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Breathe Deeply by creativedc.

“It is impossible to be in a state of panic and to breath deeply, slowly, quietly and regularly.  It cannot coexist.

The subjective experience of anxiety is often of being out of control.  If you deal with this by giving a patient a drug you are reinforcing the notion that the locus of control is outside.  If patients can discover that they have within them access to controls over emotional states it is a revelation.  And when you try to deal with this with an outside suppressive measure the effectiveness of the measure decreases with frequency of use. Whereas when you rely on an innate measure like this the power of technique increases with repetition.  This is the single most effective anti-anxiety measure I have come across (breathing exercise).

When I tell colleagues about it it is TOO simple.  How did we get to this state where we think the only effective medical treatment is drugs? ”

BY DR. ANDREW WEIL,  BREATHWORK Workshop, INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE 2010.

BREATHWORK:

I am a huge proponent of breath as a potent healing activity and so I was excited when I got my 2 disc CD recording of the first ever INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE in the mail and found an entire workshop with Dr. Andrew Weil on a biological, neurological, scientific and psychological affirmation of the power of breath for healing!  His quote above only touches on the mastery of the workshop, the hopefulness of breathwork integration in the field of psychotherapy, and plenty of rich data from the anthropological to the biological as to why breath can alleviate many of the ills we, as a society, might presently over-medicate before looking for alternate solutions.  He perfectly synthesizes above the crux of the reason why internal resources can be more potent and long lasting than chemical and external solutions for issues of anxiety.

In Dr. Weil’s workshop “Breathwork for Optimum Health” he discusses breath as the “Master Key” and I could not think of a more apt description of this tool that I have imparted to every client I see–and so, apparently, does Dr. Weil.  I feel in good company.  He stated that his simple breath exercise, similar in structure to my own, is the one thing he teaches everyone he sees.  I take clients through a breathing exercise and ask them how they feel, when they say how relaxed they feel I remind them that THEY not I got themselves to that state of relaxation.  I may have said the words but the only thing that got their body and mind relaxed was their own body and mind.  Another thing I was excited to hear resonate with Dr. Weil’s description above of the internal resources versus the external crutches that over-medicating can produce.  We have such powers for change inside ourselves which I explored in the NEUROBIOLOGY & NEUROPLASTICITY post a short while ago–we just don’t tap into that power for change for the positive nearly enough.

If I can teach one client breath and they can sleep better, calm down faster, diminish their anger in one situation they would not have had the internal resources to deal with prior then, to me, it is a valuable tool.  When I hear a COMBAT MARINE VETERAN tell me he is practicing alternate nostril breathing at home for anger and sleep or another telling me that he presses his palms together at his chest and practices nostril breathing for anxiety, both with amazing anecdotal results, then I can say that if it works for them it could work for any of us–given the chance!

If you have not tried a basic breathing practice then maybe just try listening to a quick soundbite, mp3, cd of a simple breathing technique or maybe I can outline a simple one on the site if there is interest.

INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE:

Am I a nerd because I checked my mail anxiously every day awaiting it’s arrival?  Answer is: yes!  But I was waiting all last week to receive the INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE recordings as I could not make it to the conference but I wanted to imbibe every moment of the rich material with speakers like Jon Kabat–Zinn, Dr. Weil, Amy Weintraub and many other academics, researchers, and practitioners in the field of integrative practices for mental health and wellness.  The CDs, which contain 40 hours of material, are a rich and hopeful array of work in this field and an inspiration of what is possible within the field.

The conference was made up of social workers, nurses, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists and was sold out weeks before the event.  If this doesn’t show the hunger in the health and mental health field for treatments outside of the scope of what western medicine is capable of then I don’t know what is.  It shows that this field is burgeoning and that more professionals than ever before are integrating holistic approaches into the course of traditional treatments they already provide.  The point of INTEGRATIVE is not to get rid of anything just to find the perfect complement of what is being done and what else can be added to the equation for more effective results for a whole person: mind, body, and spirit.

The recordings are phenomenal and I recommend them to any professional in the healthcare field or any person interested in a variety of treatment approaches for their own health–body and mind.  The conference sessions can be purchased as a complete set or a-la-carte per workshop for $15.00 per session.  Each one has a dense collection of material and each presentation gives a variety of resources where you can learn more about the practices discussed in the lecture–a lovely bonus.

