The Urban Yoga Den

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Focus: Abundance – Growth December 10, 2010

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Polarity Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Polarity Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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Focus: Yoga In Action – Guest Blog October 14, 2010

CandaceHollyOTMedit(June2010)After the recent DC Global Mala, the local arm of Anahata International – Anahata Grace – asked me to write about my experience at the Off The Mat Into The World leadership intensive at the Omega Institute last June. Check out the guest blog below.

Learn more about Anahata at anahatainternational.org.  Thanks to Caitlin and Alexis for the invitation to share how yoga transforms me, so I might be of service in this world.

*  *  *

YOGA IN ACTION: OFF THE MAT INTO THE WORLD

“Trauma is a fact of life.  So is resilience.”  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-Creator

In 1993, I was emotionally, physically and spiritually bottoming out – again.  In my 28 years of life, I’d experienced enough unaddressed trauma to leave me without possibility for healing or growth.  I’d “lost my way,” my life was a mess and I felt empty inside.

A friend suggested yoga, and I’ve been “on the mat” ever since.

At first, my practice was selfish.  Yoga’s initial “ahhh” brought immense relief and I started to feel better.  Then came the intense transformation from being guided by teachers who embraced and passed on yoga’s comprehensive design for living.  Self-examination and change are not always gentle processes.  Surrendering, I fell back into the arms of supportive yogis and others devoted to healing.  Years down the line, teachers started to suggest carrying the benefits of yoga into the world.  Having gained so much from this precious practice, I knew I wanted to give back however possible.  The seeds of Seva (selfless service) were planted.

Today, I try to take yoga off the mat and into my everyday world, every day of my life.

Coming from a background of trauma, I must practice yoga and other community-based activities that encourage self-inquiry and spiritual living.  This is my responsibility to the world around me.  Because without these regular activities, I would be heading right back to that 1993 bottom.  I would be stuck in old stories, limits and pain.  So, I practice.  And I aim to offer my healthiest self to those around me.  At times, the facts of my past can be tough to admit.  Who wants to expose her/his dark side?  Through admitting these realities, however, have I found infinite tools for addressing them.  Sharing truthfully, identifying my patterns, gaining counsel, and passing on these solutions all bring a profound shift from darkness to light.

This is the kind of honesty, self-inquiry, community and action that Off The Mat Into The World (OTM) encourages, facilitates and supports.  In addition to their global fund-raising and youth empowerment initiatives, OTM co-creators Seane Corn, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling lead a 5-day workshop “Intensive” – a yoga-based transformational process that yields a sustainable, reinforced and proactive life purpose.

During OTM’s Intensive last June, I met 40 amazing yogis, teachers and “activists” (i.e. cause-inspired, nonprofit and social workers) devoted to looking at themselves in order to serve others.

To begin our week together, we practiced deep self-inquiry through Chakra Vinyasa sequences, Yoga Nidra, Somatic Therapy exercises, group sharing and more.  We learned how to hold space for, listen to and support each other.  We discovered that after unearthing what breaks our heart, exploring trauma triggers, exposing false beliefs and identifying chronic pain, we could strengthen and align our healthy selves with a true Seva purpose vs. being triggered by others’ traumas.

Mid-week, we moved from self- to other-focus with discussion and practice of collaboration, consensus process, non-violent communication and power models (i.e. inclusion, shared power and empowerment vs. having power over or being under power).  In our assumptions exercise we honestly exposed limited perceptions of each other; and in our “Circle of Truth,” we humbly learned how to expand our understanding of all.

To wrap up the workshop, OTM staff Kerri Kelly and Claire Williams introduced the Yoga In Action initiatives, focusing on activating our newly fortified purpose and mission statements within our local yoga communities.  I felt lucky to live in the amazingly proactive city of DC, where “yoga activism” is energized and thriving.

