – its a mind, body, spirit package. And the (athletic) system pushes to keep the human at peak performance.
In preparation for a big game or a tournament, athletes prep for the call to warrior action. Contemplation, mind clearing, pre-game stretching, getting with your team, do some ra-ra-re-ing, praying even. Then you go into battle (against yourself or others). The body contracts, sweats, fights, flees, does its thing. Then after, you take time to re-hydrate, stretch, get a massage, have a little post game review, maybe even thank your team or god for the support.
Yesterday, my 7 year old daughter and I were in the middle of Costco. A huge warehouse of stuff, stuff and more stuff and people with carts. And now, masked people armed with carts. I hadn’t noticed my heavy breathing or my stupidly, not calm pace until my daughter nearly pleaded with at me in an concerned tone:
“Mom, why is everyone is a hurry?!”
I paused and everything whooshed by. Literally. People pushed past in all directions, stuff went flying off shelves. Things went a little blurry and I was left with a zoomed out view of this chaos. It was weird.
And assaulting on my nervous system for sure! When did grocery shopping become like a war zone?
It seems like the pace of everyday-life as a grown up is a bit like the once in a while big-game or tournament day of adolescence. At least my nervous system thinks so. I feel like this grown-up body needs a pre-game and post game routine for every day life.
I guess this is why I’ve been pulled to a daily yoga practice. For 20+ years its been an all in one stop – pre and post game for me. It shifted a little after having 3 kids. I didn’t have quite as much time, and my physical body has been shared with 3 other humans for so long between birthing and breastfeeding, and bed sharing that I’ve been leaning more heavily on a 30 minute daily meditation practice to get me by. I always thought I’d ‘get back to a daily asana practice when my life opened back up – you know, when your kids go to school. But no, thank you covid-19, life is not at all more spacious.
But my achy, extra padded, extra saggy, over 40, over tired body wants (to want) more asana.
And yet, I’m avoiding it.
It hurts more than ever. I find a tired mom in there. A painful old joint or two. A sad (almost-x) wife. A distraught citizen. A worried employer. But, if I’m honest, what I also find in there is a victim, a judger – those insidious, pervasive, eroding, subtle forces of psychological nature that will take me down.
And, I’ve surrendered. I’ve let it take me down for a while. About a year really. I fallen into long yin or restorative yoga sessions (with a weekly vigorous one thrown in for good measure). Or even more yin in nature, I love to lay on a table and receive bodywork or acupuncture instead. Someone else, moving my body (or my energy) for me. How much more passive (and delightful) can it get?!
Perhaps too much studying, learning and investigation about trauma and how it lives in the body has given me loads of permission to be still in this time.
“How many mental health problems, from drug addiction to self-injurious behavior, start as attempts to cope with the unbearable physical pain of our emotions? If Darwin was right, the solution requires finding ways to help people alter the inner sensory landscape of their bodies. Until recently, this bidirectional communication between body and mind was largely ignored by Western science, even as it had long been central to traditional healing practices in many other parts of the world, notably in India and China. Today it is transforming our understanding of trauma and recovery.”
Bidirectional communication you say? Yes, that’s what I’m working on when I’m flopped in pigeon pose on my yoga mat for an extremely long time, sitting on my couch meditating or laying on a massage table. All of these practices help me ‘alter the inner sensory landscape.’ I’m not asleep. I’m listening. Looking. Witnessing. Feeling.
Mostly this work is done alone, but I find it infinitely more potent (and scary) to do with another human being. A skilled practitioner that can hold space in a movement (or stillness) practice to help untangle some of the faulty wiring in my bidirectional communication system. And just to be seen during this exposure can be deeply healing. Bessel van der Kolk talks about what ‘we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.’ Apparently, the science shows that we, as humans, need to be SEEN (by an empathetic witness) to help move trauma through the body.
I find that piece phenomenal – that I need another human to process my own shit. That being ‘in relationship’ is hardwired into our biological needs to thrive.
And I’m not talking about being seen, or ‘liked’ on social media, or even blogging. Thats all calculated, protected, one way vulnerability. And I don’t think any of those people in Costco were ’empathetic witnesses’ to ‘see’ that my daughter and I were being traumatized behind our masks as we got herded through the aisles. And I don’t think I’m even brave enough to be that exposed with some of my closest friends. That vulnerability piece that Brene Brown has brought to the world’s attention is always easy in theory, hard in practice.
Anyway, the yoga alone on my mat is a primer for the intimacy in relationship. The sharing, the exposure that comes in a tandem therapy session, a deep connect with a girlfriend or partner and for me, many a ‘trainings’ and ‘groups’ have brilliant capacity to create space for being witnessed.
Obviously, I’ve come to the soft side. I hear you hips. I see you pain. I’m listening.
AND, there is space in my physche to still like a little hard core go-getter like author David Goggins. He sings the song of the good old fashioned notion that a dose of daily suffering makes us stronger.
“It’s a lot more than mind over matter. It takes relentless self discipline to schedule suffering into your day, every day.” David Goggins
We can embrace the suck. Yes. We. Can. But it doesn’t ONLY have to come in the form of ultra-marathon running. It can come in the form of bubbling over tears in pigeon pose or the awkward exposure of a vulnerable sharing.
My grown up choice for yearbook quote might be something more inspired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Not the ‘do one thing that scares you everyday,’ quote that isn’t her, but this expanded version.
In 1960 Eleanor Roosevelt published “You Learn by Living” with a chapter titled “Fear—the Great Enemy” in which she discussed the problems she experienced due to her excessively fearful temperament: 8
Fear has always seemed to me to be the worst stumbling block which anyone has to face. It is the great crippler. Looking back, it strikes me that my childhood and my early youth were one long battle against fear.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
The danger lies in refusing to face the fear, in not daring to come to grips with it. If you fail anywhere along the line it will take away your confidence. You must make yourself succeed every time. You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
So there it is. I must do the thing I think I cannot do. Somedays I do not think I can still, so I go sit in my little meditation spot and face the stillness. Right now, I do not think I can bear the idea of moving quickly around the yoga mat, drill sergeant style, but I will go. This weekend, I will go to 4 yoga classes and make up for lost time. I’ll start with Gentle, run thru a Slow Flow on Saturday, peak at Power Hour on Sunday morning and cap it off with Restorative in the afternoon.
But above all, I will listen to my hips. They do not lie.