After I lost a baby half way through a pregnancy due to Trisomy 18, grief and devastation overwhelmed me.
Though I have had a yoga practice since the age of 9, in the aftermath of that loss, I could barely do a yoga pose. It hurt too much. It literally, physically hurt. It was the one time in my whole life to date that yoga did not feel good.
Was I having a physical problem?
It certainly felt like it. My legs were heavy and tired, my joints achy. Moving through poses caused muscle spasms, pain in my back. Only I had no physical injury or ailment.
It’s my experience that no one, even those who present with an injury or ailment, has only a physical problem. The mindset that we do belongs to modern medicine, to a system of thinking about our bodies as separate and unrelated to our emotions and thought. In truth, we are one organism. There is simply not a body without a brain and nerves or brain and nerves without a body.
Of course I knew that my body carried my grief. The pain was not “mysterious.” Decades of practice helped me to understand that the whole of me lost that baby: my body, my heart, my mind and my spirit lost that baby. It was not an event happening exclusively to my consciousness or solely to my womb. As my heart healed, it become more and more possible to practice poses again.
Interestingly, for a long time, I could barely backbend—in comparison to how I’d been able to before. My upper back cringed, argued and kicked me forwards whenever I made an attempt. After backbends I felt sore, uncomfortable. My heart had closed, my chest gone into full protection mode. Little by little, I practiced heart opening postures, while listening to myself, until I could hear that closed part of me very clearly and understand it very well. Today, nearly three years from that loss, backbends feel fine to practice.
We have a psychology that works on the mind. Then we have medicine for the body. Meditation and community for connection. But yoga is so powerful because it works on all the levels on which we exist at the same time.
Now a seemingly unrelated story: a woman I knew lived next door to a mean, grumpy old lady. This cantankerous and difficult neighbor went to church every Sunday without fail. Meanwhile, the two women fought for years over the property line, the mailboxes, the garden and anything else they could argue about. While the woman I knew tried her best to be neighborly, relations never improved. One day, years into this situation, she was outside when the grumpy neighbor returned from church. The mean old lady neighbor made some kind of comment about the woman’s garden. All of as sudden the woman lost it. She turned to the neighbor and said: “Church isn’t working for you!”
For many people, the same is true of yoga. Yoga isn’t working for us. It’s become a yoga of the body, of image, of fitness only. The results of this: a near epidemic of eating disorders inside of the yoga community, sexual violations from nearly every yoga tradition, a defection of ethics for the sake of making money from students, a willingness to perpetuate the body as an object—often in order to increase likes, follows, subscribers and earn more money, and a drive to change the bodies of those who struggle to love the bodies they have (rather than go deeper and teach how to love the body we have).
Yoga does not work if it only addresses the body. Besides that, it’s not yoga. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice yoga for strength, flexibility and relaxation. Instead it means that if yoga only serves your body, it’s not going to facilitate the healing and transformation so many of us long for—and that is available to us. Right now.
Some questions to ask yourself: When I practice do I feel more myself? Do I have more access to kindness? Do I have more perspective about myself? If I feel stronger and more flexible on the outside, how do I feel on the inside?
That’s what we can’t see when we see a picture of someone doing a yoga pose. We can’t see their insides. Phones and cameras and software can change nearly everything about the way a person looks. You can airbrush until you look twelve without a pore. But nothing airbrushes the heart and mind. Nothing.
More importantly, mind and heart do no need airbrushing. The lotus flower up from the muck is the quick metaphor but also the profoundest truth. I am not the person I was before my loss. If I’d stopped in the middle, with my heart closed, I would also not be the same person, but I would be less of myself. Because I continued on, listening to my body which is such an incredible and impeccable source of information, I can write today that I am a greater version of myself because of that heartbreak.
And that is not the first time I’ll go through such an experience, nor the last. My invitation to you is to experience the healing of yoga. Your body is talking, guiding, and leading you. The body naturally longs for a harmonious set-point. If your body hurts in any way, through sickness, exhaustion, or pain, then the whole person is experiencing this and you have what might be called a marvelous opportunity–though it may well feel like anything but. Healing doesn’t necessarily feel good while it’s happening, but it is real, true and effective. When taken in service to our whole self, yoga never leaves us where it finds us and it always gives us what we need.
One of the most satisfying parts of my yoga teaching has always been to work with students using yoga as a way to heal. If you feel ready and called to this kind of healing, reach out to me. This kind of healing happens through yoga mentorship. It’s particularly powerful for yoga teachers. Whatever we carry within us as teachers we can then bring to our students and it spreads. I currently have two spots open. In addition to a phone call to inquire, you can find out more about yoga mentorship here.