As I gathered the pieces of my fragmented memory, evidence was revealed to me that I had been beaten senselessly and thrown through a glass-top table...all in the attempt of trying to leave an abusive relationship. My jaw was broken in three places. I had countless cut, bruises, contusions, and swelling in my brain. The man who assaulted me was also my son's karate sensei. He had infiltrated my home, my work, and all of my relations. I went from a strong, smart, independent woman, to a shell of a human being.
My recovery has been long and arduous, but strangely worth all the suffering. From that experience, I was able to utilize my testimony for advocacy. I developed programs, ran hotlines, and hosted events to raise education, awareness, and financing in the campaign against domestic violence. I published articles, books, and hosted events on local television and radio. I learned and taught self defense courses, mixed martial arts, and boxing. Yet, regardless of all that work and measurable healing, I have still battled for years with PTSD.
PTSD is so much different than general anxiety. PTSD takes a low level anxiety to an unbearable/unmanageable state. A trigger can make me tremble and shake, hyper ventilate, scream, cry, vomit, and be filled with fear for my life however irrational my fears may be. I may even know I have lost control but cannot stop the descent while its happening. While all my "fighting back" in form of extreme physical fitness, self-defense, and boxing temporarily empowered me...it never gave me peace. I was always on guard and amplified. It is yoga that helps me attain peace inside where my triggers begin to subside. Yoga helps me to see that I have nothing left to prove. I am safe. I am free.
Kory has witnessed my "exorcisms" on my mat many times over the past two years of my practicing. I have come a long, long way. Inversions and heart openers are the hardest for me. They leave me vulnerable and I sweat profusely. My nervous system shatters under the pressure of my PTSD. I tremble, shake, and sob sometimes uncontrollably. But Ashtanga takes me as I am. It waits for my body to cooperate with me. This is my self-study. I knew I was in for a long road ahead when Kory gifted me with Pincha Mayurasana (peacock pose) in the Ashtanga Second Series. Pincha Mayurasana is an inversion which the body bows back like a feather in the breeze. For me, this is an unstable/unsafe/vulnerable expression for me. I am always wary of anything where I could be flipped over and smash my face or my neck. I protect myself from reliving the event of being thrown through glass, which is what these poses trigger in me.
How serendipitous that Kory arranged for Tim Feldman to visit our shala and yoga community. I knew I must meet the man that inspired me to become an ashtangi. I can barely convey the meaning and the healing that came through Tim Feldman the very first day of his stay. When I got to Pincha Mayurasana, I started trembling. I shared with Tim in brief my story. The compassion and tenderness he took to guide me is one I will never forget, that I believe washed away 14 years of trauma and anxiety.
First, Tim reminded me that I needed to find the "Leila" in my asana. I knew what he meant. "Leila" in Hindu culture means, "divine play." I needed to let in the playfulness of the pose. I need to be light and free. So funny, as I say this to my students regularly, and I can apply it, with exception to my PTSD. I needed to hear it. To be given permission to use my own medicine and to honor the essence of my own name. I was not even to attempt completing the pose. I was to let the pose breathe to find its sweet center of balancing.
After playing for some time, Time stood in front of me, he guided my legs overhead and into a fall. He was teaching me how to fall to take the fear of it away. He made me do this...over, and over, and over again. But here's the magic of it: Every time I rolled up Tim was standing in front of me with an outstretched hand to pull me into the light. Over and over we did this until my trembling stopped and falling became as free as the pose was supposed to be.
You see...Tim was reprogramming my memory. In Sanskrit, this is known as a Samskara- a pattern of thought that is carved into the psyche initiated by memory (in this case, trauma), which influences your current reality. A good example, is someone who has been bit by a snake. A coiled rope in the road, or a water hose in the yard could trigger an irrational reaction based on the imprint of previous experience. Until the person learns to create new and positive images and associations, they will be subject to reliving that traumatic moment in history.
Tim explained that this samskara was like a knot in my brain. Every time he held out his hand and helped me up from the fall, he was helping me form a new association and memory. No longer was a I afraid to fall and rise from the dark tunnel to the horrifying reflection of my battered face staring back at me. Every time I flipped it was like a waterwheel washing over my brain and smoothing over the deep trenches of the loop that for 14 years had been playing. Now I fall, and I see an outstretched hand in front of me, leading me back to the light, back to the present, back to reality.
To the powers that be at Yoga Alliance that say we cannot use the word "therapy" in our yoga teaching, I strongly disagree. Yoga has been the most liberating therapeutic work I have ever received. In 10 minutes, I was able to reverse 14 years of fear and suffering. I have witnessed too many stories over the years to feel any differently. October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, there is hope and there is healing. Click the resource, or contact me personally. I am here. I am listening.
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~Mary Oliver
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