How Yoga Saved Me, Part II: Healing

Photo: Watercolor by my Aunt Judy.

 

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

I have often said that butterflies are my ‘spirit animal.’ I loved them even as a child, but as an adult, I find them even more important to me.

My first post (Part I: Broken) was a little dark. This one is me on the way to the happy ending I promised you!

This post is also fucking long and self-indulgent. I guess I needed to get it out there.

PART II: Healing

I was determined to find happiness. In January, after I found the strength to walk away, I threw myself into my job. I got up, put on makeup and a smile and worked hard. I said, “good morning” and “good night,” but I often had to go to the bathroom or for a walk to cry. A text from him had the power to ruin my day. I barely slept. I would lie in bed, cry, replay the past year of my life, etc. If I did sleep, it was restless and full of awful dreams.

On the weekends, it was impossible to get out of bed. I would peak outside and see the grey, cold London winter day and roll back over. There was no point in getting up, and all my energy was spent during the week. I decided I needed a reason to get up.

I started volunteering at the local Save the Children charity shop, which brought me great joy. I worked the register, so I had to be friendly and helpful. The work was mostly mindless, and the team was so much fun. It was just what I needed. For those four hours, I could just escape into a world that was happier than my own.

I also started waiting tables. I usually worked one or two nights during the week and one weekend night. I wasn’t sleeping, so I figured I might as well be earning money while I was up. I worked at a music venue, so I got to see great music for free. Valentine’s Day Night was an R Kelly Concert. It was all couples. I had seen the Facebook post of my ex earlier, and I had to go into the stairwell at one point to cry. One of the guys from the kitchen found me there and told me no guy deserved my tears. Bless him.

I realized that I had to do something. I didn’t smile (really) I never laughed. I was on the verge of tears most of the time. I looked like shit.

I started looking for ways to heal myself. I was desperate to crawl out of the hole I was in.

LAUGHTER YOGA

I decided to spend two weeks in Spain that June. I went to Valencia for a few days and then to a little place out in the campo outside the city. I had found this place through WWOOF. The guy was building an organic farm, and he did something called “laughter yoga.” What the hell is laughter yoga? I had no idea. At this point I really didn’t know much about yoga at all, but I since I had apparently forgotten how to laugh, I decided to check it out.

There were about 8 other people from around the world there at the same time as me. We were building a structure out of tree limbs and mud. I got to get dirty and do a job and talk as much or as little as I wanted. I could practice Spanish or not. I could just be, which is what I needed.

Then we did laughter yoga. A group of maybe 30 of us sat in a circle in our half-built structure under the setting sun. One of the guys had a collie. The man and dog were seated a few people to my right in the circle. The dog got up from next to his owner and started sort of walking around the circle. He was weaving in and out of us, and as he journeyed, he would pause and sniff someone. Some people pet him. He kept going. He got to me and sniffed. Then he sat down and put his head in my lap. He didn’t move. I stroked his head. I don’t remember feeling comfort or anything, but I felt calm for a moment.

The whole idea of laughter yoga is that you verbalize “ha-ha-ha” and “ho-ho-ho” and that is supposed to cause you to erupt into laughter. It was not having this effect on me. All around me, people were falling over themselves laughing. I felt foolish. The facilitator came over and tried to inspire me to laugh. In my head I thought, “Just laugh. Give them what they want, so they will let you be.” I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even bring myself to give the “ha-ha-ha’s” even more than a weak effort. Then he tried a new tactic. He wrapped his arms around me, bear-hugged me, and then he laughed. As he laughed, his whole body shook and the vibrations shook me. The idea was that the vibrations and the joy would cause me to erupt into laughter.

I felt his joy, I felt his love, I felt his vibrations, and I burst into tears. I began to weep and to sob and to cry in a way that I had maybe never cried before. The words “wailing” and “keening” come to mind. He just kept holding me and hugging me as months of sadness flooded out of me by the bucketful.

It was the cathartic cry that I clearly needed.

The next day, I spent the better part of the day hanging out in a hammock with a guy 15 years younger than me who made me feel young and beautiful. We spoke in Spanglish. Nothing really happened between us, but I felt this human connection to him that I was craving. I was self conscious about the age-gap and he told me, “You have a great beauty that girls my age don’t have.”

On the drive back to the train station, I rode with one of the women who had been there. She spoke of vibrations in the earth and our emotions and inter-connectivity. I felt like I was in a Paulo Coehlo novel, but I remember that car ride as one of the most peaceful and calming of my life. I listened to her beautiful Spanish and stared out the window and I may have even smiled a little.

Then I spent a few days on the beautiful island if Ibiza and I remember finding joy walking around by myself, taking pictures, going on a boat ride and talking to strangers.

SOUND & MOVEMENT

Back in London, I somehow stumbled upon a drum circle and ecstatic dance group. Once a month on a Saturday night, this group would gather in one of the oldest churches in London, which is no longer used as a church, and participate in these….activities? I don’t really know what to call them. When we walked into the dimly lit hall, incense was burning and there were colorful lights, sofas, bean bags and musical instruments. The first person to greet you at the door would ask if you would like to be cleansed with sage. Yes, please. I would stand with my eyes closed as she waved her burning bundle of twigs around me and will all the darkness away. I could only hope it would work.

