Crying yoga practice

Tuesday morning, I wake up after a night of restless sleep. I’d dreamed of monsters last night, except my monsters were real. I make coffee and down half the pot before Kat gets up. I’m really still dissociated, numb, feeling like nothing is real. I make Kat breakfast, and get myself ready for yoga. The nanny arrives just as Kat is finishing breakfast. I numbly tell them both good-bye, and head to yoga.

As I walk into the waiting room, I wonder if it’s even a good idea to be here today. I can’t think. I can’t feel. I want to stay away from my body, all the physical memories this latest trigger has brought up are too much for me to handle. It’s not safe.

Kris walks out into the waiting area, right on time. “Hi,” she greets me warmly, as she always does. “How are you?” When she asks this, she gives the feeling that she means it, that she really wants to know.

“Okay. I’m okay.” I attempt a smile, but it’s partly frozen. “How are you?”

“I’m good, really good.” She smiles at me.

We’ve been walking down the short hall to her yoga studio as we talk. We take off our shoes and leave them at the door. I throw my bag down by the wall when we walk in, and sit on my mat, hugging my knees to my chest; an upright fetal position.

Kris looks at me. “How is your body feeling today? With the sudden weather change from warm to cool, I wondered if that effected you at all.”

I shake my head. “No. I don’t think so. I don’t know.” I mumble my answer, staring down at my toes with their bright pink nail polish.

Kris goes a different route. “You saw Bea last time after our yoga session, right? Did you make it there okay time wise?”

I nod, not trusting my voice.

“Have things been okay in therapy?”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s fine.” I shrug, grab my coffee and take a sip.

Kris looks at me, and it’s like she sees that I’m not really here. She tries a different approach. “How is Kat?” Anyone who knows me knows that talking about Kat can help ground me, bring me back to the present, help me be more here.

This time, though, it backfires. Tears spring up, and I blink them away furiously. I can’t find words, and so I shake my head at her and shrug my shoulders.

“Okay. Something is going on with Kat then. Whatever it is, I can see something really going on in your body, some tension…I can see it’s hard to be present today.” She speaks about all of this like it’s perfectly acceptable, and like I am okay and not some crazy person.

“I…the situation…it’s just triggered me a lot.” I finally say, my voice small and shaking.

“Okay. That’s okay. If you want to talk about it, we can do that, and if you want to leave it out, that’s okay too.”

I look up at her. “I don’t know…I’m not sure.”

“It’s all your choice. I see myself as holding the space so you can choose what is right for you. It’s entirely okay to talk about it, and sometimes talking it out can help release it. Other times, talking about it can be more triggering and make it feel more here. I’m okay with whatever feels right for you. I’m just here to support you and help you,” Kris tells me.

We sit quiet for a few minutes, Kris breathing in and letting her out breath extend. I can’t even seem to follow that today. I decide to talk to her. A part of me wants her to know what is going on, why I am such a mess and struggling. I’ve never chosen to spell things out for her, but she has been consistent and here, and safe since I started seeing her. I think it’s okay. And, she already knows what my trauma is, because Bea has talked to her about it (with my permission, of course).

I start talking, explaining the messy situation and the confusion. And then, to my surprise, I say, “I’m so triggered by it all. My…it was a family friend, someone who babysat me that hurt me. This is all too close, too much.” I recognize as I’m talking that I’m really dissociated, removed from this moment, and that’s why I’m able to talk. But as I talk, Kris only offers understanding and kindness.

“I can see how triggered you are in your body. Do you know what you are feeling in your body right now?” She finally asks me.

I shake my head. Embarrassed, I finally say, “I’m not so…I feel really disconnected right now.”

She nods. “You probably have felt that way since you heard what your friend had to say.”

I nod, yes, exactly.

Kris asks me to invite some movement to my body. She starts us out sitting in hero and raising our arms up to stretch. She remarks that the body doesn’t lie, and that she can see all the anxiety and tension of the triggered state and flashbacks in mine right now. It feels oddly validating.

