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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In the OM Zone November 11, 2010

You can hear the OM sound everywhere. It vibrates every cell in your body. It brings such a nice feeling of peace.  – Swami Satchidananda

There are times, at the end of a yoga class, when the closing OM is so sweet I have cried.  And there are times when it is so cacophonous that I have giggled with delight. I love both!

Personally, I’m a soft “OM”er.  My hope is to not hear my chant above any other, and to experience blended voices.  Still, I appreciate when students bring their loud, bright and even gravelly voices into the mix.  OM-style is an individual choice, probably influenced by a favorite teacher.  I used to get a bit rattled when the chant sounded noisy; but now I experience Santosha and feel content with all forms of OM-ness.

Chanting “OM” is a pure and soulful experience for me.  I do it everywhere and frequently – throughout my morning Sadhana; three times to open and once to close classes; as much as necessary to become present; three times before I start the car.

Over nearly two decades of yoga practice, I have heard many descriptions of OM’s origins and meanings.  Despite these varying definitions, I believe one consistent truth.  When we join our voices in OM, I feel that we are uniting.

To me, OM is a simple syllable that brings a vibration into the room, among us and within each.

I recently had the chance to experience the sheer power of this simple syllable during Ricky Tran’s DC Yoga Immersion (http://www.rickytranyoga.com/).  In approaching the Eight Limbs of Yoga, Ricky fuses authentic reverence with contemporary playfulness.

One of his favorite phrases was, “You’re in the OM Zone now!”

The morning began with Bhakti practice, including devotional chanting with Rudra Das Kirtan recordings (http://www.rudradas.com/home/).  The energy in the room started to rise. Next we moved into hips-centric Asana toward the goal of Lotus Pose.  Some poses challenged me immensely, others felt totally easeful.

(Side note: I believe that a great teacher supports students silently with prayerful and energizing vibrations.  Otherwise, there’s no way I could have effortlessly expressed poses beyond my present Asana level in Seane Corn and Max Strom workshops!  I focus more on the philosophical, lifestyle and service aspects of yoga than on higher-level poses.  So I felt totally at ease with Ricky’s accepting and encouraging Asana instruction.)

Happily, by the end of this brilliantly effective hip opening sequence, I was able to sit comfortably in Half Lotus – on both sides – for the first time!  Jai!  And it’s a good thing, because seated Pranayama was next on the docket.  I love me some Pranayama!  So any chance to sit and breathe for longer periods is welcome.

After Pranayama came what I call Ricky’s “Dharana Challenge” and what he calls “The Perfect 10.”

Glowing from Bhakti and Hatha, we were ready to meditate.  Ricky suggested focusing the mind by repeating OM 10 times in a row without distraction. If we wandered from OM, we were to start over at one.  If we reached 10 uninterrupted OMs, we should continue to 20, and on.  Ricky gave us the choice to chant silently or aloud.  One by one, students voices began to fill the cavernous studio with swirling, howling, beautiful chants of OM.  We chanted with conviction, a blend of bright and gravelly, loud and soft.  All sweet and pure and soulful.

And then it happened.

Perfect unity.  That simple syllable brought us together as one.  I couldn’t tell where my voice started and someone else’s ended. It seemed like the entire room of OMs originated from my mouth.  Then it switched.  Everyone else’s voices swirled through my lips, into my mind, penetrating my being.  There was no separation.

We were, indeed, in the OM Zone.

Gratitude to Ricky Tran and all the Eight-Limb-ers who stuck around after Asana practice to create this unforgettable experience.  It was the wildest OM moment of my life.  I feel thrilled to have more brothers and sisters with whom to explore the infinite promises of the Yoga Sutras.

OM Shanti.

P.S. Thanks for the photos, y’all!