One evening, I had my first experience in a ‘sound bath,’ which is still one of my most favorite ways to meditate. The idea is that as you sit, or preferably lie down, on the floor. The sound from the singing bowls, gongs, dijurido or whatever create vibrations all around you and “bathe” you in the sound and vibrations. (Hmmm…those vibrations coming up again…?) The first one was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. I just melted into the floor and was transported to somewhere free from pain and heartbreak. Silent tears found their way out the sides of my eyes and ran down my temples.

My mind opened up, and I saw light and energy behind my closed eyes.

Other times, musicians would play drums and various percussive instruments, and we would sit in a circle, but as the energy from the drums increased, as the energy filled us, we would get up and dance. I can remember closing my eyes and twirling and just moving my body however it felt like it wanted to move. This wasn’t a dance club. No one was looking at me. No one cared. I could be completely free to move and just let the music take me away. I could smile or laugh or cry or just be. I loved it.

Those Saturdays in the hall became my favorite of the month. Without alcohol and without spending money; with no need for make-up or an outfit; with a community that let me be exactly who and what I wanted to be in that moment, I found two hours of joy once a month.

LEARNING TO MEDITATE

A friend of a friend fancied himself some sort of psychic and was running a series of workshops with other such people on developing your sixth sense. It was essentially various meditation techniques meant to help you explore your mind. I was trying anything, so I figured, WTF.

I think I went to maybe four sessions, but one of them stands out from the others. It was a guided meditation. We sat on chairs in a community room of the public library, and this hippie lady with pink hair and jangly bracelets talked us through a meditation. I lost myself in it. I can remember so vividly seeing myself in a house I had never seen, but it was drab and bleak. I looked out of the window and saw a field of flowers. The sun was shining, and there was a butterfly. I remember feeling like the butterfly was calling to me. I walked out the door, and I ran after her. She was hard to follow because her flight was erratic, but I remember feeling like she was trying to tell me something:

“You do not belong trapped behind walls. Your heart and spirit needed to be free. In order to find happiness, you needed to be free, to fly, to explore.”

I was so lost in my world, I was shocked when I heard the facilitator’s voice again bringing us back. I opened my eyes and was determined to listen the voice that told me to explore. I had decided that I needed to stay in England and not leave just because of him, but when my two years was up, I would listen to my heart to decide what was next. In the meantime, I could explore my world.

There was also yoga center near me that offered evening classes in Buddhist meditation. I went to a series of lead meditation, and it was there that I learned about the loving kindness meditation I mentioned in a recent post. I didn’t find that this particular style of meditation resonated with me, but I was happy to try it and to spend the time in a place of peace.

BHAKTI YOGA (Union by loving devotion)

One of my good friends was equally into all this random shit that I was doing, and we found out about a yoga festival out in the English countryside one weekend. We took the train for the day to see what it as all about. I listened to a guru. I got a massage. But the most important thing that happened was the chanting. There was a session called “Bhakti Yoga” on the schedule. My friend, was like, “That isn’t yoga like you’re thinking of.” I walked into a giant room packed with people. Some were sitting in chairs along the sides. Some were sitting on the floor. Many were up swaying and dancing. At the front of the room was a man with dreadlocks and a woman with the voice of an angel. They were both in baggy, linen pants and loose blouses. She had ribbons in her hair.

Bhakti yoga usually involves Kirtan, which is chanting Sanskrit mantras to the music of a drum, flute, guitar, sitar, harmonium or other instrument. It is usually quite repetitive and tends to start slowly and then build energy and speed as it goes. I was swept up in it. I remember feeling like I was full of love and light and beauty and I just wanted to be around those two people who had created that feeling with their music.

KARMA YOGA (Union by actions)

It turned out those two people, Elahn and Radhe, have an Ashram outside Glastonbury, and I decided to spend New Year’s Eve there. For a very minimal amount of money, they offer, as do many ashrams, the opportunity to practice Karma Yoga. For one week, I would stay in the ashram and be assigned tasks that helped in the running of the ashram, which held classes and hosted guests for retreats. Each morning, we rose before dawn for the meditation sessions. This was followed by an Ayurvedic breakfast and then chores, which included helping in the kitchen, changing sheets and cleaning bathrooms.

Glastonbury is said to located on the heart chakra of the Earth. I was warned that I might feel my emotions heightened while I was there. Perfect, I thought. I spent a lot of time walking around the town, up on the hills and in the various shops selling crystals and such. I had time to think, to process and to just be alone with myself in a place that wrapped you up in its earthly love.