A few of the amazing lectures included:

  • The Psychoneuroimmunology of Resilience, Optimism, and Hope
  • Mind-Body Medicine: Clinical Hypnosis for Medical and Mental Health Conditions
  • Transforming Your Mind: Meditation and Neuroplasticity
  • Spirituality and Mental Health: Paradigms and Evidence
  • Deficiencies in Omega 3-EFAs & Substance Abuse Mechanisms
  • Creating the Chemistry of Joy
  • A Vision of the Future of Integrative Mental Health
  • Lifeforce Yoga: Empower Your CLients to Manage Their Moods

Can you see why I was in love with these CDS?

For more information on the Conference & The hosting facility ARIZONA CENTER FOR INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE: http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/integrative_mental_health_conference.html

For more information on the recordings go to: http://www.conferencerecording.com/aaaListTapes.asp?CID=IMH10


~ Unspoken Prayer ~ by GettysGirl.
“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I intended to be.” Douglas Adams, writer


One week.  Two rituals.  Two spiritual practices.  But somehow familiarity in each and universality in the intention.  The more I become invested in a spiritual path that includes meditation, meditative prayer, and cultivating inner peace and connection to something divine the more threads of wonderful connectedness I find between myself and every other person, my path and every other spiritual path around me.  The greatest element of synchronicity I have been lavishing in has been in my Christian Contemplative and Mystic journey and my spiritually enlivened yogic Sivananda route.

I have made an effort to not be overtly “religious” on this blog but definitely openly spiritual.  In this instance, and for the sake of the beauty in this element of my life path (as I have found it) I want to go a little into my own personal faith space–as it were.  I was raised a Catholic, my husband a Protestant and we have been searching for a space, place, and practice where the twain should meet.  The Episcopalian tradition of faith is infused with lovely ritual and ceremony that I always found “homey” elements of Catholicism while also being richly community, mission, and textually oriented in ways that my husband has always loved.  Best of all that beyond both of our traditions of origin, the particular community of Episcopals we stumbled upon seem to embody the foundations of faith we both love–inclusion, compassion, universal love, open intrigue into the unknown, and an ability to interweave and converse with every other spiritual path there is to “God” or a cosmically larger entity than self–however one defines it.  That was abundantly clear when I discovered their series on Eastern Religions.

RITUAL 1:

Anyway, we both sort of fell in love with this beautiful evolution of our histories of faith with a core much more akin to where both our hearts are–in exploring the world and faith with open mind, open heart (as one of my favorite contemplatives Thomas Keating wrote of in his book with the same name).  And so last Sunday, on Valentines Day we became confirmed into this body of faith that we felt we could grow in and love together.  It was a far more intimate experience than I imagined it could be and intimate at every level.

I stood in the back of the church waiting for the ceremony to begin and recalled back a moment similar to that–my Catholic Confirmation–from over a decade earlier.  I remember standing in the back of that church in that “official” moment of adulthood and having nothing but questions and skepticism and some resentments.  I remember not wanting to be where I was and not sure where I wanted to be.  I was conflicted at every level of my “self” and I think I spent many of my years following in a multitude of crisis.  I wanted to believe what I believed in –everyone was equal, we all had intrinsically good souls, and there was a space in internal silence where a voice could be heard that was not mine but came from inside me at the deepest level…from the root of the root and the bud of the bud.

Last Sunday was the opposite of my initial confirmation experience I felt, instead of solidifying a membership into a religion and sect I wasn’t sure about I finally understood more clearly the heritage I came from and the progression of my spiritual journey that led me to the place where I found myself.  Where I could enjoy one path of faith and still be committed to learning, understanding, and finding likeness and beauty in all other paths to same source.  And without feeling I needed some sort of solitary allegiance to one place, space, and role to be a participant in my own faith; being able to explore all the others with a sense of the communal and eternal in all faiths.

I have read much and thought much about the young, childlike faith we all begin our lives inside of–one with strict rules, this not that, good not bad, right not wrong–a very black and white religion.  That kind of faith helps us formulate what we believe in at a beginner level and gets us, hopefully, to  a space where we are comfortable knowing our own “box” but not needing to live in it.  A space where we can live outside of our comfort zone, our known norms, and into the rich and wonderful rewarding place of exploration, questioning, and yearning to know the world at a more multidimensional level.  I think I had to get to that space in my own faith before I could enter back into a community of faith without feeling I was placing myself back into a restrictive box.  I feel a new sense of adventure about this journey of self, experience, and community.

