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Yoga

Use your voice

And use your voice, every single time, you open up your mouth.

(My Chemical Romance)

One of the most empowering moments of each week is at the beginning of my yoga class. We stand at the top of our mats, with strong legs, rooted down. As we reach up and bring our palms to heart center, our teacher invites us to gaze down or close our eyes. She tells us we are going to open class with the sound of a single ohm, and then she says:

“And as I always remind you: of all the things to fear in this world, do NOT let the sound of your own voice be one of those things.”

That reminder, that statement, sends chills up my spine. It makes me grow a little taller, breathe a little deeper.

I used to fear the sound of my voice. I used to keep opinions and thoughts and worries and fears and dreams and desires and stories to myself. It’s scary and it’s vulnerable to speak, to make noise. It invites in the possibility that we may be quieted, diminished, dismissed, ignored, berated. Amidst those possibilities, it seems safer to wilt and hide from the sun.

The thing is, nobody is every really ready to use their voice. Nobody walks into yoga thinking, “Today I’m ready to chant ohm with my class.” Nobody wakes up thinking, “Today I’m ready to tell the world my story.” If we wait until we’re ready, we will be waiting our entire lives. This is the truth.

So instead, we have to just do it anyway. Sometimes in small whispers and sometimes in loud bellows. Last winter I posted a baby step post, and then I told my stories, and then one day I just said, “It’s time.” And then I wrote it and sent int into the world.

Turns out, using your voice, speaking your truth, doesn’t break you. Quite the opposite, in fact. It sets you free. It connects you with others. It invites in conversation. It helps dispel others’ shame. It sets off a ripple of bravery. It’s all good, wonderful things.

The other day I said to Laura, “Remember when we thought that we would go to the grave with it as a secret? I never, not in a million years, thought I’d be here. But look at me – standing in the sun.”

Using our voice gives us power. It raises us up. Makes us grow. Dispels fear. Washes away shame.

So, maybe you don’t feel ready. It’s okay. Go ahead anyway. Chant that ohm. Tell your story. It will not break you. Stand tall, root down, turn toward that warm sun.

Colored lights

Tonight in yoga, I attempted to focus on my breath, something that has been quite difficult for me lately. I tried to set an intention, as we were being guided to do, but I immediately got overwhelmed and tried to do it all: I wanted to breathe in courage and happiness and lightness and freedom and safety and so many more.

As I began to imagine my breath as these feelings, trying each one out and seeing how it felt in my body, colors took hold. And I initially found this surprising, as colors have continued to fail me over the last few months – but they appeared, slowly, gently, timidly.

I began to breathe in a sparkly, light blue light, that swirled around me for a round of breath. I sent it out on the exhale and a glistening pale green light took its place. Next came a deep, glittering red light. In and out the colors swept, washing over every cell in my body, exhaling the fear and doubt and confusion. I didn’t know what each color meant or represented, but it didn’t matter. My body thirstily drank in the magical, colorful lights for most of my practice. The colors matched my breath, healing me from the inside out, up the chakras, through the cells, breathing space and lightness deep inside, into the dusty and blocked off corners of my being.

When thoughts started to take hold of my brain, a gentle yellow light softly melted the thoughts away. When a muscle began to tense, a breath of orange softened it. When I forgot how to breathe deeply, a radiant indigo light opened me up. Wave after wave after wave. Focusing on them. Allowing them in.

Until my head was quiet.

Until my body was relaxed.

Until I had all of those intentions – courage, happiness, lightness, freedom, and safety, swirling inside of me – for a split second. And I grabbed it. Held it. Cherished it.

And breathed it out.

Knowing. Trusting. Believing.

It would be back.

The colors would be back.

Breathe.

 

[written Thursday night]

It has been taking me the better part of a ninety-minute yoga class to focus and steady my breath. I’ve been reaping some of the benefits after class, finding some deep, cleansing, renewing breaths on my walk home, and as I get ready for bed later that evening.

Tonight was the first night that my body truly relaxed. As an aside, or maybe as an important detail, yesterday was the first day that I felt like myself in the better part of two weeks. Two weeks of hypersensitivity, feeling raw, anxious, and down, had left me disconnected from my body, it sore and aching, and my mind racing.

