I cheated on my yoga teacher……

I cheated on my yoga teacher. I went to a yoga class at my gym on Saturday morning. Surprisingly, I liked it, and was able to do everything they did. It was a really different experience, though.

The gym that Kat and I are members of is awesome. It’s family owned, and the employees are accepting of Kat and her quirks, as are the people who are there to work out. Kat goes to the kid gym sometimes, and the child care workers have been nothing short of amazing with her. Usually, Kat and I just go to swim, but sometimes I put her in kid gym so I can swim alone for an hour or so.

When we swim at the pool, we play games, swim laps, and (yes, I know some people are against this next one) hang out in the hot tub. Because we typically go at the same time everyday, Kat knows the adults who are there to swim, and they all chat with her. A lot of them compliment me on how good I am with her, and how well I have handled some of her meltdowns– but never once have I felt judged or like someone was annoyed by her meltdowns. Joining the gym last year was a really great thing for us.

So, anyway, I’ve really only ever used the pool, and kid gym for Kat. I did a water aerobics class that I enjoyed last summer and fall, but then our schedule changed and I got out of the habit of going to class. Because I have been loving yoga so much, and because I have been in such a bad place, I looked at the class schedule this week for yoga classes at the gym, and found 2– maybe 3– classes that I could attend during the week in addition to my yoga class with Kris.

Saturday was the first one I have attended. The teacher was really nice, and I liked her class. It was strange to have poses called out, and to not talk about what I was feeling, or to pause and notice when something was coming up. For the most part, I was okay, but I did spend more of the hour in my head than I do when I am at yoga with Kris. With Kris, I am fully in my body, and really aware of everything. In this class, I started out like that, but as soon as we were on our backs and doing a hip stretch, I realized that wasn’t going to be possible. The hip stretch involved spreading the legs apart, which I didn’t do. I thought it might seem weird that I wasn’t doing it, but then decided that I wasn’t going to care. I was also hyper aware of the people next me, although I had made sure I was in the way back of the class, right next to the door. That helped, and it wasn’t so bad.

Thanks to Kris, I actually felt really confident that I was doing everything right, and that I could trust my body to square my hips, or line up my feet correctly for different poses. I don’t know when the last time I trusted my body like this was, but it felt good to do so. I didn’t know the proper names of the poses, so I had to watch the rest of the class and then follow along, but that was okay– anyone who was new to a yoga class would probably not know the names of the poses. Some of the poses, the class did differently then Kris had taught me, so I did them the way I learned.

Even though it wasn’t the same as doing yoga with Kris, I felt more grounded after class. It was good. And I did notice things coming up in class, in the same poses that they come up with Kris. Which just might be worth exploring further, I don’t know.

And, at the end of class, the teacher approached me. I thought she was going to tell me I had done so many things wrong that I needed to take the beginning yoga class (taught by the one person at the gym who has not been accepting of Kat) which I will never take. Instead, she told me I did a great job. She seemed surprised. At the beginning of class, when she asked if I had ever done yoga before, I told her I had taken mother-daughter yoga with my almost 5 year old (which is true, Kat and I did do yoga. We just only took like, 3 classes). I didn’t want to get into the whole private yoga lessons, or trauma informed yoga. So, I think it surprised her that I could keep up. It felt good to have the teacher of the class tell me “good job” but the moment she said it, and I felt that warmth of being considered good enough, I also felt that I didn’t need the outside validation. I like yoga, it grounds me, and it’s not about other people. It’s about me. And only me.

Advertisements

Breathe through it

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.

Building a new relationship with my body

I had yoga today, and I realized, I have not written about yoga for a while. I always mean to, but I never seem to find the time. I love yoga. I love my yoga teacher, Kris, and I love my yoga practice with her. We’ve developed a relationship where she allows me to help direct where the practice goes each day. We base things on what my osteopath finds is going on with my body, on what I’m feeling that week, physically and emotionally, and on what Kris has planned. Sometimes, when I’m having difficult time getting out of my head, I’ll ask Kris to do anything she would like, as long as it is complicated and challenging. Sometimes, I need easy and familiar yoga poses to help me connect to my body. It depends on the day. But I’m learning what I need, and the awesome thing about private class is I can ask for it, and we can do it.

