Noticing my breath

Today, I did yoga. Bea has been trying to get me to try yoga for months now. It’s been something that has seemed a little scary to me, because the whole idea is to get me to be more connected to my body; to get me to be more grounded and less dissociated.

It took a while, but a few weeks after she made the suggestion– and continued to make it– I got a list of the times yoga was offered at my gym. Then, a few weeks after that, I bought some clothing to wear to yoga class (because when you are a swimmer, you don’t tend to own a lot of exercise clothing). Well, about 3 weeks ago, I showed up to a yoga class at the gym. It was crowded; I’m talking people close enough they could touch if they wanted to. Nope. Just no. That was not going to happen. Luckily I hasn’t walked in yet, I had only looked through the window, and so I could leave without much embarrassment.

I didn’t even tell Bea I went. I mean, I essentially failed. I was so mad at myself. Of course, I knew I could have gone in and done the class, but I would have been completely dissociated the entire time. Which would have defeated the purpose.

In reading one of the newer books on trauma, The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, I read about the trauma informed yoga he offers at his trauma center and the study he had done on yoga and PTSD. In the study, 64 women with treatment-resistant PTSD were placed in a yoga class or in a health education class meeting once a week for 10 weeks. After the period of the study, 52% of the women taking the trauma-informed yoga classes no longer met the requirements of having PTSD compared with 21% of the control group. Improvements were noted in both groups halfway through the study however only those women in the yoga group maintained these improvements.

After reading about this, I did a google search for trauma yoga with my state and town. Unbelievably, a yoga teacher–Kris– popped up, who advertised trauma informed private yoga sessions, with classes starting once there were enough participants. I contacted her via email, and we sent a few emails back and forth. I left it at that, though, deciding that private sessions were too expensive to ask Hubby about, but that if she ever got a class together, that would be a perfect opportunity for me.

Well, on Wednesday, after speaking to Hubby about the possibility of maybe doing a few private sessions and then transitioning into one of her regular classes, I called the studio and left a message. Kris called me back fairly quickly, and we chatted about my idea of trying a private session, my therapist wanting me to do yoga, my availability, and all that good stuff. We set up a time to meet earlier today, after my session with Bea.

And so, I found myself explaining to Bea how I did try to go to the gym’s yoga class and it was way to crowded, I could not even walk in, and how Kris does trauma informed yoga, which focuses more on being in touch with your body, more present, more aware of your breathing….all those things that Bea wanted yoga to teach me to do. I almost thought she might jump out of her chair, she was so excited. She wanted me to email her after, and let her know what I thought.

I was nervous. Very nervous walking into the yoga studio. It’s actually part of a wellness center, so I was greeted by a receptionist, and I had a seat in the waiting area. Kris came to get me, right on time. She was friendly, just like she had been on the phone. I followed her back, still nervous, although not quite sure why. It was nothing I could really put my finger on.

We sat in a little seating area, and talked. Kris wanted to know a little bit about me, she asked about my daughter because I had mentioned on the phone that my availability was dependent upon when I had someone at the house to watch Kat.

“So you have a 4 year old daughter…and you said she is autistic, is that right?”

“Yeah, Kat is autistic. So she was diagnosed about a year and a half ago now, and it’s been a bit of a whirlwind from the beginning with her.” I tell her about the sleepless nights, the “colic” that never left, the sensory challenges, the language difficulties. I explain the crazy long weird route we took to diagnosis, and how it’s not D-day for us, but a day we think of as the day we knew we could finally help our daughter, the day we knew we would be able to reach her. I explain autism therapies, and insurance, the laws passed in different states. I explain the year long campaign we undertook to get Hubby’s company to adopt coverage, and how they did, and how because he works for the county (and it’s a huge county) it’s actually impacted a lot of families, so it’s pretty cool— and that’s something our daughter did.

“So, in May, we finally were able to get the ABA team we wanted, and we got everything kind of up and running, so by June things were going really smoothly. And that’s when I had time again, and I sorta lost it, I guess.”

Kris looks at me, “well yeah, you had all this going on, no time to think, and now you can finally decompress. So….I’m wanting to ask about you, your trauma, was it brought up to the surface by all of this?”

I laugh, “Oh no, I don’t really think so. It was more like, for the last 10, 11 years, I’ve been go, go, go, and then all of a sudden, I wasn’t anymore. And I has time to think, and stuff just really started creeping in.”

“Okay, that makes sense. So that’s when you found a therapist? Or have you just started therapy?”

