When Your Yoga Brings You To Tears (aka Free to Be You & Me)

photo credit elephant journal
photo credit elephant journal

 

 

In the third grade I saw ‘Free to Be You and Me‘.

Ftobelogo

I don’t remember if it was planned or if some weather induced incident prompted the rolling in of the projector, but we gathered in the atrium.

Do you remember that feeling? The excitement of the projector? Freedom from some schoolwork and the lights turned off during the school day? It was an adventure.

Have you had the pleasure of seeing FtbYM? Have your kids seen it?

It turned 40 last year. Marlo Thomas and friends tackle gender indentity, racsism, sexism and class with songs, animation, live action and of all things- puppets.

Just thinking about it makes me smile. You get to see a teenaged Michael Jackson sing with Roberta Flack about growing up and not changing. (Sort of eerie to watch now)

FtbYM was a landmark album and film by the Ms. Foundation for Women that introduced a generation of parents and kids to a new world order that was not just tolerant, but celebrated difference.

But…the greatest part of the movie for me is Rosey Grier singing ‘It’s Alright to Cry’.

6’5 burly, intimidating Rosey Grier tells us that it’s alright to cry. He croons:

It might make you feel better.

It’s alright to feel things,

though feelings may be strange.

And they change and change and change.

To this day I can’t help but hum the song in my head when I see tears or cry myself. (Imagine, I’m hysterical and still somewhere in my head singing- I accept my weirdness and way my freak flag proudly)

In many ways it was yoga.

Have you every cried on your mat?

I have. I remember once after a particularly bad break-up I wandered to a local studio. I needed to cleanse and didn’t realize at the time that I was in the midst of huge emotion changes. Isn’t that always the way? We don’t recognize change when it’s happening.

When I lifted up to Ustrasana (Camel Pose) a dam burst. Tears streamed down my face. Whoops- who turned on the faucet? I sucked it up and let it out at home.

Knowing what I know now I would have went with it. Pushing it back down wouldn’t have been an option. This actually makes things worse. When you can let a feeling come up and just be, it’s easy to let it change and change and change (Thanks Rosey!)

Releasing emotions is one of the amazing benefits of yoga. In a world that rewards stuffing down feelings, letting go and showing emotion in class at first made me very vulnerable. I got past my urges to ‘just do the poses’. My flow changes with my emotions and sometimes it changes in spite of my emotions. Now when things come up on my mat that make me say, ‘Hmm, I didn’t even know I was thinking about that.’ I can let it go and deal with it or release it if it isn’t serving me.

Turns out when you don’t resist most things aren’t a big deal.

Imagine that shit.

As a teacher I keep an eye out for this, especially with new students. Tears can come up  and it’s crucial that when I see it- I gently leave a tissue and check in with a look or hand on the shoulder to make sure everything is okay. Doing this discreetly is obvious, but for the sake of clarity I’ll mention it anyway. I want to create a safe space.

The point is, it’s alright to cry.

Yoga is my grown up version of Free to Be You and Me.

This is yoga. And it’s free to be whatever I need it to be. For me.

Namsate y’all.

Advertisements

Free Your Mind – Yoga and Addiction

chanting -2

I used to smoke.

A lot.

I won’t go into the details of the beginning because I think the end at least in my case, was more important. Addiction will grip you so tightly you don’t think you can ever let it go. And even after the worst is over and the ‘habit’ is dead and gone, on some days out of nowhere it sneaks up on you.

It’s a gentle whisper that tells you that you are ‘better’ so one puff isn’t a big deal.

That’s the insidious side of addiction that people don’t talk about. Lots of times it doesn’t feel bad. Like Dexter’s dark passenger it shows up when you least expect it or worse, when you really think you need it. It’s a soothing voice that says you are different from all the other addicts. You had a problem in the past but now you can smoke just one.

I can’t. Not ever. This is what makes me different than the person who enjoys a cigarette or cigar once in awhile. I cannot contemplate that. I don’t have that kind of control. It’s more than just an issue of willpower. I’m addicted to cigarettes and smoking opened the door to all kinds of other self-destructive behavior.

Sometimes I would stop smoking for awhile and then bum a cigarette while out at a bar. That would lead to me buying a pack on the way home and smoking most of them that night.

I attempted to quit many times. I was blasé about failing. It was a way to deny the inevitable truth that I was letting tobacco ruin my health.  Unless I spoke that sentence out loud, smoking would always be a part of my life.

That utterance would have to lead to action. That action would mean that I could never go back. I’m ambitious and driven by nature- this consistent inability to quit was impossible for me to understand. Because I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t share it with anyone else.  Those who haven’t had a struggle with addiction may not understand, but it’s scary. Loss of control for a Type A is not familiar nor comfy ground.

Enter yoga.

Yoga is increasingly used in conjunction with many addiction treatment programs. Whether it’s an addiction to sex, tobacco, drugs, gambling, shopping, food, toxic relationships or control, yoga is one of many tools that helps you when a critical moment arises.

For me it’s more than that, it’s a new way of being. And though I have embraced yoga with a zeal that might make you raise an eyebrow in suspicion, yoga isn’t a replacement for smoking. Rather it’s a way to deal with stress, a way to be happy and embrace the present.

There are certain poses in yoga that can get us through a rough patch. Here are 3 that work for me.

photo credit nuonsros.com

1. Ustrasana (Camel Pose) – This pose is a heart opener and it can release a surprising amount of emotions. This may seems like a bad thing, it’s not. When you push feelings down, it can lead to acting out. Letting go can bring about the sense of calm you need to stay on track.

2. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) – Sometimes a new perspective is just what we need to get through a stressful moment. One day at a time is sometimes one hour at a time or one minute at a time or even one second at a time. A different view can paint a different picture. New pictures can be what is necessary to stay present.

photo credit redbubble.net

3. Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (Standing Bow Pose) – This pose helps with circulation and  patience. It takes times to master this pose. And until you do master it, you fall out of position again and again.

It’s this practice of of coming back that helps me be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes that’s what being free from addiction is all about learning to be okay with what feels icky or frustrating. The act of feeling a feeling helps it pass and helps you move on. It’s what I love most about this pose. Every motion of this pose even when it doesn’t work move us forward.

Of course if you have serious problems with addiction you should seek professional help. But for those of us who need a boost, these poses can help remind us the joys of being free.

This is yoga. And it can help you maintain peace during the storm.

Namaste y’all.

Emotional Speedbump – Ustrasana (Camel Pose)

camelrain

I love backbending. Wasn’t born with one of those super flexi spines, but the exhilaration that rises when I’m in wheel  is unmatched. Yoga has opened my tight right shoulder and chaturanga has given my back strength.

When I draw my shoulder blades down in a pose like salabhasana interlock my fingers behind me and glue my hands together I can lift my chest almost a foot higher.

I feel invincible. I feel strong.

Oddly enough this love of backbends and strength means nothing when I do ustrasana. To me, Camel is elusive and confounding.

Ustrasana amplifies my subconscious, stress that I work so hard to tamp rises hot and aware. The first time this happened I was caught off-guard and tears rolled down the sides of my eyes. In child’s pose I had to tell myself not to cry my eyes out on the mat. When the teacher mentioned that Camel Pose can bring up emotions I grumbled, now you tell me.

It was the first step to healing an emotional wound and I’ve been using it as medicine ever since.

There are plenty of times these days that opening up in Camel leaves me elated. When this happens I have to breathe in and out to prevent a spontaneous dance party in the middle of class.

Happy, sad, angry or glad – Camel pose will not leave you feeling neutral.

I’ve read that the opening of the heart chakra is what facilitates this opening of the emotional floodgates. But when I looked at the illustration below- it seems that when you do Camel properly aligned (hips forward, heart lifted) you can push on almost every chakra.

It seems that you get a chance to unblock or at least stir up anything that needs to come up.

Camel pose makes the body say- slow down mama and take it all in. I just want to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

And while I get a little annoyed when I am forced to deal with a feeling that I’ve been avoiding- it’s so nice to get it out of the way. This is part of the journey I guess.

This is yoga. And I embrace feeling all of it.

Namasté y’all.

camel chakra

You Can Run, but You Can’t Hide Sasangasana (Rabbit Pose)

bikram-yoga_grid_6

My spirit takes a journey

My spirit takes a flight

Could not have risen otherwise

And I am not running

I’m choosing

Running is not a choice from the breaking

Breaking is freeing

Broken is freedom

I am not broken

I am free

– Alike from the movie ‘Pariah’

Hellbent, Benjamin Lorr’s book about a regular dude who becomes obsessed with Bikram, both the yoga and the man and writes a journalistic account of the Bikram world. There’s a quote from the movie Pariah that begins one of the chapters.

I am now crushing on Benjamin Lorr.

So savvy to quote a brilliant and understated film about the coming of age of a Black lesbian teenager in Brooklyn.

The journey of healing so many attribute to hot yoga and the parallels with Alike’s journey to self was enough to make me giggle and tap my feet as I read my nook on the PATH train to my own hot yoga class.

I sat on my mat feeling so ready and sure. Reading Hellbent on the train had me stoked to be in the hot room!!!

My bag had been packed to perfection(bag packing for hot yoga is crucial). My water bottle was solid ice. My post class  clothes were in a separate bag.

Couldn’t be more ready. The lights were still off and I looked at myself in the mirror. Suddenly my sukasana felt wobbly. No longer was I easy in my seat.

A lump rose in my throat.

What was I doing taking a class? Had I really decided to make this change and teach yoga? And write? And figure out a strategy to make all of this into a living? Serving the world with yoga? 

The craziness in my head continued….

Panic. Why was I thinking about this now? How did all of those thoughts rush through my head in 20 seconds?

I took to my back to exhale. Class started- and it was a hot, brutal freaking mess. Poses seemed to go on for hours.

But I kept looking at myself in the mirror. This mirror aspect of hot yoga really irks some folks. They say it’s narcissistic. I think it depends on the person. Yoga is what you make of it, no?

Sometimes, I need to square off with my sweaty reflection.

Sometimes I need to look at myself and say, cut the shit Oneika. You. Have. Got. This. So. Suck. It. Up.

I plodded on…One of my favorite teachers adjusted my Rabbit pose. I knew I looked pretty broken throughout class. She was gentle with the adjustment. My legs are long and I am flexible in my back and neck, but I rely on my leg length to get into the pose.

That’s not how yoga works. Yoga is about using strength but finding new ways to reach the final expression of a pose…

Once that is done, you find new ways to grow.

She told me to relax my shoulders – I did. She told me to lift my hips, but my shoulders hunched up. Relaxed my shoulders but my hips dropped. She couldn’t see my face but I think she could feel my frustration and fear.

‘That’s okay, next time’, she said.

I exhaled. Next time. There is a next time.

I didn’t like my life before because I felt broken. Sometimes in class I feel like I’m breaking…because I am free.

I got home and pulled out my plan. The time has come to readjust. I want and need new things.

Change. It’s familiar and scary at the same time.

I always feel this way jumping off the diving board, that tickle of excitement in my stomach and a big bounce- afraid for a second….flying up…

But then I remember, I am an excellent swimmer.

This is yoga. And I am free.

Namaste y’all.