A few weeks ago, before Christmas, I joked to her that I wanted to do a back bend. She decided that I could do a back bend, because my body does move that way, and after a few yoga classes of stretching and working our way to it, and getting permission from my osteopath, I did indeed do a wheel pose, from s standing position. It was exciting, just to realize I could do that, and not fall; that my body was strong enough and flexible enough to catch me and hold me in a position I hadn’t been in for well over 15 years.

Since then, Kris has incorporated many different kinds of back bends into our yoga practice. I always like doing back bends, because it’s something I find easy to do. Prior to that, she had been focusing on hip movements and poses, and keeping the hips squared, because Dr. B (my osteopath) was always finding that my hips are unaligned and was always having to adjust them. I’m amazed that after weeks of practicing this in yoga, it started to become second nature to me in real life, too, and Dr. B hasn’t had to adjust my hips for several weeks now.

The most recent thing Dr. B has been wanting me to do is work on letting my shoulders relax down and back, instead of rounding them forward and up. I told Kris this, and we have been working on opening up and stretching the chest and dropping the shoulders down and back. Dr. B says this will help my back and neck and should help relieve some of the tension type headaches I suffer from on a daily basis.

The first day that I talked to Kris about this and we tried this in class, it felt so exposing to have my shoulders down and back, and to feel a stretch across my collar bones. It’s not a natural position for my body to be in anymore. It’s uncomfortable. It’s been three weeks now, and it’s feeling more comfortable, to the point where I will even attempt to drop my shoulders when I am at home.

In yoga, this means that I get to learn new, harder back bends, because those are not only comfortable for my body, they open the chest and put the shoulders back naturally. Today I did one of the more advanced back bends, and it felt amazing. I was shocked that I could even do it.

Kris approaches yoga with the attitude that it is play, just fun, it is about learning what we can do. She approaches it specifically with me asking the question, “what would happen if……..?” And with the idea of allowing me to learn and build a new relationship with my body, one where I am present and its okay and safe to be fully grounded in my body. Kris is so calm, and she is really enthusiastic about yoga, about being present and connected to everything; it’s hard to explain, but she just has this presence of being there, but not in an overwhelming way.

There are moments where I get upset or stressed out, though. Today, for example, after doing the new back bend pose, we went into a series of poses we do frequently, they stretch the legs and hips. When I went into a low lunge pose, my back leg started to shake from the stretch– most likely because of the new way it has moved earlier– and I got a bit freaked out. I told Kris my leg was shaking, and she continued with the series of poses, speaking calmly. I followed along, but it all became more mechanical, and more of a not here type feeling. I didn’t like not feeling in control of what was happening in my body. This is the whole reason it is not safe to be grounded in my body, the entire reason it is a hundred times safer to live in my head. To go from feeling to strong and capable and so alive to scared and weak and out of control is disconcerting.

After the series of poses was through, we sat in what is known as hero’s pose. Kris asked me what was going on when my led started to to shake, if I could share. I stuttered for a minute, and finally managed to tell her that I’m a control freak and I don’t like to be not in control. She talked about that for a moment, something about being in our bodies means we are in control, even if we are not controlling every muscle spasm. I’m not sure exactly what she said, because I wasn’t totally there. We did some breathing, and I left grounded enough to face the grocery store, but still as disconnected as I could be from my body.

Child’s pose breakdown

Yoga. I’m driving to yoga. I have to keep reminding myself where I’m going. I’m not better, maybe I’m worse. I don’t know. Bea wanted me to go to yoga today, she thought it would help. I’m going, but I’m feeling so exposed, driving there, this was a bad idea.

I arrive “late” by my standards, so I’m stressed, and rushed. I’m also dissociated, disconnected from my body, and not ready to be here at all.

Kris meets me as I walk in, right on time. I feel like crying.

“Hello, how are you?” She asks me.

I follow her back to the studio, leaving my shoes outside the door. “I’m fine, I’m okay.” I’m lying, and she knows it, but she says nothing.

I set my things down, and we sit on our mats. “Is there anything going on that you would like to share?” She asks me.

I shake me head no. And then, I tell her, “I’m not really okay.”

“Yes, I can see that. Is there anything that is available for you to share?” She drinks her tea, sits and stretches.

I’m frustrated. I don’t know what to say. How do I explain any of this? “I should have asked Bea to call you.”

Understanding that this is big crosses her face. “Ohhhh. Okay.” We sit for a minute as she digests this, maybe comes up with a new plan for the day. “I think we will start today with standing, if that is available for you. Would that be okay?”

I nod, and we start by rocking on our feet, standing. She talks about feeling grounded in our feet. I’m feeling a little more present, a little calmer.

We move through some poses, and I’m okay. Stiff, awkward, not feeling as present as I have been, not feeling my body as I have been, but I’m here and I’m moving.

Then….Kris moves from one pose to what is usually known as child’s pose. I should feel more comfortable like that. It’s balled up, curled up, on the floor, more hiding that anything we have done. But I freeze. I don’t know what else happens, what Kris sees on my face, or in my body, but she knows instantly that this isn’t happening.

“Okay, let’s move back, sit up this way. Can you do that? And pay attention to our breathing,” she switches gears quickly, but it’s too late, I’m frozen, I sit back, but it’s zombie like, not really moving, more falling.

I think she is surprised that something so benign triggered me. I think she is annoyed I bothered to show up today. I think she must hate me, want me out of her yoga room. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” My tiny voice is barely able to be heard over the heater in the room.

“There’s no sorry. You don’t need to be sorry.” Kris is sitting on her mat, waiting, looking serene. But I wasting her time. I suck. She has to be annoyed. “Do you want to continue, or pause and pick this up at another session? We can end here, you are in control, it’s your choice. You are the boss, you decide if when we stop or continue, or if you need a break. You are in control right now.”

I breathe….

“I think I need a minute,” I say.

“Of course.”

I want my tea. It’s not close enough to me, and I’m still frozen, so getting it is out of the question.

“I want to stay,” I say. I can’t look at her, I’m sure she is annoyed, thinks I’m insane.

“Okay, good.” Kris says, and we start again, she omits the child’s pose this time around.

I finish out the session, but it’s awkward, hard. I spend the rest of the time feeling like I need to hide, plus feeling increasingly sure that Kris thinks I’m crazy.

After, we wish each other Happy Thanksgiving, and I leave, just as dissociated as I was when I arrived, and more than a little sure I have to quit yoga. Bea is going to be so pissed at me.

The chair exercise

So. I sat in a chair at yoga today. It was a big deal. I’m talking huge deal. Like, the hugest. I didn’t even know it was a as huge a deal as it turned out to be until afterwards. Are you confused yet? Maybe I should start at the beginning?

I get to yoga early, and take a seat in the waiting area. I’m glad to be early, because on the drive here my mind had been wandering, and I have some notes I want to make for myself before I forget.

I’ve been attempting to practice mindfulness, as the one book on eating issues has suggested. I think I’m doing it wrong. I find it quite boring, and hard to do. Trying to make myself pay attention to the trees and the color of their leaves, the way the steering wheel feels in my hands, the noise my car’s tires make on the road, all of that takes an awful lot of work. Is this what what “normal” people notice in their lives all the time? Is this what it means to to be fully present? If so, it’s really tiring. And boring. I would much rather put my favorite playlist on and crank up my music and sing as loud as I can– tone deaf voice and all. Am I missing the point? And why is it so uncomfortable to pay attention to breathing? Why is that simple act of of focusing of something I must do to survive so threatening to me? I scribble these thoughts down in my notebook. I want to ask Bea about them.

“Hello,” Kris greets me, just as I’m finishing up a last thought.

“Hi,” I grab my stuff, and start to follow her back to the yoga studio, “I didn’t go to the dentist. I had Hubby call me in sick.”

“I had a feeling you weren’t going to make it. Do you just not like going, or is there more to it?” She pauses at the door so I can slip my black ballet flats off. Pretty soon, I’ll be forced to wear something warmer on my feet.

“I’m just really afraid, I had a bad experience with my dentist as a kid, followed by my very first cavity being filled turned into this traumatic thing because the Novocain wore off and I was too timid to say anything. And I don’t like people touching my face.”

“That would more than do it,” she agrees.

We start the by sitting in our chairs, just checking in, chatting. She’s drinking green mango tea, and asks about what flavor tea I have today.

“It’s vanilla something….” I dig through my bag, and pull out two tea bags, “This is vanilla caramel chai, but I also got this white tea that is vanilla apricot cream.” I hand the tea to her, and tell her she can have them to try if she wants.

“Thank you. I have to say I glad I’m not the only one who carries tea around in my bag.”

“I’ve gotten so picky about tea, and only coffee shops really have a good selection. Restaurants really don’t.”

“No, they don’t. So, how are you feeling today?” Kris is sitting flat feet, back straight, good posture.

I’m in my curled up position, knees drawn to my chest, sitting like a kid might. I’m comfy though, relaxed. It’s not a hiding position, not like it can be in therapy. “I’m tired. I didn’t sleep much. I’m more sore than I have been lately, but it’s getting colder out. I’m okay though. I feel pretty good, otherwise.”

“Is everything okay with Kat?”

“Yeah, she’s good. We took her out to rainforest cafe last night. She wanted a pet elephant, so we went on an elephant hunt, had dinner and got a stuffed elephant. She’s very happy,” I smile at the memory of Kat talking to every– and I do mean every– elephant in the gift shop to choose the one that wanted to live with us, “Hubby and I have been fighting lately. That doesn’t help.”

“Fighting with your spouse, that can be so draining, tiring on the body. That alone could be triggering your fibromyalgia to flare up, too.”

I agree with her. We talk about that, and I share how I have gone out of my normal pattern and attempted to talk about the fighting, and to get Hubby to discuss our relationship with me.

“Last night, I did a lot of research on emotionally focused couples therapy. It has imperative data to back up its claims, and is one of the most effective therapies for couples when one partner has been through trauma. So I found a workbook that was available for kindle, downloaded it to our iPad apps, and talked to Hubby about it. He agreed to do the workbook with me.” I’m beaming, I am so happy that I have succeeded in this; not only that I tried a new way of being in a relationship, but that Hubby has chosen to meet me part of the way there. Kris gets that, and she congratulates me on doing things a new way, stepping out of old patterns.

Kris decides that because I’m tired, we should start with some standing poses, to get some energy in me, help me be ready to move for the day.

We begin by standing straight, and raising our arms. We breathe. I like how she talks me through breathing and stretching, how she says I might notice this or that. It feels safe to me. I can’t focus on the breathing, but it’s okay, I don’t feel like I have to.

Kris directs me to keep my right foot forward, and to move my left foot back. It’s a stretch, although I don’t feel it. We bend to place our palms on our chairs.

“What would happen if your moved your right hip back– not moving your foot, or your positioning– and let your left hip move forward just a bit– again not moving your foot or positioning?” Kris is looking at me; I know that part of her job is to make sure I don’t do something that will hurt myself. Being disconnected from my body means I will stretch farther than is maybe good for me, lift things heavier than I should, run or walk farther than my body may want.

I try to do what she has suggested, but I can not feel it. I don’t know if I have done it, or not. I’m confused. I must have a look of confusion on my face, because Kris explains, “If we make sure that our hips are squared, even in a pose like this, it will keep things more stable, and you may build some stability there. Then Dr. B might not have to fix your hips as much. If we can practice being aware of that here, then maybe one day, you can be aware of it out there.”

I try again. What she is saying makes sense. I’m just confused. I don’t feel it. “I don’t know if I’ve done what you have said or not.”

“Could I come over by you and see?” Kris asks. Trauma yoga instructors, even one on one, are very careful not to trigger students by coming too close, and they will never touch you unless it’s a matter of safety, without your permission.

“Sure, please do.”

Kris walks over, and even with my permission to do so, she is careful to stay in my field of vision. “This looks beautiful. Really good, really nice.”

We finish, and repeat on the other side. It should be easy, because I did that one “right.” Only it isn’t quite the same. As soon as we get all the way into the pose, I can feel that my right calf is shaking. I start to panic. This isn’t good. I knew my legs weren’t strong enough to hold my weight, this is why I shouldn’t be here. And the more I am hyper focusing on the feeling in my calf, the more panicked I start to feel. I don’t like feeling things in my body, and this is just too odd a feeling, too new, too weird, too scary.

“Alice? What are you noticing right now?”

It takes me a minute, but finally I mange to share that my right calf is shaking.

“Do you notice a stretch with the shaking?” Kris is still on her yoga mat, still in the pose. She’s not rushing to save me from the imminent collapse of my legs. She must think I okay.

“No. It’s not like that. It’s just shaking. I can’t stop it, it’s not something that has happened before.” I’m staring down at my green yoga mat, and hoping the mat is enough of a cushion for when my legs give out.

“It’s a stretch, a tight spot. Yoga puts our bodies in positions we don’t normally do so otherwise. So we find these spots that hold tension. It’s okay. You are okay.”

I still don’t feel okay. Feeling slightly insane, I manage to get the words out anyway, “Are you sure?”

Kris walks over to me and stands next to me. “What would happen if you moved your right foot forward a little bit?” I try, I really do. But I’m too frozen. “Can I have permission to help you move that foot forward? It might help to take some pressure off your calf.”

I nod, and she helps me move my foot forward. She doesn’t force my foot, but with Kris putting gentle pressure on the side of my foot, I’m able to lift it enough that she can move it and place it where it should be. Immediately the shaking is relieved; it’s still there, but some of it is gone.

Kris wraps up the pose quickly, not rushing, but pretty much we are done in this pose for the day. She asks me how that pose felt.

I head over to get a drink of my tea. “Confusing,” I laugh and she smiles at me, “I have to think about everything you say, like I don’t know my left or right, and then I can’t feel things, so I have no idea if I’m doing them or not.” I realize this is why I feel clumsy so often.

“That makes sense, perfectly. It’s hard to place where your body is in space if your can’t feel it, and that makes it really hard to find your left or right when you are in an unfamiliar and strange body position like a yoga pose. I’d like to do a chair exercise. Your body is strong. You have nice long lean muscles, that are fluid and you have this amazing flexibility. This exercise is really designed to help show you how strong your body is, and how much you can trust your body.”

We sit in our chairs, facing each other. “You might need to scoot more to the edge of your seat, so your knees can be at a ninety degree angle, ankles and knees in line.” Kris suggests, and I move.

“Okay, all you do is swing your arms forward and lift up off your chair just enough so your legs are still bent, and you are still in a seated position,” as she explains, she demonstrates.

I watch. Hmmmm. Swing your arms forward, and lift up into a low chair style squat? I really don’t think my legs, stomach muscles, whatever else, are strong enough to do that.

“Your body is strong, come on. This will show you.” Kris encourages me as I make a false start. After that, I pop up, and I’m doing it– I’m in the chair pose. I’m surprised.

“There you go! Can you feel how strong your body is? That your body can lead and know what to do– to move to get up after you swing your arms and give a subtle signal?”

I stare and nod, I’m still dumb founded. “Yeah….yeah.”

“Now, we are going to lower ourselves back down to sit on our chairs. When you’re ready,” Kris proceeds to give the instructions ending with, “don’t look back as you sit.” She demonstrates, sitting easily.

I stare at her. I’ve never thought about it. I can’t sit back. “Don’t look behind me?”

“Nope, just sit back.”

I’m starting to feel frozen again, anxious, scared. I can’t sit down and not look back. I’m not aware of any thoughts, just that I cant do it.

Kris stands up, demonstrates again. She talks about trusting my body. She reassures me that the chair is right behind me, that it hasn’t moved.

I can feel my breathing become shallow, and panicky. In the back of my mind, I think to myself that I have never noticed how my breathing changes when I get panicked. I really can’t move. I didn’t think about it then, but it was a classic freeze response.

“Okay, Alice, look at me. Let’s try breathing, focus on me, let’s do it together, okay?” Kris has stood back up in the chair position, arms out in front of her, mirroring me.

I manage to nod, and breathe with her. I don’t focus on the breathing, so much, but we breathe. Kris starts to lower herself, and I follow. I don’t make it all the way down though. I had to be less than an inch from the chair; I’m like a child whose feet are right above the floor but continues to insist they can not jump down.

Kris doesn’t bat an eyelash. “You are almost there. The chair hasn’t moved. What would happen if you sat back?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” I’m shaking now, not because I’m tired, but the fight-flight-freeze response that this exercise has triggered.

Kris waits. She gives me space, but she’s there with me. In some ways, this is like being in therapy.

“Just sit back?” Kris nods at me, smiling.

“The chair is there?” Kris nods again.

“Okay.” I take some deep breathes. I think maybe this is a bad idea. Logically, I know the chair is there. But I’m scared. I sit back.

I sit down in the chair.

And start shaking. And breathing shallow, like I’ve run a race and can’t catch my breath. I still have my arms out in front of me. I can’t lower them for some reason. The rest of the panic I had been holding at bay floods me.

“Alice, when you’re ready, let’s lower our arms.” Kris is still sitting in her chair, but I’m not so aware of her. I’m in this weird space of feeling my body, but not feeling all the way present. I’m not sure exactly what is going on with me. I’m more aware of my body’s responses to the fear and panic than I’ve ever been before.

I lower my arms. That’s better, I can hide my face now.

“What would happen if you tried to slow your breathing? Maybe did the ‘snake breathing’?” Kris starts to breathe in, and breathe out. When she breathes out she makes an “ssssss” sound like a hissing snake. It’s a breathing technique that has worked wonders for Kat.

I breathe. I’m so embarrassed. Who behaves this way? This is why I can’t do yoga in a class. I’m a freak. I’m crazy.

“Can you look at me?” I shake my head no. “Okay. I’d like to talk to you about that exercise, would that be okay for you?” Kris is calm, I don’t hear any stress in her voice. I nod at her.

She proceeds to explain that everyone who does that exercise has at least moment of fear, the first time they do it. She says that it’s because we move our bodies forward, never backwards. She explains that even if we logically know that the chair is still there, not being able to look and know for sure is unsettling. “I didn’t know that this would trigger something big in you. As we work together, this can happen. Different yoga poses, different exercises can trigger things for trauma survivors. It will happen, and it’s okay, we will work through it, like we just did.”

I’m listening to her, but I’m unsure. I’m embarrassed. Once I sat down, and realized that she was telling the truth, the chair hadn’t moved, and that what my logical mind had known was correct, I felt relief, followed by stupidity and embarrassment.

“Can you look at me? What would happen if you raised your head up and looked at me?” Kris asks.

“I’m embarrassed,” I tell her.

She tells me about a class she just taught, where they did the same exercise, and all 14 people reacted to the idea of sitting back without looking.

I slowly raise my head and drop my hands from my face. It’s okay. Kris looks the same. She doesn’t look like she thinks I’m crazy. If anything, she looks concerned, but in a way that says she cares, not in a panicked way.

“I’m okay….?” It is a statement with a question at the end. I’m telling Kris I am okay, as much as I am telling myself I am okay. The amazing part is, I really am okay, and I am surprised by this.

Kris nods at me, and offers an encouraging smile, but she waits.

“I’m okay.” The words are stronger this time, and they are a definite statement.

“Do you want to try it again?”

I hesitate, but there really is no question. “Yeah, I do.”

We go through the exercise again. This time, when it’s time to sit back, Kris sits back first, and I watch. I take a deep breath, tell myself the chair is there, look at Kris and see her nod.

I sit back in the chair.

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?

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.