We move through several of the more simple yoga poses, but I’m not coming back to my body. It’s like I’ve forgotten how to be grounded. I’m numb and partly frozen.

“Let’s do some chair work, okay?” Kris asks me, as she moves a folding chair onto her mat.

Almost mechanically, I copy her, moving a chair onto my mat.

And that’s when she has me sit on the edge of the chair, raise up to a squat above the chair. And then she asks me to sit back down without looking behind me. I look at her. “Crap,” I say. It’s light hearted and possibly a little funny, but I’m panicking. This is the famous chair exercise. The one that I froze during last time. “I’ve done this already. Why am I freaking out? This is so stupid,” I say.

“Your body knows what to do. You can trust it. Just sit back. The chair is still there, I promise,” Kris speaks slowly and soothingly to me.

I nod at her, and really feel how frozen I am. I reach my hand behind me, wanting to check for the chair. I pull it back before I can, mad at myself. That feels like cheating.

“However you need to sit back is okay,” Kris says. Her voice is so full of compassion in that moment, I know she isn’t judging me.

I close my eyes, and sit back. The moment I land on the chair, I burst into tears. I rush to cover my face, folding my upper body over my legs. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I manage to get the words out.

“No sorrys. There is nothing to be sorry for. It’s okay. I’m okay with tears. Your body is just letting out some of this emotion, the feelings you’ve had locked up for so long. You sat back in the chair, you came back to the present just a little bit. It’s okay. You are safe here and now, safe in the present moment.” Kris maybe says more, but it’s all soft spoken and kind, soothing.

She allows me to cry, to breakdown. I apologize again, telling her I know we are past time, and I’m sorry, just so sorry. In a way, I’m begging her not to hate me for being a needy, sobbing mess in her yoga studio.

“It’s okay. I’m not in a rush,” she says. After a pause, she continues, “I see myself as here to support you, to help you heal in whatever ways I can. Today that means making space for tears. It’s okay.”

“Do other people cry?” I ask her. She knows I’m asking about her other trauma yoga students.

“Yes, definitely. You aren’t the only one, not at all. And, I know from my own trauma, that sometimes all that anxiety and fear can be so overwhelming and feel so bad, and it’s like even when you rationally know it’s in the past, you have to allow yourself to feel it, as painful as that can be. And that’s what you are doing, allowing yourself to feel it and move through it.”

I sniffle, and try to stop the crying. It’s not working very well. “I’m just so tired of it all. It’s so hard sometimes,” I tell her.

“I know. It really is tiring. You might not be able to hear this right now, but you are strong, and brave. You are healing and changing and working through this because you are so very strong, even if you don’t feel it right now.”

Kris brings a box of Kleenex over to me, and pulls a few out, handing them to me. I still can’t look up and face her. I hate crying in front of people. It’s shameful to me. I’m used to crying in front of Bea now, and even with her, I have a hard time facing her after.

“It’s like you are living in two worlds right now. The old world, and this new world. The old world with the paradigm of nothing being safe and not being able to trust and needing to be out of your body and the new world, where you have people who want to help you, where you can be grounded and safe in your body, where it’s okay to trust. It is hard and scary to be in the new world. It’s confusing to live in both worlds. But it will shift, and it will get easier to be in this new world. Old trauma responses will be changed and you won’t fall back into the old world as easily.” Kris is kneeling in front of my chair, just sitting near me, so I am not alone.

“You’ve been here?” I ask softly.

“Yes, I have.” She knows I mean this ugly pain filled place. “Sometimes, I still visit. But it’s less and less and I can leave a lot quicker.

I think about that. I’m grateful she is honest with me about it. “It gets better, right?” I ask her. I need to know, to hear I won’t feel so stuck and hurt and damaged forever.