RITUAL 2:

In the circular and cyclical nature of the world and spirituality I participated in a second ritual of sorts this past Sunday.  A Swami from San Francisco, a clever wisp of a man, cloaked in saffron with a softness and kindness in his every gesture, came to my yoga school this weekend and I participated in a Mantra Initiation and Naming Ritual.  Having missed out on Ash Wednesday, I was again blown away by the ever-increasing similarities of nuances and symbolism I find abounding the more I study faiths, philosophies, and spiritualities in various contexts.  Part of the Mantra Initiation includes the initiant having ashes placed on their forehead–to remind us all that ashes to ashes, dust to dust, as we came from the earth to the earth we return.  This is also the same reason Ashes on Ash Wednesday are used–the identical reason.  I was given the sacred mantra of my choosing–“So Ham”.

I chose “So Ham” because it means that we are not our bodies or our minds, we are connected to something larger and more divine.  Interestingly the root of the meaning in this Mantra is the same at the root of Christian Contemplative Prayer practice (as well as many other contemplative prayer practices)–we connect to the divine in self through clearing our mind of mental “garbage” and filling it only with sacred words and corollary thoughts and intentions of divinity.  Mindfulness is the beginnings of this kind of clarity–something that I have not come close to mastering in any sustainable way…yet.  I also chose it because this meditation mimics breath–in, so, out, ham.  It reminded me of the story I had heard Richard Rohr tell at his talk a few weeks ago.  He spoke about a rabbi he heard lecture who spoke about the origin of the word Yahweh in Judaism as mimicking breath.  It is interesting to me how the pace and origin of breath seems inextricably linked, in human consciousness and maybe beyond, with something larger than self, something divine in nature.

There I sat, on blond wooden floor and meditation pillow, clothed in the traditional white garb of Mantra Initiation made of gauzy linens and cottons, meditating on my sacred words, seated cross-legged and reveling in the lovely versatility of spiritual paths and experiences I had imbibed in over the last two weeks–of course in contemplating that fact I was leaving my mantra behind and becoming distracted from the very thing I had been working towards–inner silence, contemplative prayer, and peaceful mind.

As I smirked to myself at my own irony–I often do that–I found gratitude in being able to explore a world so rich with faith traditions that, while divergent in language, garb, and texts also so similar in nuance, ritual, and intention.  What an exciting exploration.  What a world of faith we can breathe in.  What wonderful new levels and pages of world knowledge I feel privileged to imbibe in as I explore yoga further, expound on christian contemplation further, and find the mystical beauty in every pocket and nook of the world.

I remember reading the prologue of Thich Naht Hanh‘s book Living Buddha, Living Christ written by the Dalai Lama where he said (I am paraphrasing) “There are places in the world where rice grows better and so people eat rice.  There are places where wheat grows better and so people eat bread.  There is nothing wrong with eating what is appropriate for where you live, what grows there, and what you were raised knowing.”  We find our faith comforts and that is often where we stay, in what we know, but in that there is no harm in learning and understanding and growing in our own faith by understanding better all those that surround it–because at the root of the root, and the bud of the bud, we all come from ashes and return to the same.

Om and blessings on all of your personal paths and journeys of faith and belief and finding what fits for you in a world rich with ideas and spiritual passions.

“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts.”

Thich Nhat Hanh


While my head stand, handstand &scorpion continue to leave a lot–and I mean a lot–to be desired for the first time in the history of my yoga practice I was beginning to feel very confident and proud of my tree pose.  How I could stand, tall and unwavering, in all tree variations with my foot perched high on my opposite leg and my boughs of strength and poise unbreakable.  And then I went and got distracted.

They say, wherever they are, that how you are on the mat is how you are in the world and every time I doubt it, even for a moment it comes back taunting and laughing in my face.  I Gould know by now, a such a strong proponent of the thread of connectedness between mind and body, life and the metaphors for life we are constantly presented with, how obvious the fact would be–lose balance and focus in life and it will carry into yoga or any practice of intention or attention.