“So, Bea was actually my daughter’s play therapist, to help her process emotions, and work,on some of that stuff, and I was supposed to be meeting with her to talk about my daughter, and I ended up seeing her for myself, for anxiety. And then things started to come out.”

“So therapy is pretty new then, but it sounds like you have a good trusting relationship with her, you can really talk to her?”

I’m struggling to talk here. Why is it that I struggle to,talk about myself on any level that is “real” so much? “Well, I trust her, but I don’t exactly talk. I email. She emails with me between sessions, and then we can talk about stuff in session.”

“Well, I think that is really great, really so good. Because you found a way to work through some of this. You’re worth it, you know.”

“Well. I’m lucky I found a shrink who is willing to be flexible and try things to make me feel safe,” I say.

“Because you’re worth it,” Kris says again.
I end up listing out my diagnosis of PTSD and fibro, as well as talking dissociation and being detached from your body, grounding, triggers, all that fun stuff. Kris tells me that if I ever feel like I need to leave the room I can just leave, and come back when I’m ready; she won’t think I’m weird. I tell her I’m more likely to freeze than leave, and she tells me what she would do if I freeze; she would ask me to notice my hands, move a finger, feel my toes, ext. I agree she should try that, but I also share what I know works, because I need her to have that tool in her pocket.

Before we begin, we talk about the Body Keeps The Score.
“Is there anything that really resonated with you?” She asks.

“Well, I blew through it so quickly, I’m actually reading it again, it’s like every book on trauma crammed into one, but I was fascinated reading that people with PTSD actually have one of the speech centers suppressed during a flashback or when remembering traumatic events….when they did the study of imaging people’s brains while remembering their traumas, and the images in the book…..that was just like, ‘wow’. I mean, there is a reason I have so much trouble talking about this. A real neurological, factual reason.”

“And did you feel it?”

“Well, yeah, I was wowed.” I say again.

“But did you feel it in your body?” Kris clarifies the question.

“Oh, right. That’s what Bea is always trying to get me to do and understand, too.”

She offers some suggestions, maybe my chest felt lighter, or my shoulders relaxed, even just for a minute, a second? I stare at her blankly.

“Okay, that’s okay. I do believe to really truly know something, we know it in our minds and we feel it in our bodies. But you just aren’t ready yet.”

I stare some more.

“Okay. Why don’t we move over to our mats, and remember, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, okay?”

“Okay,” I say. I’m so uncomfortable. I don’t want to do this. But I’m never going to want to. And I think a lot of it is fear of the unknown. And so, I move to my mat. I copy Kris, sitting cross legged, but I keep my hands in my lap; I’m picking my fingers. Her hands are on her knees.

She suggests that if I can, breathe in through my nose, and out through my nose. She says to notice the breath. That maybe I will feel it or notice it in my nose, or my chest, or my throat or lungs. She says if it feels comfortable to try breathing in all the way to my toes and to notice if that feels different. Then she says we see going to breathe in through our nose with a longer breath and out with a long breath.

We do some yoga poses, I copy her, and she tells me each time what I might feel and where I would maybe feel it. I’m reminded of when Dr. B sent me to PT; they were always asking me if I felt x,y,z here or there and when I didn’t, it was assumed I needed to stretch more I to it, was lying, or was doings incorrectly. This time though, I’m not expected to feel anything. I do like having the sensations described to me, kimda of being prepared for when it does happen.

Throughout the poses, Kris went back to the breathing. And……..towards the end of the session, as she was saying to notice your breath if it was available to you to do so, and where you could feel it; I breathed in through my nose, and I felt clean cool air against the inside of my nasal passages. I noticed my breath. For a millisecond. But I noticed it!

After the session, I set up a time to come back, not next week because next week is crazy, but the next. I want to try to go weekly. I’m actually really excited.

I of course, emailed Bea as soon as I got home, because I was so excited. I told her I was going to try to private sessions weekly for as long as Hubby would let me.

She emailed me back that she was excited, too, and that this was such a brave thing I had done, and she really believed the resources for coping that can be learned from this would be amazing. And then, she made me cry, by saying if it would help, I could skip my copay to her for now to fund private yoga sessions. I didn’t even know what to think or say or do. Obviously a huge thank you is in order. I forwarded the email to Hubby, and told him to figure it out, because he pays the bills and manages the money. Regardless if Hubby accepts the offer, the fact is, Bea offered something that, to me, shows she really thinks this is important, that she really supports me going to yoga, and that she really cares (I already knew that, but the reminder is always nice).

For being not okay, today was a really positive day.

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