For me personally, three moments from the Intensive stand out:

  • An emotional breakthrough during Seane’s Chakra Asana practice liberated me from years of paralyzing resentment, and enabled me to forgive and move on in a major area of my life.
  • In Suzanne’s “What Breaks Your Heart” sharing circle, I discovered my inner resources (Pranayama and eye contact) for speaking my truth (“What breaks my heart is the pain of the child who knows no other way than pain.”) from a place of clarity and conviction instead of imbalanced emotion.
  • And the moment Hala said, “Imagine going through challenges without suffering,” I exhaled profoundly, knowing that I never had to “bottom out” again – nor did I have to “burn out” from my Seva efforts.

Most importantly, I created a list of 13 goals toward widening my yoga-in-action circle in DC and beyond.  The list included a range of intentions, such as “Be a yogi,” “Keep up with self-care and connection,” “Continue consistently developing your blog,” and “Plug in with those already doing this work in DC, i.e. Anahata Grace.”  As of today, I have completed or am active in 10 out of 13 of those intentions.

I have not done this alone.  OTM continues to invest in my development as a yoga teacher, community organizer and Seva devotee through periodic conference calls with my Intensive teammates and other OTM community leaders.  They have empowered me as a OTM ambassador, and I have started to incubate their Yoga In Action initiatives here in DC.

I look forward to seeing everyone at this weekend’s Global Mala in DC, and talking more about how DC yogis, teachers and activists can tap into Off The Mat Into The World’s resources for sustainable Seva work in our city.  Look for me at the Past Tense Studio booth!

Yoga teacher, musician and writer Holly Meyers blogs about living yoga in everyday life, promotes yoga events and shares yoga tips-n-tools at UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com.  As an Off The Mat Into The World ambassador, she is currently leading the Yoga In Action DC Facebook campaign.

 

Prayer & Niyama June 2, 2010

One of the reasons I love prayer is because it is an antidote to guilt and blame. If I am unhappy with the way I have acted or have been treated, instead of stewing in self-recrimination, or harboring ill will toward someone else, prayer gives me a way out. I bring my painful feelings out into the open and say, ‘I have done wrong,’ or ‘I have been wronged.’ And then I ask for a vaster view—one that contains within it all the forgiveness I need in order to move forward.

– Elizabeth Lesser from “The Spiritual Adventurer’s Guide to Prayer”

I had a rough day at work.  Day two of a brand new part-time job.  You’d think I’d be breezing through.  But I am very sensitive, and I have anxiety in new group situations.  Today, there were conflicts within the team that left me emotionally rattled.  I won’t get into the details.  I think the paragraph above says enough.

Yoga’s Eight Limbs offer tools for every kind of rattling one could imagine.  Their goal is to dissolve unrest and replace it with serenity.

Today’s unrest churned a pit of both guilt and blame in my stomach.  In the moment, the Eight Limbs were a distant solution.  In the moment, the only tool I remembered was GET OUT.  This is old behavior, left over from growing up in an emotionally hostile and physically violent household.  When things got rough, I got out.  These days those memories and reactions can be triggered by family like situations that feel hostile.  But at work today I didn’t leave – not for good.  I detached from the situation, confided in someone, saw a new POV for the situation, then took a lunch break.

When I got home this evening, I was pooped.  Guilt and blame still rumbled in my tummy.  I fell asleep sitting upright in a chair.  When I awoke from this little nap, I checked e-mail and found the latest eNews blast from the Omega Institute, which includes the above-quoted article by Elizabeth Lesser.  (http://www.eomega.org/omega/enews/article/?content=CON&source=ENEWS.OM.LAND)

So I guess I did use a yoga tool in this situation – the Niyama (Limb #2) suggest the study of spiritual texts toward a goal of self-purification.  In this case, Elizabeth Lesser’s inter-faith offerings about prayer brought serenity for my emotion-crowded mind (and ease for my rumbling tummy).  As she suggests in her article, I know that my solution is to pray.

Today I did wrong; as well, I felt wronged.  I pray for a vaster view.  I pray for complete and absolute forgiveness for myself and others.  And I pray to move forward in the spirit of yoga – with a loving and tranquil heart and mind.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.