As you prepare for tree you are always direct to find a point of focus on the wall opposite you–a distant immovable spot that you can fix your eyes on and use the stability of that spot to stabilize yourself.  The same can be said for life–we must fix our gaze on the things in our lives that are stable and unchanging, something secure and outside if there day-to-day chaos of living.

You are also told before entering tree pose to root your feet into the ground, plant each toe Into the earth and plant yourself solidly in that spot.  So, too, in life we must find ways to ground ourselves, remind ourselves where we are and secure ourselves stably into the foundational earth of our existence–so we can deal with the distractions.

When you are off-balance in tree you feel it right away, you lift off the ground and immediately begin to sway. Your fixed point on the wall seems to far &your mind is unable to focus wholeheartedly on it. Every shift in the room is unbearably distracting and every sweeping wisp of air feels like tornadic winds set on toppling you over.  So goes it too in life that when we are off-balance, not grounded in our intentions and stable base, and too full of thoughts and frenzy to fix our minds on a stable place everything feels overwhelming.  Every task , new venture , old workload, and duty seems like too much and we feel ready to collapse in frustration and dizziness.

In tree and in life sometimes we have to focus harder and work more dutifully to shut or much of the self-imposed chaos and storms in our path.  We have to take a breezy wind as it comes and not deem every wisp of air to be a storm and deal with every storm as I’d it were a wisp of air (now that is the hardest!).

I know that my excitement and happiness about all the many projects upcoming and those currently in motion have been both an amazing blessing and something in which I have gotten so engrossed that I have lost my balance in the present an in my tree pose.

I noticed it first in tree and then had to take the metaphor for what it was–a signal of self-inflicted burnout off the mat.  I need to breathe, ground, and fix my gaze at my own stable point of light band let life come as it comes and adventures unfold as they will.

On that note: with all the new change and projects coming together I am going to begin a new newsletter which I will be emailing out in the next few weeks…and hopefully every other month following that! You can email me at embodymentalhealth@gmail.com to get on the mailing list now!

Thanks bloggers and blog readers alike for all of your support & I look forward to sharing all that this new life adventure has to offer with all of you–one breath at a time!

” There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  
Mohandas K. Gandhi
A common mantra within addiction recovery it seems that it is an applicable phrase to anyone wishing to better themselves and make their life more profound and centered in every lived day.  Now is the time for New Year’s Resolutions of grand proportions and many if not most of us tend to fall off the wagon of our hopes and aspirations fairly quickly following the turn over of a new year.  We set high expectations of ourselves and what we need to accomplish and when we falter for a moment we give up and fall.  New Year’s declarations seem to imply an all or nothing follow through but what if we gave ourselves permission to falter without judgement and found the courage to continue forward despite weaknesses? 
 
 
Everything and anything is overwhelming when we look past this moment, this hour, this day in our life.  It is great to have goals but if we don’t enact a liveable now, always planning for a better tomorrow, we are easily distracted and taken off track today. What if you lived now and only now–letting go of past and future–and just breathed in the moment and released out the tensions of what was or what should be.  Yogic philosophy becomes an excellent tool in remembering to be in the moment.  
 
 
Yoga begins with breath.  Its essence is breath and everything from mindset to movement stems off of our ability to be centered in our body and breathing in sequence with motion and life.  What a great metaphor and symobilic realization of living life one day at a time.  Breath, when recognized, is the most present-centered action anyone can do.  What is more integral and visceral in the living experience than breathing?  What is a more powerful tool of self awareness and self-regulation than breath?  For me little else comes close to being viscerally and poigniantly “in the now” than breath. 
 
 
So as we all move forward into our resolutions and affirmations for 2010 maybe finding a way and a moment in each day to come back to breath, to awareness of self–body, mind, soul–in the now can help us enact whatever we have resolved to do today.  And move forward taking each moment and each experience one day at a time.  Mantras are mantras for a reason–one day at a time is something that is simple to understand and difficult to enact but possible for all.  I plan to work much harder on my own present-moment living this year.  I have a serious issue of my own living in past and future and losing the present in the process.  .Rachel over at Suburban Yogini wrote in a comment that she is planning on making this her year of mindfulness.  I, in turn, wish to focus this year on present-centered living….one day at a time. 

