Dust to Dust

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Last weekend, I started a yoga teacher training program.

A friend had told me about this program just about a month and a half ago. When she emailed me about it, I instantly KNEW. I needed to do this. I had no idea why. I had no idea where I’d get the money from. But, I needed to do this training.

It’s a unique training, to be sure. It’s not just about asana, or physical, practice. So we’re not getting together and just doing yoga all day. It’s holistic yoga – yoga in life, as a whole. Yoga as a spiritual practice. As my teacher says, capital “Y” Yoga.

Class format is 1 intensive weekend a month, and one Sunday. Last weekend was our first intensive weekend. When I saw an Andrea Gibson poem among the handouts for the class, I felt even more intensely that this was just where I was meant to be.

The weekend proved this out. My class quickly became a family. We did asana together once a day, and the rest of the time talked about life. About being your true Self. About SHOWING UP. How to show up. How Yoga helps you show up for your life. How spirituality is not about getting out of your life, but about showing up to it.

From Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.

I felt a sense of connection that I have deeply missed. I got my heart broken open in the best way. I deeply crave connection, and yet so often I feel like it’s out of my reach. I have a deep achey loneliness that lives in my center like an icy core. I get paralyzed by it. I get suffocated by it. If you’ve ever had the experience where you’ve contacted me, and I’ve not texted, emailed, or Facebooked you back, that’s what this is about. I crave your presence. But I feel overwhelmed when I think about letting it in. I literally get tired and it feels exhausting to return communication. (and you wonder why I haven’t been writing as much lately…)

For a moment last Sunday, I let tears wash my soul and clear out a space for people to come in. It felt like I could breathe again after being underwater for a long, long time.

I am realizing that my hardship in connecting with others is really my hardship in connecting with myself and with Life at large. I was asked to write about one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for class. Last night, one was almost hand-delivered to me; I stumbled on it through a blog post. Ishvara Pranidhana Dva – the surrender/offer of self to a higher Source as a path to samadhi, enlightenment. Or, basically, surrendering to the flow of life. Um. Yikes. That’s terrifying. What if life screws me over?

And this is where my history comes in.

Really, the more I walk this path, the more I feel I was meant to walk this path at this time, specifically. I read this sutra last night, which encourages offering yourself to Source. I went to bed shortly after. When I laid down to sleep, I laid on my stomach with my arms above my head, setting an intention to offer myself to Source.

I fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had in weeks and promptly had a nightmare about a shooting, perpetrated by someone who, in my dream, was in a close friend group (he was not someone I know or recognize from real life).

Funny enough I take it as a sign that it was exactly the Yoga sutra I needed to read and write about, because this is just where my Yoga lies right now. The lack of safety and trust I feel in Life, generally.

How strange then, that today I discover further information about trauma and yoga and the body. Krista Tippett’s latest podcast featured Bessel Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who is discovering how Yoga can heal trauma. The episode is here and I highly encourage that you listen.

During the program, Mr. Van der Kolk addressed how trauma victims disconnect themselves from their bodies. Trauma impairs the imagining of how your physical body feels, as well as impairing the self-observational parts of your brain that are aware of what is happening inside. Trauma activates the primitive brain (limbic system) and at times, so overactivates this system that the rational mind (prefrontal cortex) doesn’t kick in. In other words – full scale freakout, and rationality is nowhere to be found. Because of this, trauma victims can be “hijacked” by previous experiences at almost any time. When triggered, the limbic system is activated and then control is lost. Because of the constant state of “heartache and gutwrench” that trauma victims go through, they shut down their body so as not to feel it. At times this is through alcohol or drugs, at others it’s shutting down emotional awareness in the body.

*takes a deep breath* You got all that? I know it’s all science-y speak… but mostly it just says, trauma victims are disconnected from their bodies, or even try to disconnect from them because traumatic situations affect the physical body and cause pain.

From personal experience I can tell you that this is the truth. A few months ago, I wrote a spoken word piece about my sisters, in which I penned “my DNA still trembles from the paralyzing shock” and other similar phrases. Many times I do get the sense that I can literally feel it in my body.

And in yoga, sometimes it’s emotionally excruciating for me. Deeply cleansing, but wow. Coming back to your body is deeply painful after having disconnected from it. I think to begin with, I was using alcohol to disconnect from my body. After I stopped drinking, I shut off emotional awareness of my body. It’s funny, because I actually have quite high body awareness of what emotion is stored in what area. But I know it, so I can silence it. NOT so I can connect with it.