I spent yesterday and today moving back into myself. And tonight during yoga class, my body allowed the breath. Rather than fighting it, rather than screaming, “Please, stop forcing this breath into me! I can’t hold one more damn thing, there’s just no room for it!” my body decided it had room. It tested out a breath here and there. Allowing it in. Allowing it to wash over me and swirl around.

And before I knew it, I was moving to my breath, with my breath. My body was breathing. Body parts were synchronized. They stopped arguing and fighting. They relaxed. They were still.

It felt so damn good to breathe, to truly breathe. Freedom. Release. Energy. Hope.

A story

Her body parts were fighting.

They had forgotten how to work together, and they were all complaining. All trying to get the most pity. All trying to make it clear that they were the root of all of the problems.

They couldn’t even remember how they started fighting. It just happened sometimes. The harmonious friendship they had would start to unravel, bit by bit, until rather than working as a team, they were all enemies. Pulling, fighting, arguing.

Blood wasn’t flowing at the same rate that Heart wanted to pump. Head pounded at an entirely separate pace. Right Eye hurt. Neck formed a rock of tension. Lungs wanted to breathe at its own pace, and not communicate with Heart or Mouth.

And so, Brain was exhausted, and Core was exhausted. Listen to each other, they pleaded. Work together, they encouraged. You are a system, they reminded.

But the parts would not listen. And now they had all become so stubborn, that even if they wanted to unite once again, they didn’t even remember how.

Brain and Core had one last idea. Let’s go to yoga, they wearily suggested. Well, the parts started to argue. But Brain and Core mustered all of their energy and put their foot down. We are going. Get into the car, they said, the way you’d talk to a small child throwing a tantrum.

And so, they went to yoga. And despite their determination to work on their own and not be team players, Heart and Lungs began to talk. And as she moved from pose to pose, flowing her body through sequences, Legs had to talk to Arms, who had to talk to Hands and Wrist. Because if they didn’t, she might fall, or get hurt. And while they didn’t have much respect for each other at the moment, they did respect and love her. And Heart and Lungs began to coordinate their breath with Legs and Arms. And Neck relaxed as Lungs exhaled. And they all noticed that she looked calmer than she had in days, and that made them feel good.

By the end of class, everyone had put aside their stubborness, animosity, and negativity. They had decided to move on and forgive each other. After all, they couldn’t even remember what they were fighting about. They couldn’t even remember why they decided to go their own ways. They felt so much better working as a team, flowing as one unit. And more importantly, she was happy. Brain and Core relaxed for the first time in days.

And they all walked out of the studio, together, as one.

Moving in sync

“Yoga becomes a dance, a fluid movement through the ups & down of our life, a way to approach our life with creativity, a way of healing & health & a way to make space & nourish the Light within.” (Swami Radhananda)

I am going to attempt to put into words something that I feel, and therefore something that has no words. Which means this is likely going to make no sense. We’ll see.

Do you ever feel like your system, your unit of a body and mind, your person, is out of whack? That things aren’t in sync, things aren’t moving together? That’s something that I feel sometimes, but to describe it…well, I’m not sure. Imagine a time when you were stressed, or sick, or anxious, or sleepy, or just “off”. Can you imagine your heart beating at one beat but your thoughts spinning to another beat and you just don’t feel like you’re one? Like you’re a bunch of different parts inhabiting the same space but not flowing together? (Does that make any sense? And if someone can explain it better….comment away!)

So that happens to me sometimes. And sometimes it’s because I’m anxious or upset or stressed but also sometimes I think it just happens. Not because anything is “off” or “wrong” but because sometimes things just don’t flow together. Like if you and a bunch of people are trying to bounce basketballs at the same time. You might start off together but ultimately you’ll be bouncing at different speeds after a while. Just because things move out of sync. Or an orchestra playing while someone sings and sometimes the singer isn’t exactly on beat with the music.

When that happens, I feel disjointed. I feel my heart beating at one pace, my thoughts flowing at another rate, my blood pumping at a third rate, and it’s near impossible to focus on one, to know which to listen to. (As a side note, I think this is one of the [many] reasons I bounce my leg up and down. Sometimes I bounce it when I’m stressed or anxious but sometimes it just feels good. And it’s almost like if I focus on the vibrations of my leg jiggling, it helps the rest of my body get in sync and vibrate/move at the same beat. And that makes me think about stimming and of course our kids stim, because not only is it organizing and calming but it just feels good and it helps everything become one whole instead of a zillion different parts).