“In mindful eating we are not comparing or judging.  We are simply witnessing the many sensations, thoughts, and emotions, that come up around eating.  This is done in a straightforward, no-nonsense way, but is warmed with kindness and spiced with curiosity.”                                                    

Jan Chozen Bays

  

Eating.  The holidays have been built up around the joy of sharing meals with loved ones, baking cookies, and filling bellies with merriment and mint.  I have been thinking a lot about eating lately, in part because I have my own issues of food around what I can/can’t, should/shouldn’t eat due to my endometriosis and what I feel, sometimes compulsively, provoked to imbibe and scarf down to include most things NOT on my ok foods list–soda, candy canes, meats, cheese, white flour.  The other issue that has been bringing food to the forefront is issues of eating disorders in my professional practice.  Imagine living in a world in which food was enemy and eating was a dark and sinister process.  Imagine a holiday plagued by these issues. 

In one way or another we all have our issues with food.  Whether it is just a societally imposed ridiculous standard of what is “healthy” in the form of size zero’s on magazines or eating a bag of chips or box of chocolates when we have a bad day or self-imposed ideas about having to work out or work off every last holiday calorie for New Year’s everyone has their thing.  It is hard to feel good about ourselves and everyone measures themselves in some way, at some point in their life, by some invisible and unattainable standard of perfection. 

I think this time of year is the perfect time to consider taking eating and food from a perspective not just of health or general wellness but as pleasure and mindfulness all in one.  What if we could take our yoga practice off of our mats and into not just our mind, body, spirit but directly into our mouths?  The sensory experience of food could be an intensely sensual and joyful experience but most of us hurry through our meals and few linger over the immense savoryness of flavors.  Why not pause, breath, and imbibe the world’s gastronomic pleasures in a fully centered and aware way?  Usually, we just don’t think about doing so…but what better time to start then for the New Year.

I have been given a palpable and painful reminder of how much food can be an unhealthy and sinister factor in people’s lives.  How much a life of pain and aspirations of unattainable perfection can lead to finding an enemy in food and be unable to know how to eat with pleasure.  I find myself joining, as sometimes happens, my client on her journey to rediscover food with a new awareness in my own gastronomy journey.  I want to eat what I should with pleasure and not with a sense of punishment.  I want to crave the sweet and juicy explosion of blueberries popping like savory balloons on my tongue rather than aching for soda that inevitably (as it did last night) will subsequently make me ache. 

I am on a search and exploration of gastronomical joy.  I want to explore Mindful Eating to its fullest.  I want to see the Zen in mealtime and find breath in every bite.  I challenge anyone who wishes to try to do the same.  The Center for Mindful Eating is a great resource to begin and the book quoted above entitled Mindful Eating: A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food

 

“There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.”

Winston Churchill

Well said Mr. Churchill, although my feminist self would add, “…or the inside of a female.”  Either way it speaks to the profound experience found alongside a horse–stroking their mane, rubbing their flank, staring them in the eyes as you nuzzle their cheek.  There is indeed some silent profundity in a moment like that and something that is intrinsically good for the soul. 

Alongside a horse and face-to-face I have found some of the most challenging moments in creating an authentic self, finding my present-centered mindset, and really being in the now with myself and with the horse.  This is the thing, much as a wise meditative sage, a horse knows when you are lying even about being present in the moment.  People seek far and wide for a yogic guru to guide them to better them, a higher level of conciousness, a more aware state of existence but I would venture to say that I have met no greater teacher than the horses I have encountered.  Nor have I met a stricter teacher than the most wise yogic equus. 

Today I was privileged enough to teach Standing and Seated Mountain Pose (Tadasana) to the most attuned and earnest of students–trauma survivors.  It was a very simple lesson in being present in the moment, being both “calm” and “assertive” at the same time and they were excellent pupils–both in a psychotherapeutic and a yogic context.  They learned how standing could be powerful, strong, and energized.  They saw how being this way would make them more healthfully alert in life and more present both alongside and on the back of their horses. 

Experiencing this moment with them was enriching for me beyond imagination.  My dream of blending these two complementary therapies together was coming to fruition and blossoming fruit and metaphor that I could not have imagined.  My clients are constantly astounding me with their investment in their own healing, their insight into their own souls and the pain therein, and their ability to soak up the tools that can help them.  This is why every session I can I end groups and individual treatment with relaxation and breath (prana). 

I softly whisper to the seated and closed-eyed participants, “Breathe in through your nose all the cool air, breathe out through your nose all the hot air and tension.”  My first meditation teacher, a trained circus clown (no, seriously) turned Buddhist nun taught me this phrase and I found it so beautiful and visual I love to use it.  Please feel free to do this for yourself any time you get a chance, it is a lovely practice to come back to our breath, finding our center–this translates on and off the saddle, on the mat and into the world. 

TO BE CONTINUED IN YOGIC EQUUS PART 2:  Finding the Metaphors

Pain by Michelle Brea on flickr 

“What is truer than truth? Answer: The story.”

Old Jewish Saying and repeated by Isabelle Allende in her TED talk.

 

There is a lot of my life from 18 to 20 years of age that I just don’t remember.  Most of it in fact.  In retrospect and following therapeutic training I know that to be a form of trauma related repression.  I just hit overload and shut down.  I remained on autopilot for two very self-destructive years during which my rampant PTSD symptomotology took a front seat and my conscious self was somewhere locked in the trunk. 

 

I built a shell around myself so I could block out anything hurtful or scary at a moment’s notice by shutting down, but in truth the shell was a mirage of my own making–because instead of feeling nothing I felt everything–I was so sensitive I was raw.  I shut down constantly and in that I lost a lot of my current day perception of what happened when and many details are lost altogether. 

 

I would block out and black out (technically known as dissociation) and not really be sure what happened after: it was like watching a blurry movie of myself from a short distance–sound was dulled, images were faded, it was often like living a half life.  It helped me survive but not live.  I was nothing but shell with nerves exposed underneath. 

 

I was raped for the first time somewhere between 18 and 19 (again time is not so clear during that period).  The second time, by another perpetrator, was somewhere between 19 and 20.  I no longer blame myself for the second rape, but I know professionally that my downward slide following the first incident made me more vulnerable to another assault and my autopilot living added to that vulnerability.  Following the second assault I could no longer regulate any part of myself: I was up and then down, I was isolative and then explosive, I was spiraling and dizzy and petrified of the world. 

 

Escape, escape, escape.  That was all I did.  Long before I fled New Jersey I had fled myself–the Teresa from before my assaults was somewhere deep inside and the shell grew so thick and heavy that I could no longer remember what came before it.  I was hiding inside myself and from myself.  I was locking my memories so far down that I choked on them. 

 

My trauma clients often reference the visual of a “box” or a “closet” where everything painful and traumatic is crammed in and locked away and when it accidentally opens you push it back in with all the strength you have–that is definitely an apt description. 

 

When you are stuck inside your trauma all that seeps out is your traumatized symptoms and all the unhealthy and unpleasant behaviors that follow, all you can see is survival.  You want to make it to tomorrow without snapping and that is the only goal.  You cannot live.  You cannot love.  You cannot think about moving forward.  You are locked in the “box” you created living under the illusion that you have somehow contained the collateral damage. 

 

From 18 to 20 I was in the thick of it all.  When I moved to Colorado at twenty I thought I was making a big step and a change that would change my brain and free my body.  The only thing that really changed was scenery. 

 

I loved the mountains that rose as if heaven bound.  I loved the clear, crisp air and views of horses running wildly in fields, but inside my mind–when I paused too long or closed my eyes–there I was, still in my box, still petrified, still clinging to my shell. 

 

I woke one day. 

 

I woke in a loud clap of thunder and a moment full of sound and fury and everything I had been avoiding.  I was sitting in a class on Front Range Community College Campus in Fort Collins.  I had decided to go back to school and finish up that bachelors degree I had abandoned during the period of my first rape—part of me thought, since nothing else had worked, if I could just pick up where I left off I could erase the past that had taken me so far from anything resembling a future.  I was sitting in some Sex Ed type class and tapping out my boredom with my pen.  It was one of those banal required courses in the degree curriculum and my anticipation was learning something akin to high school health class.  Then it happened.   

 

The teacher began discussing sexual assault and sex crime “victims” (can I mention I still hate the word victim and all the implied vulnerability and helplessness it imbued in it).  He spoke about acquaintance rape and the incidence of sexual assaults in college aged women. 

 

After that I don’t know what he said because all I knew was that I felt dizzy and nauseous and my extremities went numb.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was only by the time I reached the bathroom, leaning over the toilet bowl with my knees on the floor and my hands shaking and pale, that I realized I had, had a panic attack. 

 

That was the moment I woke up. 

I realized this trauma thing I had tried to avoid was real.  The rape was real.  My state of frozen-in-symptoms-rampant-PTSD was real (although I could not identify it diagnostically at the time I knew it was trauma).   And most of all I realized with a great oomph of panic attack finality that I could not avoid any of this thing inside of me anymore—not even in a benign antiseptic classroom environment.  I realized I didn’t want to spend my life wondering when I would have to fall onto a bathroom floor again.  So I went home that day, looked up a Sex Trauma Therapist, and, still somewhat skeptical and grudgingly, I went to the appointment. 

 

The night after my first session with that therapist I had the worst nightmare I have ever had.  

 

It is for that reason that even before I knew much about the therapeutic process, early in my graduate school internships, I would forewarn my trauma clients about a potential “outbreak” of sorts in their PTSD following their first session.  Opening the box held tight and controlled for so long can create a sort of allergic initial response.  Your mind is a clever thing that often has a mind of its own when it comes to trauma—it has been protecting you for so long from your own memories and emotions it becomes startled by an opening up of all that was hidden.  Before I knew enough as the trauma therapist, the trauma survivor in me knew to warn my clients of this occurrence.  Since then, the trauma therapist in me learned and now understands the many onion-like layers of “why”.  

 

I woke from my nightmare shaking with the vision of a shadowy figure moving in front of me through my bedroom.

 

All I could feel was the moment following my first rape.  I was lying in the wet grass on the earthen floor of a park in New Jersey, afraid to breathe.  I was nauseous and numb and my hair was wet with dew.  My insides were shaking but my body was frozen and my fists were clenched.  I could hear the frogs and the crickets and see the dirt path that led out but I couldn’t get there.  I could smell his breath and see his smirk and hear his mocking voice saying words I’ll never forget, “You’re not going to tell people I raped you or something, right?”

 

I closed and opened my eyes and I was back in my apartment, in Colorado, 4 years after that night in the grass.  Tears were on my cheeks and sweat was covering my body.  I began to tremble and cry as if I were purging all the memories of those nights I had held from my conscious memory for so long.  My eyes adjusted to the dark and the shadow faded from view.  I steadied myself against the large oak posts of my bed. 

 

I jolted up, turned all the lights on in my apartment, and spent the rest of that night on my bathroom floor. 

 

I knew something cataclysmic had occurred.  I felt like these ghosts that had been following me had to be exorcised out of my mind and out of my internal closet before I could start fresh.  Something about the palpable nature of that nightmare made me believe that was the door to my locked closet swinging open and something new opening up inside of me–something alive.   

 

 Ego is not a dirty word by Michelle Brea on flickr

 

I have had nightmares since that night, but never one like that again.  I have never had to sleep on the bathroom floor or see shadows that weren’t there hovering over my bed.  I never went back to that park distilled in my mind or had to find myself lying in the grass without warning. 

 

I never had to go back to that park, until I wanted to, and then I did. 

 

I was in graduate school when I went back.  I had come so far and I felt so unburdened from so much of my traumatic past.  My life was no longer governed by rampant symptoms, but rather by the course of my chosen path: A life path that had taken me through an undergraduate degree in English with a Minor in Women’s Studies.  I had explored all my man-rage via feminist courses, empowered myself in my womanhood, and come out a very healthful, non-raging feminist at the end. 

 

I had written out my story, written both my stories actually, and realized after I finished that much of the details didn’t matter.  I realized that I was the story—the testament to my own survival and I didn’t have to write every painful minute of rape I could recall to prove that to myself.

 

I had found my way into graduate school for a Masters in Clinical Social Work.  I fully immersed in the coursework and quickly found my focus and passion—traumatology and trauma therapy. 

 

I had found a way to master my pain and give my experience a meaningful purpose.  I had found that my empathy and understanding of trauma as a survivor, without all my own symptoms to bleed all over myself and others, brought me to a place of usefulness in the field.  I understood trauma from the inside, from the belly of the beast. 

