It is revolutionary and terrifying to release the control and movement of your breath into another’s control. At least for someone that likes to be in control, which of course, isn’t me.
About a month ago, I was in the middle of my 2nd Yoga Teacher Training Intensive at Circle Yoga Shala that was focused on Pranayama (Breathing Techniques). I climbed the hills of Hwy 7 to the shala with a hybrid of emotions not yet knowing these would be forced to the surface in a room full of individuals due to focusing my attention on breath alone (under the guidance of my teacher, Matt).
On the 3rd day, we began the practice of Kapalabhati – “Skull shining breath.” In the middle of practice, I felt my chest tighten, my jaw clench, and tears flood down my face. Completely perplexed by what was going on, I tried to make myself as small as possible in the room, not garnering attention from anyone. I have always been the “I don’t cry in front of other people” person. Also, I loathe being the center of attention which is obvious by the deep shade of beet red that rises in my face. Yet, here I was sitting in what felt like a crowded room searching my head rather than my heart for why on earth I couldn’t gather myself and stop. I didn’t want to sit through this and show what I perceived to be a weakness. For some reason, I stayed put. I didn’t rush out the door and head off that mountain though I entertained that thought for about 15 minutes. My tears slowed but I knew the minute we circled up to talk about our experience they would return. All Matt had to say was “Why the drop in spirit?” and here they came. What I struggled the most with was my inability to pinpoint the cause of this downpour. I sat there thinking is this what a nervous breakdown is? Have I completely lost my mind? Graciously, Matt moved to the next person. I was really hoping for a break, but after everyone shared we went back to practice. And here they came again, but rather than forcing the tears and the emotions to go back to a tightly closed bottle, I sat there and let them come. I could not do the practice that was being taught, but I did stay with my breath body. The practice came to a close and I wiped my face as we circled up. Holly (my teacher too) came in and noticed my drained face. She had me try and relate what was happening. She observed that even in that moment I was barely breathing, so her only instruction was to breath in my stomach. The rest of the day went on with a screaming headache but with kind love from my teachers and all the other students.
That night, upon Holly’s invitation, we sat down and discussed my experience. I cannot write everything I learned from her that night; this would go on and on. What I am reminded right now, is the understanding and full belief that the trauma you experience in life is reflected in your body and your breath. If you spent much of your life in survival mode, this is reflected in your posture and where you breathe. At the moment, I no longer need to be in survival mode. My task is to learn how to reside in peace and allow the wounds that have healed to be only a part of me. All the stories that have molded me into who I am today do make up my identity, but not all of it. It is difficult to relay in words everything that was revealed to me.
The next morning, I woke up with a new sense of self-confidence. By showing my softer side to those around me and even to myself, I became more open. The guilt of previous mistakes, decisions, slowly began to drop off and I was ok with “mistakes” again. The perfection I set was the isolating force that kept me from fully diving into humanity. As well as my normal doomsday perspective of “expect the worst and be surprised with the best” was replaced with the life perspective “to be present in the joy and sorrow.” It could probably go without saying, but I have a lot to unlearn along with returning to my body and my breath with loving kindness.
I’ll call this a mini-spiritual awakening, rather than a mini-nervous breakdown. I’m hoping the effects continue to soak my entire being. I’m intensely grateful to my teachers and fellow yogis at the shala and all my dear friends and teachers back home in Little Rock. I’m awed by the loving embrace and encouragement that you all send my way.
“Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet