I was recently interviewed about my experience of becoming a yoga instructor and working with survivors of trauma. Below is an excerpt from the interview. I hope it provides a sense of who I am and how I came to this work. Bear with some of my muddled answers! :)
"When I started yoga, I was in a very difficult place. It was about two years after a significant suicide attempt - I was very much still struggling with depression, an eating disorder, self-injury, and drug use. I was back in school and managing group homes, and outwardly appeared to be doing better even though I was struggling. I had heard of yoga and hoped that it could bring relief to chronic athletic injuries. So I bought Rodney Yee's DVD- Yoga for Athletes and began. I was not prepared for what was to come. Having been so disconnected and in survival mode, I instantly was drawn into the side of the practice where I felt a connection to things outside of me- the Universe, perhaps. It was not easy at the beginning, but little bits at a time I had moments of peace. I began to feel I had a spirit. Eventually, I began to study Buddhism and Mindfulness – it all became very interconnected.
Mentally it has really challenged my idea of my self-identity or my mental construct of who I am. When I started practicing I carried around all of these "I am/have" statements... I am a competitive athlete... I am sick... I have an eating disorder... etc. The day following the first time I did the Yee video, I was so sore. I thought- what are these muscles between my ribs- I am an athlete- ex-gymnast- why am I sore? So for a very long time I practiced with the mindset of a competitive athlete, which wasn't helpful to my body and injuries. Eventually, I started to learn and understand that when I was on the mat - I was none of those things that I could go unite the mind or bring a moment to moment awareness of what my body was doing that I hadn’t experienced before. In some ways, my mind could go on vacation. I was so used to overriding my body when doing physical things to the point of injury- yoga gave me a chance to really challenge that and start to distinguish honestly between pain and an edge as well as understand that I didn’t need to push so hard anymore. I started to not take myself so seriously - that I could fall face first and I wasn't failing at who I thought I was supposed to be… perfect… this took some time and it’s still something I work on… to be in class and NOT do something the instructor is telling me to do and to take care of myself – has helped me to really challenge my ego.
This has radically challenged my idea of how I define “strength." Now strength, to me, is taking care of myself and having choice. Practicing to be in the moment versus letting the mind run off in all sorts of directions, gives me an opportunity to make real time decisions about whether I’ll push a little harder - have fun - or just take childs pose. It has nothing to do with what yoga poses I am able to do.
It also very much challenged what I thought was possible with respect to my body. For a very long time I did everything I could not to be by myself and in my body, certainly not be embodied. It was not a safe place for me to be and truthfully, my own body wasn't safe from me. Yoga has changed everything in that respect. I have so much more respect and gratitude for my body now. I’m not as scared of it. Now the mat, body, and my breath help my mind, mood, and emotions…I am much more content with it and connected to it. It’s also helped me hear my body speak to me through its sensations which has both fascinated me as well as given me critical information about how to take care of myself. The practice is to listen.
Recently some of my past traumas returned in a very present way. I noticed the desire to not feel, to go back to old behaviors and ways of coping to take me out of my body as the sadness and sensation was so difficult to bear at times. In addition to the support from my partner, family and friends, I turned to yoga and the practice of just being with what is. I know now that when I try control my experience or desire to rid myself of it, I just suffer more. Yoga has been such a refuge for me. I know when I’m on the mat, breathing and listening – I will be ok - and when I get off the mat I will be ready and better equipped to handle what comes.
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