 

This combined with my intellectual and academic capacity to absorb all the psychology, biology, and behavioral aspects of the disorder made me both trained and intuitive, simultaneously, when it came to working with traumatized persons.  I was passionate about the work and I knew it was going to form my life’s professional pursuits.

 

I had begun to live.  I had begun to love life.  But I had not yet begun to love anyone else, at least not a man.  And every time I was in South Orange, New Jersey I always drove every way I could to avoid going past that park.  The park where so many things began and so many more things ended. 

 

And I had one of those moments of epiphany where I knew I had to go back.  I didn’t want to remain afraid of anything—not even one solitary park in a small town in New Jersey. 

 

Of all the things that had gone from my memory in a blaze of anguish, like what time of year it was when the assault happened—was it Spring or was it Fall?  Or what year was it—was I 18 or 19 when it happened?–I remembered the park. 

 

I remember how he parked his car on the slight slope on the side of the hill.  I remember walking on the dirt trail that wove through the brush into the open field.  I remember the tall grasses tickling my ankles and the sounds of night turning into early morning. 

 

So I went back. 

 

I walked down the dirt path and felt the grass on my legs.  I walked into the clearing to see not a dark early dawn, but a bright sunny afternoon.  The sun hit my face and grass tickled between my sandals.  I walked into the field to approximately the spot where he had put his blanket down for us to sit on. 

 

I sat in the grass and then I lay down.  I looked up into the sun and heard the sound of cars pulling up.  I heard a child and her mother laughing.  I smiled and I breathed in the grass scented air.  My hands touched the earthen floor and I felt the soft tickle of wildflowers under my fingertips.  I made a fist and pulled a few up from the soil.  I pulled them to my nose and breathed in and then breathed in deeper.  The air and scent of flowers filled my lungs and I smiled.  I could breathe again.  In that grass where I lost my breath years before, I could breathe again. 

 

I may not have returned to who I was before that night, we are always changed by our experiences, but I found something there in the grass that I had lost.  A piece of softness and bliss that I thought I could never retrieve. 

 

I felt a freedom in my own breath as I let go of one last strand of that petrified fear—I opened the box and let it all go.  I let the park go and I walked out the way I came—into the sunlight and into my future. 

  

(Below) Photo of me as a child, breathing in the scent of park grasses and enjoying the bliss of wildflowers.

distilled

 

Although the world is full of suffering,
it is also full of the overcoming of it.

 
Helen Keller

 

 

 

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”                                                                                                     

B.K.S. Iyengar

I adore the above quote by B.K.S. Iyengar as I feel it epitomizes, in a visceral way, the potency and power of yoga to both heal and when it cannot heal, to bring the capacity to self-soothe the incureable wound. 

I love it so much I wish it could be a plaque above my office door or, better yet, above the front door of my house to serve as a constant reminder of both yoga’s sincerity and my own reminder that all wounds cannot be healed but may be ameliorated with time and work and learning how to live with pain. 

In some ways that is the existential crux of trauma: that often it is not a healable thing in the way that we would wish it to be.  It is not a wound you clean and bandage and it heals without a scar.  It is more the kind of injury that leaves you with an ache when it rains or you move the wrong way or become overly stressed.  That said, it can be diminished with the right effort and the right tools: I sincerely believe that yoga is one of those tools.  It contains all the ingredients I find crucial to placating an old wound.

Yoga uses breath as almost a language.  You take it in with one motion and expel it out with the next, like a meditative and hypnotic dance of sound and purification.  Biologically breathwork has a detoxifying effect, deep breaths cleanse physically and they also become emotionally calming. 

Yoga applies a philosophy of attunement with the body and the mind.  The mind almost necessarily gives up it’s voice to the body, in a yoga class all that can be heard is the swaying of bodies, rhythm of breath, and the teacher’s guiding and encouraging prose.

Yoga requires that we work with ourselves to achieve our postures and breath in synchronicity.  The mind’s focus is on the body and there is an affection for oneself that is cultivated in this intimate self exploration and communication. 

Yoga feels like poetry to me and sometimes I wax a bit too long on the poetry of this wordless art and philosophy of releasing oneself into oneself.   So for now I will end with one more quote…and perhaps return later to wax a little more.

“Yoga is invigoration in relaxation.  Freedom in routine.  Confidence through self control.  Energy within and energy without. ”

 Ymber Delecto


May 2020
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