And yoga helps. I love yoga for 98123987 different reasons but one of my most favorites is at the very end, during savasana when I close my eyes on my mat and just feel ONE beat. One flow. One rate. One pace. My muscles, my breath, my thoughts, my blood, they are all moving in sync. It’s one of the most calming and grounding feelings there is.

And that’s what I wanted to try to say.

The One With The Poochy Stomach at Yoga

Last Monday evening, I wanted to go to a yoga class that my favorite instructor was teaching.
My stomach was “poochy” (i.e., distended, sticking out, bloated).
I noticed that observation, then got dressed and went to class.

An anticlimactic, even boring story, right? But I couldn’t help but feel how powerful that moment was. There were years where that would never have been an option in my mind. My digestive system was completely messed up, my perception of myself and my body was messed up, and the quality of my days revolved around how I perceived myself to look, and how my stomach looked. Years ago, a poochy stomach would have been enough cause for me to put on a baggy shirt and sweatpants and hibernate on the couch all night. Last week? I put on my tank top and yoga pants, went to class, and sweat buckets, feeling strong and grounded and powerful the entire time.

Despite spending the past few years giving my digestive system all the TLC and healing it needs after years of misuse, disuse, and abuse, and making wonderful strides, I continue to have food intolerances, continue to have days where it all gets out of whack, continue to have times where my small intestine responds to food by ballooning out so far that I have to pick a bigger pair of pants to wear. And, I’m human, so I think I get to admit that I don’t particularly enjoy those times, that I still feel frustrated when that happens, that I don’t love my body every second of every day. (I don’t think anyone does, and I think that’s okay. And as a side note, here‘s an article that my wonderful friend Erika wrote, on that very subject, that I find truly validating.) BUT, the key difference between Then and Now is that it doesn’t ruin my day. I can concurrently feel uncomfortable, feel some dislike, feel discouraged, AND still go to work, enjoy my day, go out with friends…and feel a whole other range of positive emotions that are real and true and not tainted by dislike or discomfort. 

So I went to yoga, because Now my internal monologue was observatory rather than critical (Hmm. I want to go to yoga tonight. Oh, my stomach is poochy today. Ok, I’d better get dressed and head out). And it was one of those countless moments that I’ve had over the years of Now, where I have to stop and get a burst of joy because Holy crap, I am a different person. I am not the same person I was years ago, Then. I am free and I thought one day I’d get to this point but I am here, I’ve been here, and I will stay here. Any bumps in the road are not a return to Then, they are simply a normal part of Now.

And yoga was fantastic. And Katie, my teacher who I am honored to also call a friend, was reminded us to, “Do whatever you can do. Be wherever you are. Nobody needs a yoga hero.” And I was so in my body and so grounded and I want to go back in time and tell my teen and young adult self, as I have countless times during the years of Now, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” 

I found my calm.

This morning I was anxious. Probably for a few reasons I could figure out, for a few others that I’m ignoring or avoiding, and a few that have not yet been excavated.

Anyway, I debated going to yoga or staying home on the couch under blankets. I love the Saturday morning class. But I had gone to yoga Thursday night, seeking grounding and calm, and got frustrated with myself. I couldn’t get out of my head, I couldn’t ground myself, I couldn’t quiet my thoughts. I left yoga judging myself MORE (productive, right?), texting a friend, “Yoga is supposed to be the ONE place where I can ground myself.”

Now, obviously judging how you’re feeling is like, the least productive thing in the entire world, but when you’re in the moment, it’s easier said than done. But, nevertheless, I got dressed and went to yoga. The anxiety in my stomach was swirling but I walked into the studio, put my mat in my favorite spot, stretched a bit, and lay down on my back, putting my hand on my belly, trying to feel myself breathe.

All of a sudden, a sweet voice popped into my head, saying, “Find your calm.” It was Brooke, an adorable, amazing girl, that despite never having met in person, I feel a deep connection with from the way her mom invites us into her head and her life, and because she reminds me so so much of all of my wonderful kids I work with. 

“Find your calm” became my mantra as I breathed in and out, and by the time class began, I had found it. My thoughts slowed down, my heart slowed down, I breathed deeply and felt myself relax.

Brooke: I hope one day I can tell you this, and I hope you understand, but please know that YOU helped ME find my calm.

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