The Benefits Of Losing Your Yoga Practice
I like to tell people I grew up inside of a swimming pool.
While it’s not entirely accurate, up to the age of seventeen I did spend a large portion of time in swimming pools, as a competitive synchronized swimmer. Yeah, I know… the weird sport that involves swimming, dancing, breath retention, underwater maneuvers, strength, and the uncanny ability to smile whilst wearing a nose plug after you’ve just righted your body from being upside down only seconds earlier.
Suffice to say I was super-active kiddo. I was training multiple times each week. I was flexible and strong. I could swim 50 meters underwater. I wore sequin-covered swimsuits and gelatin in my hair. Most of my life has been active like this, including a diverse range of activities: sailing mini-yachts, and tap/jazz ballet as a kid, in addition to “synchro”; belly dancing in my 20’s (including paid performances); Muay Thai kickboxing; cycling; jogging…you name it.
In my mid-20’s the physical practice of yoga came into my life, too
Initially, I came to yoga due to an injury that meant I had to stop dancing, but later it also became important to deal with long bouts of sitting cross-legged in meditation. It took a while for my love of yoga asana to blossom. Mostly because my body was super-flexible, so most yoga felt quite easy to me – something I took for granted. Eventually, though, I learned the value of being able to check in with my body while doing yoga.
“Did you know”, asked one of my friends, “that you’re holding your breath?”
I didn’t. This was many years ago on a yoga retreat in the wilds of northeast Thailand, and well before I realized that I’d grown up in what was for me, a trauma-ridden household. That comment was the first clue. Showing me how my yoga practice could inform me about what’s really going on in my inner world. It was the beginning of understanding the inherent value of moving and breathing to enable a deep connection to my Self.
In 2009 after years of studying both yoga philosophy and physical practices, I completed a 500 hour Hatha Yoga teacher training, sort of by accident. I’d initially signed up to do a smaller course – a yoga studies program. But the principal of the school encouraged me to switch to the teacher training. It was wonderful. I loved doing so much yoga, and after a shaky start (OMG people are going to be looking at me!), I also loved teaching. I was still very much invested in my own practice, attending workshops, trainings, and regular classes.
I trundled along teaching yoga classes and working a full-time job for about three years. Then I had a career break, and began studying kinesiology, all the while still teaching yoga classes. But I felt like I had my rhythm – yoga, kinesiology, meditation. This was my balanced happy place.
Then it all began to fall apart!
Mid-2014 my Dad became gravely ill. We were told many times he was going to die, but he held on for almost twelve months and passed exactly a week before his 71st birthday. During that time, I kept up all of my practices. Yoga and kinesiology were my refuges. But when Dad passed away, almost everything ceased.
I couldn’t face my yoga mat. I wasn’t able to handle being in such a personal and intimate space with my grief. I also stopped riding my beloved bike as much as I used to. I liked walking, but even that was too much sometimes. I did, however, keep up my kinesiology work, both as a client and later, as a practitioner.
But my yoga practice vanished, and it’s taken four years to find my way back.
As Dad prepared to leave this life, something else began to awaken
Well before I consciously knew Dad was on his way out, my subconscious knew. Something deep within me stirred from its slumber. The first awareness came as persistent pain in my left leg, that traveled between the hip, butt muscles, hamstring, and knee. I did plenty of yoga, had acupuncture and kinesiology galore, religiously used my spikey ball. The pain would come and go, but it always returned. As a kinesiologist, I knew that this pain had a message. I just couldn’t get to the bottom of it.
Thirteen months later I had a powerful Kundalini awakening
It’d been building for months and when it came, it was the all-singing, all-dancing, fireworks and erupting volcanoes kind. The explosion of energy in my body was so raw that it took well over a year for things to settle somewhat. Nothing has been the same ever since.
In that time, I did a LOT of nothing. I’d spend hours admiring a single leaf on a tree. A drop of water in the shower contained worlds within worlds. I had electricity pouring along my spine, and out of my hands and fingers. Especially when I was doing energy work. I wrote vast amounts of ecstatic poetry – a necessary outlet for my inner plane experiences.
There was so much inner movement, outer movement felt irrelevant
While I tried to keep up my yoga practice, my body was just too sensitive. I also tried to ride my bike a little, but the easiest movement by far was walking on the beach. Slowly. A year later, I had a massive falling out with the rest of my family of origin (I jokingly say I was “unsubscribed”). It was shocking and stressful. Large chunks of my hair fell out. Friendships ended. My life felt a lot like a shipwreck.
Still, my exercise was mainly walking – on the beach, around the block.
In all of these ways, I lost my yoga practice
I didn’t have the slightest interest in rolling out my mat, which isn’t something I never expected. Between the ongoing movement of Kundalini coursing through my energy system and the emotional recovery I was dealing with, life felt like a snow globe that’d been shaken so hard, it was a blizzard. I scheduled many healing sessions for myself. There was so much grief to process, and I worked hard to re-grow the hair that’d fallen out.
The electricity moving through my body was still intense. But things were stabilizing, slowly. I had a few attempts at re-booting my physical activities, but I didn’t get very far. By this time it was frustrating. My body was out of shape, and I knew it. But the intense inner movement wasn’t over. So everything else had to stop in order, to find stillness.
I found myself taking a pilgrimage to India at the end of 2018
Only months earlier, I had no idea it was going to happen. Due to a happy confluence of the right timing and circumstances, suddenly I was going to an ashram in India to see a saint I’d felt very connected to for some time – Sri Shakti Amma (an avatar of the goddess Narayani). In the weeks leading up to my trip, my persistent leg pain increased. On the flight to Chennai, it was almost unbearable.
I’d assumed I was going there to recover from the turbulence of the last few years. Little did I know I was actually coming face-to-face with a deeply hidden core trauma. My time in India was a blissful adventure, combined with being in a pressure cooker of my own stuff. Occasionally, it was absolutely harrowing. I cried buckets, in that way where epic amounts of snot also pours out of your body. The purge was real.
In a place where I had no roles or responsibilities, it was all about connecting with the Divine Mother, and with my own truths. I received many blessings, among them I also began remembering things that’d been hidden in the depths of my mind. My working theory is that in order to access what’d been buried, my life needed to completely fall apart.
The compensation pattern I’d developed to keep myself safe had to crumble. And when it did, my ongoing leg pain simply evaporated.
What is a compensation pattern?
It’s a term that’s generally used in relation to physical movement patterns, where the body finds ways to move in order to cope with an injury or lack of strength or mobility. Compensation patterns can result in recurring physical issues that don’t seem to improve. We can have both physical and emotional compensation patterns, and often a traumatic experience can be held in this way, to allow us to survive. It’s possible to feel strong and fit, yet still, be carrying compensation patterns. However, they’ll only work for so long before something breaks down.
In India, the threads of my hidden traumas were being teased apart.
Blizzard, blizzard… MOVE
When I came home, I spent a lot of time staring at my garden, as the pieces of my life came back together in an entirely new formation. Whenever I had nothing else to do, I’d lie there feeling the blizzard of my inner snow globe continue to settle: tiny pieces of light fluttering into place. The urge to move returned piece by piece. First, I moved my kinesiology work from my house into a clinic space. I moved jobs. I’ve looked at future plans, including possibly moving interstate. Creative projects are now coming to life.
And finally, I found my way back to physical movement. Turns out, variety and fun were key. I never expected to be a gym person but a gym with lots of great classes, plenty of work out zones and a spa? Yes, please.
My resolution = move this body every day. Without expectations.
As a former yoga teacher, you might imagine I’ve high standards when it comes to teachers and classes. I tentatively tried some of the yoga on offer at the gym and was pleasantly surprised. So yoga is in the mix with weight machine workouts, body pump, Pilates, and body combat. Oyyyyyy, though. While my body holds a lot of muscle memory, it’s quite out of condition. I’m carrying more weight than I’d like, and my joints ache.
But I’m determined to transform this physical body to be a match for all the inner transformation it’s been through.
And here is where I’m finding the gold in having lost my practice
Of course, everything isn’t as easy as it once was, and actually, I appreciate that. I see where my heels are in downward dog when they used to be flat to the floor. I feel the resistance in my ankles. I notice how my wrists feel as they take the weight of my upper body. My knees are unhappy with this extra movement. Spinal twists are so much more restricted than they ever were. I can only just hold a plank pose. I used to be able to do the splits!
I feel what it must’ve been like to be one of my yoga students, whose bodies don’t bend quite so freely. I witness the value of being able to move fluidly, as my body remembers how to open again. And I bemusedly recall that 20-something version of me who found most yoga poses so easy. I didn’t know I wouldn’t always feel like that. As I rebuild my fitness, I understand how my yoga practice is a foundation for it all.
We need the lengthening of body parts, and the synchronization of movement and breath to find our Selves. We need our joints to move freely in order to navigate this world unimpeded. So that we’re not afraid to move our bodies. So that it’s easy to stand up when we’ve fallen over.
Being active throughout my life had acted as a barrier
Movement and flow can be a release, of course. But it can also be a way to physically wall off issues we didn’t have the resources to deal with at an earlier time in life. I’d used flexibility and fitness as a compensation pattern to create space between me and childhood traumas I barely remembered. But the falling away and re-ignition of my movement practices has been crucial both for fitness and as a way of purging those traumatic memories from every cell in my body.
Nowadays, my yoga practice nourishes me from an entirely different place
It whispers to me where I need to look: which parts of my body are holding something specific that needs to be addressed in a healing session. I don’t care about what poses I can or can’t do anymore. Yoga has become a part of my inner GPS to detect and release that which no longer serves me. It’s an early warning system that doesn’t need to shout to be heard. And a way to work with my inner child, re-parenting her into complete safety and wholeness.
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