My Inner Worlds
Seven weeks ago today I took my first Yin yoga class at Raleigh Yoga Company. Since that day I have found more range of motion, a freedom in my body, and a growing desire to take better care of my health. For the past year I’ve tried to give up alcohol. Matt and I even made it a couples thing, thinking it would strengthen our resolve. Our last effort together tanked when I told Matt I was just going to drink when I wanted, and he’s left me in the dust in his success of living an alcohol-free life. This weekend I’ve finally found that place inside that prefers to stay sober, to stay clear of the inflammation it causes in my muscles and tissues, to be free from the brain fog it gives me. When I gave up consuming refined sugar many years ago (I had to for health reasons), it took me years to find that place where I preferred to live without it in my system. It’s rare for me to cheat on that no-sugar rule, but I yo-yoed for a long time. I may have found my balance point for not wanting to stray from the no-alcohol way of life.
This is huge for me. I’m Taurean, which the astrology buffs will know translates to “likes good food and beverages in a luxurious, comfortable setting.” I already eat gluten-free and absolutely don’t cheat on that. Sugar, alcohol, and gluten products comprise most of the “fun” food in my opinion. I have to find things in life that mean more to me than food and drink, and yoga has opened a potential door for that. I’ve even had thoughts of trying vegetarianism again, but I’m not jumping into too much change at once. Sustainable steps will lead me to success in meeting my health and fitness goals over the long term.
I still have neck pain after seven weeks, but my lower back has fewer issues. My eyesight has yet to improve. My cervical spine hits a nerve that I think affects the vision in my left eye. I can wake up with blurry vision in that eye, unable to read even the largest text, but still able to see light and color. It lasts all day, sometimes up to a week. The first time it happened was scary, but I’ve gotten used to it over the past three years. My intent for Bikram yoga is to heal the spine and allow my eyesight to remain steady and clear.
Yoga works for me and my life goals. I’m so glad I finally took the plunge and started my practice. And…today for the first time I stayed in toe squat for the full two minutes without releasing the pressure on my toes. Happy dance.
The time passed where I could hide myself, yet still I hid. Others saw within what I wouldn’t—a strength, a keen edge used in kindness, a woman containing her power inside a shadow of her true self. Not for one second more. I choose to live fully and to consciously build the creative reality I have craved my entire life.
No more silence. No more shame. No more swallowing my secret.
At age 29, the year I found my talented therapist (see post here), I recalled a sliver of memory that shattered my foundation. I was sexually assaulted as a young child. My reason for going to therapy was to stop having panic attacks when I drove in the rain. After six months of building trust with my mental health partner, we dove to a deep place that stored my frantic need to control my life. I cannot express the devastation I felt as I came out of that remembered incident. I wouldn’t believe it at first, my mind telling me it happened to my sister, not to me. But the compassion and love in Jan’s eyes and voice as she coached me through that initial horror told me the truth. She knew. I think she knew all along.
Looking back over my life and my marriage up to that point, all the signs were there. Neither Matt nor I suspected my young past, but together we pieced the puzzle into place and both had to deal with an altered reality. He gave me the space I needed to heal, which took a lot of time. Actually, the healing has been ongoing because an additional layer will reveal itself, and I have to dig deeper to work through those “new” issues.
Each layer takes me further into my desire to give up the need for control that plagues me, to care for my self and for my body, to treat both well. It’s not my or my body’s fault that someone harmed the burgeoning four-year-old light that was supposed to shine in this world. I will shutter my lantern no more.
That’s what I’m grieving this summer. The loss of a childhood I never realized I missed. The loss of a potential we each are given. The loss of the choice to strengthen it or to let it dry in the streambed of my life. My flow was altered, but it wasn’t stopped. It has struggled to find the channel where it can roar with the power of not a stream, but of a churning rapid. Was my creative spirit fated to be broken so I would flounder through my years, longing to write the words I see in my head, yet too frightened of opening that portal and seeing more than I wanted to? There’s no controlling the artistic expression that feeds my heart’s longing and opens the gateway to my innermost pulse.
I guess that’s the fear I’m working through now. If I had my world shattered at age 29 by peering through the door to a healthier emotional state, how will my current life change as I open the creativity flowing through my veins? For the past three years I’ve intentionally worked on nudging myself through this chokehold. Seriously, it chokes me, a grip around my throat. Maybe that’s why I have neck pain, and maybe my spinal issues will fade as I free the voice waiting to be heard.
This blog is part of my journey to freedom. Yoga has been crucial for accessing these stale, stagnant remains of a life that no longer defines who or what I am. A secret spoken is a secret no more. It has no power left to generate the silence and aloneness with which I’ve felt I had to live.
