It’s Tuesday morning and I’m heading into yoga. I don’t want to go. I’m so disconnected right now, and I’m not sure I want to be grounded, be here. It’s been a rough few days. If I were honest with myself, things haven’t felt okay since that Sunday in November when my Mom told me Kenny would be at the annual Christmas Party; he became more real in that moment, not just a figment of my imagination. That’s when all hell began breaking loose in my mind, and that’s when I began to to struggle.
Now, it seems as if everything is coming to a breaking point. I’m being bombarded by my past, and besieged by things happening in my present. I can’t escape. Being grounded is the worst thing possible, because my present only triggers my past. It’s not safe anywhere.
I run into yoga, 5 minutes late because Kat had a meltdown over me leaving her this morning. We ran into the child who assaulted her this weekend, and Kat has been especially clingy, and acting out since then. “I’m so sorry, it was a rough morning,” I say to Kris as I pull my black boots off and follow her into the studio.
“It’s no problem, really. I was having a morning, too. Changing my schedule has really confused me,” she says, smiling and sitting down on her mat.
I throw my coat and bag in the corner, and join her in the center of the room, on my mat.
“You’re wearing orange today. Color, I like it,” Kris remarks.
I groan. “Yeah. I need to do laundry. I’m behind in everything. I can’t catch up, it’s been….I don’t know. Anyways.” And then I remember I never took my morning medication today. We talk about being sore, not sleeping, life being hard right now.
“Why don’t we do some gentle stretches for the hips and lower back, and then do the same for the shoulders and upper back? I always think when we are in pain, and not getting enough rest, that stretching like that is most helpful to bring relief to those muscles.” Kris is so calm. I don’t know what it is about her; she just has this peace and calmness about her, this acceptance. I forget what a relief it is to be around her until I’m here, in the studio.
“Okay, sure.” I nod in agreement.
“Would it be okay if I came and sat next to you and walked you through a hip stretch?” Kris asks me. She always asks. In a trauma informed yoga class, the instructor always asks questions, or phrases things like “what would happen if….?” and, “if it’s available to you…” rather than giving strict instructions.
Kris moves over to sit next to me, and I lay on my back, knees bent. We go through a series of stretches, pulling one knee to my chest, straightening my leg, rolling it to the side, folding myself into a pretzel like twist that stretches my lower back and surprises me when I feel that stretch.
“Can you bring that right foot to the left knee?” Kris asks.
I move my right leg, awkward and unsure. Sometimes the instructions are so simple, but I have to really think and focus on them. It’s been a long time since I have been in my body and present.
“You’ll make a number four,” Kris says.
“Oh, okay,” I smile. I get it. As soon as I have my right foot to my left knee, making a number four, I feel………… something. I still don’t know what that something was. Tears just start leaking out of my eyes, and I’m furiously blinking them away, so angry at myself.
Kris moves a box of Kleenex over to me. “What’s coming up for you right now?”
I shake my head. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.
“We can stop at anytime, do something else, skip this part. It’s okay.” She says this very softly, almost serenely. She’s okay with whatever comes up, with however the session progresses.
I shake my head, pull my knees into my chest and cover my face with my hands for a minute. “I’m fine. I’m fine. We don’t need to skip it.”
“Let’s just take a minute, breathe through whatever is coming up, know that it won’t last, nothing lasts forever, know that whatever you are feeling is okay, know that you are okay, that you are safe.” Kris isn’t going to let me just bypass this, or dissociate it away.
I put my body back into the number four position, and again feel something. We breathe through it together; me following Kris’s lead. We move through the series of stretches.
Kris has me place my right foot to the ground, crossing over my left leg and pulling my left leg to the floor as well. Pushing my right knee down creates a stretch in my lower back that alarms me. I pull away from the exercise.
“What’s coming up for you? What are you feeling?” She asks me.
“My back…I don’t know.” I shake my head, and tears come falling down again. What is wrong with me?
“Okay. We don’t want to do anything that is hurting, we don’t want to cause an injury.”
“No…it’s more like a big stretch.” I say, after I think about it.
“Ahhh,” She nods her head, “Those lower back muscles of yours are always tensed. I think that they are locked in a flight or fight pattern, part of the PTSD if you will, and they never relax.” She talks a little more about it, but the gist is those muscles are always tense, never having come out of the flight or fight response.
“Okay,” I say to her. I’ll try it.
“Can you breathe through it for even one breath? I just have a feeling teaching your body new responses is what is needed to help with some of the physical pain. If we can teach your body that it’s safe to relax, create new synopses…..it’s hard work. You have been working so incredibly hard these last few months. I know that. This isn’t easy. It’s painful and tough.” Kris is sitting near me, but she has been very still this whole time. My guess is that she doesn’t want to startle me.
“I don’t know why I just can’t do this, it should be so easy…….okay. Let’s try.” I move back into position, and push my right knee to the floor. Kris breathes with me, and I make it through three breathes before I’m done, and move my feet back to the floor, knees bent. Tears fall again.
“You’re okay. You did it. That was hard, you breathes through it. You’re safe,” Kris tells me gently. “Stretch out, wiggle around and relax for a moment before we do the left side.”
I don’t. I stay like I am, feet flat on the floor, knees bent. I never relax, and I never really wiggle like she suggests after a stretch.
“Okay, let’s try this before we do the left hip. What would happen if you increased the arch in your back while breathing in, and then pressed your back flat to the floor while exhaling?” Kris suggests. When I lay on my back, it naturally arches off the floor; I can fit my arm between my back and the floor and still have room above my arm.
I start to follow her instructions, but when I press my lower back to the floor, my pelvis lifts up. And I’m triggered, again, just like that. I don’t know why. I feel like a failure, why can’t I do something that is so simple?
“What’s coming up for you?” Kris asks.
I can’t answer. Tears just slowly fall, and I wipe them away.
“It’s okay. Sometimes things come up, that happens in this work.” Kris hands me a Kleenex.
“I just can’t do it. I don’t know why.”
We talk about back muscles being tensed for flight or fight, she tells me that asking the body to do something that is unnatural to it can bring up a lot of feelings, that it’s okay. I keep trying, but my back can’t get near the floor.
Kris has me get up, and she shows me how her own back arches up. She says that while not exactly the same, she had her own trauma that left her body in a permanent state of fight or flight. “You can put your hand under my back, I want you to feel something,” she says to me.
I look at her, uncertain. I don’t touch people. I’m touchy feely with my kid, and that’s about it. “It’s okay. Really,” she tells me, and so I put my hand under her back. It’s arched, naturally off the floor, almost as much as mine is. She goes through the arch up, and press down movements, and she can’t get her back to the floor, either. However, each time she does the exercise, her back gets straighter and closer to the floor.
“My back won’t touch the floor. It just doesn’t. There’s nothing wrong with you. You aren’t a failure, or doing this wrong. It just is what the body knows. We are teaching the body something different, and that takes time.” Kris gets up off the mat, and smiles at me.
I take her place, try again. Through tears, I go through the exercise twice. After that, it’s too much and I can’t do it anymore. I sit up for a minute.
“Let’s breathe for a moment, and then move onto that left hip,” she suggests.
I nod, trying to get a grip on myself. Why am I such a mess?
“Are you okay? It seems like a lot is coming up for you today.”
I insist I’m fine, and we move through the hip stretches on the left leg. After, as we sit in hero pose, and breathe through the feelings that have come up today, Kris looks at me. “I want to tell you to just relax for a moment, but I know you can’t do that yet, your body doesn’t know how. Let’s breathe and try to feel the mat below us and stretch up tall……” We breathe for a few minutes, and then Kris starts talking again, softly but very direct. “There is nothing wrong with you. I want you to know that, to hear that. There is nothing wrong with you.”
I stare back at her, unsure. “Well….there’s a lot wrong, but thank you.”
“No, there is nothing wrong. You are working very hard to heal, to be better, and that can feel like the world is caving in on you at times. But there is nothing wrong with you”
“Okay.” I shrug. I agree to get her to stop talking, to let it go.
We wrap up the session, and I head home, all the while thinking I am more connected to my yoga teacher than my shrink right now. And then I tell myself to breathe through it.