“Yes. It gets so much better. It takes a long time, and hard work, but you are doing that work. And you don’t have to be alone. You have Bea, and your husband, and I count myself as a support person for you, too. You only have to reach out.”

I nod my head, knowing she’s right about just needing to reach out. I calm down, and dry my face. Kris and I say goodbye. She says she wants to offer me a hug, but she also knows that might now feel okay right now, and I don’t have to feel bad for saying no. I shake my head, no hugs, I can’t do that today. She gets it.

I’m tired the rest of the day, but some of the tension and anxiety seems to be gone. I keep thinking about her promise that even though it takes a long time, it gets better.

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Yoga article

My yoga teacher, Kris, is writing an article about trauma informed yoga. She asked me if I would share with her how it has helped me, what I think yoga has done in terms of healing. This is what I sent her, and I wanted to share it here. I think it’s a good synopsis of how yoga has helped me, and why I think yoga is such a great tool for dealing with trauma.

Being able to take trauma informed yoga has definitely impacted my journey of healing from trauma. When my therapist suggested yoga, my first response was to say “no way”. I’d been disconnected from my body for so long, it felt safer to be that way. The therapist didn’t let it go, though. Every so often, she would suggest yoga, and say she really felt that yoga would be a good way for me to get in touch with my body in a safe way. She kept trying to make me understand that trauma, and all the scary feelings and thoughts that go along with it are in the past, and if I could be connected to, and present in my body, I would be grounded in the here and now.

I didn’t understand that until I met Kris, and started seeing her for weekly yoga sessions. Because I had spent a good portion of my life participating in ballet, gymnastics and cheerleading, a lot of the yoga poses came easily to me if I didn’t think about it. When I tried to think about it, or feel something in my body, it was harder to perform the pose. Kris was never pushy, and she never made me feel bad for not feeling something in my body, or not wanting to do a particular pose. She was simply accepting of where I was at, and seemed to easily make space for whatever feelings I had coming up even when I couldn’t articulate them.

During one session, she had me sit in a chair, stand up and then asked me to sit back down in the chair without looking behind me. It seemed simple, but I froze. I can’t fully explain it, but later when I talked with my therapist about it, she hypothesized that Kris was asking me to do something that was out of my control in some ways, and that triggered a freeze reaction. Trauma is all about loss of control, so it made sense. Kris worked through it with me, and I did eventually sit back in the chair. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was really the moment that I understood being in the present, connected to my body and trusting my body was safer than being disconnected and constantly stuck in the past. I felt more confident after that, stronger somehow, just knowing I had been able to get through the scared feelings and move past them without disconnecting from the moment.

I’ve learned a lot from yoga. I’ve learned to be able to focus on my breathing to help calm myself. Before, focusing of breathing was always slightly triggering for me. I think that being able to breathe through any uncomfortable feelings that come up from poses in yoga has helped me see I can breathe through any feelings that might come up during therapy, or in life. I’ve learned I’m stronger than I think I am, and that I can trust myself. My therapist and I have both noticed that when I talk to her about traumatic memories, I’m able to keep one foot grounded in the present and one foot in the past. Before, I was constantly getting fully sucked into my past, never able to really hold onto the here and now. Yoga has had a lot to do with that.

On a more practical side, yoga has helped me to connect with my body again. I’m diagnosed with fibromyalgia, so while I do feel pain if it’s bad enough, I’ve always been able to block it out quite easily. While that can be beneficial in some situations, it has meant I tend to over stress my body because I don’t feel it, and it has made it hard to communicate with my doctors about where I feel pain at. Since starting yoga, I’ve learned to listen to my body, and stop before I hurt myself. I’ve been able to communicate more effectively with my doctors, too.

I wish I could fully explain how yoga has helped me. I think so much of it is a feeling, something I just know, that it’s hard to find words. It’s helped move out of my head and back into my body. I’ve grown a lot in the year since I started trauma therapy. I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be nearly as far in this journey if it weren’t for trauma informed yoga.

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.