I am rising from the ashes of an unconscious life, and I feel the power of a massive force hidden within. This picture of a planet rising from stormy cloud cover resonates.
A quarter turn, to be precise. Twenty-five years ago today Matt proposed to me on top of the Empire State Building. While we had already been planning our wedding and determining how to make things work as a married couple our senior year at college, I didn’t know he had purchased a ring before we made our trek to New York for me to meet his family. Matt had taken me ring shopping in the Diamond District of NYC earlier that day to throw me off track—he thought I suspected he was going to pop the question. I didn’t. I can’t pull off surprises, so I figure no one else has that capacity.
We got caught in a downpour that afternoon while sight-seeing and I didn't eat properly. My blood sugar crashed, making me grouchy (that's my excuse for it). If I had been Matt, I wouldn’t have wanted to be tied to someone that cranky for the rest of my life. He’s a trooper and obviously loves me. After taking me out for an ice cream drink at TGI Friday’s and seeing my mood lift, he suggested we go to the Empire State Building. It was dark. I was tired. I said no. He cajoled, and I finally caved. I’d like to think I didn’t grump about having to walk again in uncomfortable shoes, but I probably did.
We arrived at the top of the building and enjoyed the amazing view. Matt posed me on top of a short inner wall so he could memorialize the moment with his ever-present camera. I looked towards a group of Japanese tourists and when I turned back to Matt, he was down on his knees. I thought he’d dropped something, until I saw the ring box in his outstretched hand. He asked. I remained silent. After a few moments, he drew me out of my shock with, “Well? You’re worrying me.” My laughter rang through the night as I reached for the ring and said yes. As we huddled close to each other admiring how the jewelry looked on my hand, we both noticed one of the Japanese tourists taking pictures of us. Romance on top of the Empire State Building is part of the American lure.
The roll of film from that night didn’t survive the hot car during our summer trip, so I have no photos to share. But here’s something just as fun: my big hair from that time period. This picture is of Matt and me as newlyweds, enjoying Graduation Brunch before we join the world as real adults.
My hair and I love you, Matt.
Last night I experienced my second Bikram yoga class, followed by hot Yin. I’ve been practicing yoga for over five weeks now. At first Bikram held no attraction, and I felt no intention to try it. The yogis in my Yin class spoke highly of it, and one of the instructors gave me a gentle nudge to attempt another style of yoga. When Raleigh Yoga Company hosted Billy Batten to lead a Bikram workshop, I thought it would be a great introduction to a form that intimidated me (see post here). I gave myself permission to wait until the August class schedule was published before signing up for an actual session. Slight procrastination, but with a deadline.
This past Sunday’s Yin class led by Susan Heller kicked me in a deep place (see post here). I obviously feel safe at this studio--with the instructors, as well as the yogis who share their energy in the room. My emotions released and I sobbed—yeah, one of those people, although I tried to hold it back. Afterwards Susan lent me her autographed hardcover of Bikram Yoga by Bikram Choudhury since she knew the next day would be my first class using this method. Reading the philosophy behind Bikram gave me a framework to appreciate it and to begin letting go of my fear of the unknown. I’ve ordered my own copy of the book so I can study it in leisure and reference the poses between practice.
My first Bikram class was a blur. Twenty-six poses seamlessly woven together while we sweat in a room heated to 104 degrees doesn’t allow for extraneous thoughts. However, those tricksy feelings lurk and wait for that comfortable moment when they can strike and say, “Don’t forget we’re still here!” Usually it’s my hips that hold this distressed voice, but Monday’s Bikram session opened a figurative scab in my upper neck where I thought my pain was a solid bone fused in unhappy union with my skull. While this may sound negative or gross, it’s a hopeful turn for healing something I once thought permanent. If the chronic pain I experience is truly a scab covering an old wounded spot, I can work to process the underlying issue. My chiropractor treats the bone, the alignment, and has done well for where I have been these past five years. However, I’m ready to move into a new body and a new way of seeing Sarah.
I want to use Bikram yoga as my magnifying glass to show me all the places where my balance is off, both literally and figuratively. If you’re in the hot room with me, you’ll see that I stumble out of the poses requiring balance. That helpful orange wall may develop a permanent handprint until I find my equilibrium. Who knows, maybe I’ll start a trend and all newbies to Bikram will get their handprint on the wall, in a color of their choice of course.
Bikram says, “Is it better to suffer for 90 minutes in ‘Bikram’s Torture Chamber’ or for 90 years?” I choose the 90 minutes so my coming years will be bliss. Yin has already begun a change within my mind and body. Where will I be when I have five weeks of Bikram under my mat? Tune in after Labor Day for my five-week check-in. I won't be able to hold the pose shown below in that timeframe, but I will eventually be limber and strong enough due to a loving community of yogis who cherish the success we share in each class.