A map (trauma informed yoga class)

I arrive a few minutes early to yoga, and have a seat in the waiting area. I’m looking up social activities that are drop in style for Kat, when Kris comes to get me.

“Hello,” she says, smiling.

“Hi,” I say. I throw my stuff back into my bag, and follow her to the yoga room.

It’s set up the same as before, with the lights left bright, a folding chair for each of us, a mat, blocks, pillows, and blankets for each of us. Our spaces are set up across from each other.

“Why don’t we have a seat, and chat, check in for a minute?” Kris asks.

“Sure,” I say. I take off my shoes. She is already seated in her chair, feet flat on the floor, very grounded looking. I sit in my chair, but I curl up.

“So how are you?” She asks me.

It’s a question that is hard to answer these days. I don’t know the “right” answer anymore. Before, it would always be “great, wonderful things are lovely” no matter how bad they were. Now, I know I can choose my answer based on who is asking, and Kris is a person to be authentic with.

“I’m okay, I guess. I don’t really know,” I tell her, honestly.

“That’s okay, that’s all right.” She smiles at me. She’s just so nice.

We talk a little bit more, she asks about my body, how I have been feeling. I explain how hard it is for me to know what my body is feeling. I tell her that I will either tell my DO “everything hurts” or “nothing hurts”, and we both know neither is true, and it’s usually not until she puts her hands in a certain spot that I can say, “yes, that is where it hurts”, and even then, it can be iffy, because I am just as likely to block out the pain.

Which leads me to explaining Dr. B’s fears about me and yoga. “She’s afraid that because I can block out pain, and I’m flexible, and I’m perfectionistic that if I did yoga, I would over extend myself and hurt myself, not even realizing what I was doing.”

“That makes sense, and those concerns would be mine for you right now in a traditional yoga class as well, but this– one on one– is a different dynamic. And part of trauma yoga is me, knowing you aren’t in touch with your body, being able to recognize that you flexible, and stopping you so that you don’t over extend yourself,” Kris says.

I tell her how I fell at the pool two weeks ago, and messed up my body, how Dr. B had to fix me again, and it was hopefully today when I saw her we would be working on my fibro stuff again. The conversation seems easy, Kris wants to know where it is that Dr. B finds trouble spots, and if she has theories as to why, and anything else I know. I know a lot, because I don’t just let doctors do things to me without knowing why, and because Dr. B is a “talk to your patient and educate them” type of doctor.

“You know a lot about your body, even if you are disconnected from it, you might not feel it, but you do know it, and you seen to have started the self care journey, not with Bea, but with Dr. B,” Patty observes.

I think on that. It could be. In some ways, it is a possibility. I started seeing Dr. B about a year ago now, and I remember thinking that she could help me. She first suggested therapy to me, because I cried in her office from all my stress and anxiety. I wouldn’t, couldn’t do it then.

“I think, what I’d like to do today, is teach you a movement that really addresses and releases tension and even pain in the upper back, neck and shoulders. It’s more complicated though, so,with your permission, I’ll walk you through it, but I’ll sit to your side to demonstrate,” Kris suggests.

“Okay,” I say.

We begin with breathing. Breathe in through the nose, out through the nose. In……out……in…..out….in…….out…….Kris suggests that if possible lengthen the breathe in, and lengthen the breathe out……in……out……..why is it that focusing on the in and out rhythm of breathing is so hard for me? What is it about that feels so uncomfortable? Why does this give anxiety? It’s supposed to calm you, calm your nervous system. So why is this whole focus on your breathing thing just incredibly stressful to me?

I’m agitated while we breathe, my eyes darting around the room, not focusing. I tried, for a minute to focus on the breathing, but I couldn’t. I think about anything else. Kris opens her eyes, maybe sees that I’m agitated, and suggests that we move our chairs to the side when I’m ready and start the next exersise. I hop up, quick– I’m ready now! No more breathing for me!– and move my chair.

She shows me the position, it’s a laying on your back, but knees to the side type position.

Surprisingly, as we move through the exersise, I can describe what I feel. Maybe not well, but I can describe it.

As I move my knees to the side, Kris asks what I feel. “It’s a stretch in my back. Down my spine,” I tell her.

“Is is a lengthening stretch, or a painful don’t do this stretch?” She wants clarification.

“Um. I don’t know. Like a stretch. I don’t think it hurts,” I say, feeling silly. Shouldn’t I know if something hurts? I know this is why I’m here, because I don’t know, but it’s frustrating to not know.

“Okay, that’s okay. Try to pay attention to that stretch, and if it starts to feel painful, the. We will stop, and so something else, okay?” She’s very accepting of how unsure I am, and does not seem to be phased by it. I decide not to worry about it, either.

The next part involves a series of arm movements, and at one point, Kris directs me to life my arm a little higher to make it easier to go through that particular part of the movement.

“It’s okay, I can get through it with my arm flat,” I tell her. The exercise is to make a circle while you are lying on your back, still with your knees to the side, and your arm makes the circle staying as close to the ground and your body as you can keep it. Raising it higher will make it easier if you have a sore spot.

“There’s a spot there, you are really struggling. Can you feel where it begins?” Kris asks. Apparently, she can see it, even if I can’t feel it.

Slowly, embarrassed, I shake my head.

“I’d like to ask your permission to use my hand to stop you at the point where I can see your arm start to struggle,” she suggests.

“Okay,” I say it, sounding dejected, feeling like an idiot who does not know anything.

I start the exercise over, and this time Kris stops my arm, and raises is. Then I continue on.

“Okay, now, try it again, without me stopping you, and see what you notice,” she says.

I start again, and this time, as I am circling my arm around I feel a pull, a stretch, but as I keep going the pulling becomes sore. I stop, and look up at her. “I feel it,” I’m awed, “I feel it, and it’s just a small spot, and it’s not big pain. I feel that!”

She smiles, too. “Why don’t you do two more of those? Then, we’ll flip to the other side.”

I finish up, and flip. This time, when I lay my knees to the side, I can’t get my knees to line up, and the pressure on my hip bone hurts. I can block it out though, and I don’t want to whine, so I don’t say anything at first.

“Do you feel the same stretch on this side in your back?” Kris asks me.

“No, nothing in my back,” I tell her.

“Hmmmm,” she is studying me. I’m still trying to line my knees up. “Very good noticing your knees were uneven,” she tells me.

“Is that from where my hips, my pelvis is out of alignment? What Dr. B is forever is fixing?” I ask.

“Probably. What’s uncomfortable?” She says.

“Just pressure on my hip bone, it’s really nothing,” I say.

“Can I please try something?” She asks me.

I agree, and the next few minutes are spent with me getting up and down while blankets and pillows are moved around. Finally, an extra blanket under my hip bone, and a blanket folded between my knees takes the pressure off my hip bone.

“That worked. That’s kind of amazing,” I say, “but I do feel whiny, when it was really not a big deal.”

“But looked at what we learned, at what you learned! And you can do this at home, with a blanket or small flat pillow,” she says.

I start the exersise and right away, I notice a difference. There isn’t the soreness, the pulling stretch on this side. I tell Kris this.

“This is cool, so cool,” she says, “we’re getting a map of your body.”

I smile. Her enthusiasm is catching. It’s hard not to feel good here.

I tell her about the yoga for kids cards I have been using with Kat. She hasn’t seen them before, and I tell her I will bring them next week if Kat will allow it. I try to describe them, as best I can. I describe the “snake breath” one, because it’s one we have been using a lot.

“It has a snake on it, each card is an animal or something from nature, and the snake one has a little story about a snake. The breathing is you breathe in through your nose, but when you breathe out, it’s through your mouth and you hiss, making an ‘sssssss’ sound as long as you can,” I explain.

“That’s actually a yoga breathing technique,” Kris says,” We can use that here, if that feels more comfortable to you. It works the same way to calm you down.”

“It’s working great for Kat. She screams for her lavender and that she needs to do her snake breathing. So it’s 10 minutes of screaming about what she needs to do to get calm, and then she manages to do it and start to calm down. And she calls herself Yogi Kat, now.” I laugh, and Kris laughs with me.

We finish up, agreeing that I will draw out a ‘body’ so Kris can ‘map’ what we learn. We go over the schedule, and clean up. I tell her about my birthday, and my new car– which she wants to see (and after seeing it, she declares it the cutest thing ever!).

I am not sure if I would like a yoga class that is full of people. But I do like this, one on one. We laughed a lot today, which I needed. I’m learning it okay to feel little things in my body, it’s not scary. I might not be “in my body” all the time, but those small moments, I’m learning it’s okay. I’m getting comfortable with the idea that I can feel things, and that I don’t have to do something if it hurts or is uncomfortable, that there might be a way that is easier. Twice in my class today, there was a more comfortable, easier way than what I would have instinctually done; I would have ignored anything my body was saying, and just done it, not complained, not whined, not wanted to be seen as needy, difficult, being selfish. Kris showed me that it takes a minute to change what I was doing to make things more comfortable and easier for me, and she did not behave as though I was any of those things I worry I will be. I wonder how many things in life outside of yoga are like that?

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2 thoughts on “A map (trauma informed yoga class)

  1. I’m so glad you like your class! It’s funny though, I read this and it makes me so anxious. Like scared anxious. Like I have to go to court anxious. My class is Sunday evening. I hope I can feel as comfortable as you but I probably have to be okay with an anxious mess. The breathing, as you know, is terribly difficult for me too. I don’t get that. Has anyone tried to explain why breathing is so difficult? And I want the blanket over me…lol

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    • You can probably have a blanket over you! I had massive anxiety the first class! We talked for like an hour the first one, though, that was it, just talked. It was fine. I have no idea what is the deal with the breathing. I’m working my way up to asking Kris. Lol. I’m so glad you are going. It is nervous- making, but it also gives me this hopeful, in control feeling. I can’t explain it. I feel so in control in the yoga room. I’m very excited about yoga. I’m excited for you. It’s such a good thing. Even if you have to leave the class the first time, it is okay. Go back. Try again. 🙂

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