The connection actually feels so excruciating that I had a really rough meditation experience back in June, one that kept me from meditating for about 2 months. I was doing a meditation day, and we started with meditating through a full body scan. I thought to myself, “Oh, cool, this will be good.” Nope. It was at that point that I realized just HOW MUCH trauma was residing in my body. Wave upon wave of emotional pain washed over me. I had no resources with which to deal with it, and the situation it occurred in was very unsupportive for me. In many ways my body felt it had been re-traumatized.

Mr. Van der Kolk says that the feeling of being safe in the body is not there, for a trauma victim. He talks about how it is hard for a traumatized person to relax fully during savasana (corpse pose). When he spoke of this, tears jumped to my eyes. Savasana is hard for me. I cannot relax most of the time. When I do, it’s a beautiful, healing, cleansing experience and many times I cry. But it’s hard for me to fully wind down most of the time. There’s a sense of itchiness and discomfort, groundlessness, in the pit of my stomach.

Certain poses, too, trigger things in me. Twice last week, I did a pose (Supta Padangustasana, in case you were wondering) in which my outer hips were stretched. It’s probably the tightest part of my body, first off, and I can barely move into the stretch. Each time I do it, I have flashbacks that make me tear up. They’re not horrible flashbacks, but that stretch really touches into the lack of safety I feel in my body. (Yogi friends – root chakra, anyone?)

But… this is actually a good thing because I can feel like I’m in my body again. And another good thing about yoga is that it actually changes something called heart rate variability. This is where the heartbeat and the breath sync up and create a more mindful and calm experience. Yoga is a way to feel the life inside yourself, to connect again to the body. It’s not just effective on a verbal level, it deals with the whole body where things get stored physically.

Bessel Van der Kolk says at the end of his broadcast that the feeling of safety and at the same time interconnectivity to others and life is really the essence of trauma healing.

It seems that I have landed in a program that will promote both. My Yoga training is my satsang – spiritual community. And it’s through the practice of Yoga as a whole that I am reconnecting with my body. It follows then that I’ll be able to reconnect with others.

I feel it’s summed up in a beautiful song that brought tears streaming down my cheeks on Monday. It’s called Dust to Dust, which I have to say I find really profound; in the creation myth in Genesis, our bodies are made of dust and to dust we return. Again, the return to the body and the return to connection.

Wolves

I’ve been absolutely outraged by Ferguson and the events there, and this is what came out tonight. I felt compelled to share it with you. Excuse my stumbling words; please know that I don’t know how to write about this. But I’m trying. I recognize my own privilege and the role that it plays in this situation and it breaks my heart. I want to be part of a change.

When Anders Breivik
dressed up as a policeman
on July 22, 2012
and took the lives of 77 people
we were horrified
that someone could be such a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Could not believe that someone
took on the clothing
symbolizing safety
and used it to disguise
attack.
Yet when officers who
every day wear the uniform
“accidentally” take a
minority’s life
the news doesn’t talk about it.
everyone goes about their day like
sheep aren’t sometimes
wolves
and sometimes it’s hard
to tell the difference between the 2.
This is a poem
I’m not even supposed to write
because my skin has spoken enough
I have a wolf
hiding under lily white
there are no words
that I can say that
do less damage
because I come from a long line of people
who appear safe in society
until they show their teeth.

But for what it’s worth
(and it may not be much)
my two sisters were gunned down
in a church parking lot
a paragon of what is perceived by
society as safe
(nevermind what they say about
gays and gun rights and women)
and ABC, CBS, NBC begged me
to put myself on display
it was a “tragic loss of innocence
in a place you’d least expect.”
Every day
there are people just as young
as my sisters were
terrified to walk down the sidewalk
or through the grocery store
or anywhere really
and honestly I’m just sorry
that this society deems my story
as more “worthwhile”
more “horrifying”
because of the color of my skin
when the very ones who swore
to protect and defend
instead, take innocence
steal it in the places you’d least expect
so please
from me
keep telling your stories
and I will sit down
I’ve had more than enough airplay
I’m just sorry, and broken
that instead of a one-time occurrence
you face this every day
hundreds of Anders Breiviks
hunting you down and they don’t stop coming
and honestly…
I could be one of them.