On New Year’s Eve, the ashram offered 12 hours of Kirtan, from 12pm till 12am. I spent almost all of these 12 hours in the temple room listening, chanting and dancing. Radhe and Elahn performed at the very end. It was one of the most fun and joyful New Year’s Eves I have ever had. There was so much love and positive energy in the packed room. I had just told my ex that I wanted no more contact, and I was going to start this year free of him. That night the rooms and the dorms were all full, so I slept on a mat on the floor of the temple after all the musicians had left; the participants had gone home; and the guests had retreated to their rooms. I remember lying there that night with the glow of the candles on the alter and the moonlight streaming through the stained glass window and literally FEELING the vibrations of the past 12 hours lingering in the room.

I felt an overwhelming sense of peace and of joy in that moment, and I was also beginning to learn how to find it in myself.

It was during that week that I decided to cut all meat out of my diet. I was still eating seafood up to that moment, but I had this feeling that I wanted all living things to be able to live, and I did not want to cause any creature pain or death.

The next morning, we did a New Year’s Day fire ceremony, which is meant to be cleansing. You offer the flames all that you want to purge your mind, body and soul of and the smoke send it back to the universe. It was so beautiful and a perfect way to start the New Year.

One morning I laughed out loud as I marveled at the fact that I was spending my vacation scrubbing toilets! And then I marveled at the fact that I had laughed out loud. And then I almost cried for joy.

While I was there, I also had the opportunity to participate in a Zen Buddhist mediation and a gentle Hatha yoga practice.

When I got back to London, I did a fast for the second time. I wanted to continue to help my body rid itself of toxins and dark things. I wrote about fasting recently too. I felt like I was on  the mend and I really wanted my body to be cleansed.

MANTRA YOGA 

All of these things were resonating with me, and I was starting to come out of the haze. It had been a year, and the dark clouds were beginning to lift. I was starting to morph into a better version of myself. I had a job I enjoyed, great friends, and I had closed the door on the toxic communication with my ex. I was running regularly, volunteering every Saturday, and starting to heal.

I wanted to continue on this path because I felt like it was working.

I took a series of meditation classes with a guru. Each session, he would offer us a ‘mantra‘ which is often in Sanskrit, although can be in English to. In Mantra yoga, one repeats this mantra in one’s head as a way of meditating. I found that it gave my mind a place to land.

I found this practice challenging, but I was enjoying the practice, the time spent with like-minded people, the guidance of the guru and the peace of the space where we practiced.

HATHA YOGA (Union by breath)

When someone says yoga in the West, what most of us think of first is Hatha Yoga. Hatha yoga involves the postures/asanas, breath/pranayama and meditation/dhyana. Hatha includes all the different types many people are familiar with. Vinyasa, Iyengar, power, ashtanga, Bikram, nidra, restorative, yin, etc. are all types of Hatha yoga. Many people start with a yoga class at a gym or a studio or something and maybe find the spiritual side of it later. For whatever reason, I started with the other limbs of yoga and found my way to Hatha. I started taking a class at the same Buddhist center where I was learning meditation. I found a physically demanding class taught by a  gorgeous Italian man and I went religiously. I loved how I felt when I left. My muscles felt warm and full of energy. My body vibrated with this powerful, peaceful strength. My mind felt sharp and clear. And I felt joy and happiness. The Savasana at the end always left me relaxed and calmed.

Along the way, something else had happened: I was finally sleeping again.

I also happened to stumble into a kundalini class one Saturday morning. I think I learned about it at one of the yoga activities I had attended. I had no clue what kundalini was, and to be honest, I have now done maybe four classes in total, and they were wildly different from one another. The objective of kundalini is to use vibration and energy to realign the chakras. Yes, it sounds a bit out there to a lot of us. Anyway, the classes I have taken have involved breathwork, vibration, postures and periods of frentetic movement followed by total stillness. Anyway, this Saturday morning class was a beautiful introduction to the practice. I found it invigorating and energizing, which, in dreary London with my dreary mood, was needed. But what I was most struck by was the end. We sat for a meditation and we listened to a song. It was a chant that I had never heard before and I can remember feeling like it was just filling my body with light and with energy and with beauty and I also remember tears rolling down my cheek. These weren’t really tears of sadness, they were just emotions coming out. I talked to the instructor after because I wanted to find that song was. He told me that it was a called the Siri Giatri mantra and it is a powerful healing chant. Wow. It was amazing to me that I did not know that and that going in, yet that is EXACTLY what I felt coming out. I downloaded it and I still love to listen to it.

I found another class that was a fusion of yoga and Pilates and while there was no meditation aspect of this class, I loved the way the instructor combined Pilates, which I had never stopped practicing, with my new found love of the Asanas.

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

It took two full years, but I finally felt good again. I was a healthy weight, I had a regular fitness regime. I realized that when I ran, I was in a very meditative state. I had started practicing Hatha yoga. I was smiling and laughing. I also had a plan for when I left England in a couple of months, and I was glad to be leaving in a place of peace rather than running from a place of fear and/or anger.

What became clear over those two years was that I had not just been suffering from a break-up. I had suffered them before. My heart had been broken, but more than that, my soul had been crushed, my confidence shattered, my self-worth obliterated, my ability to trust and to love lost.

I had to forgive myself.

I had been so angry for allowing myself to be physically abused by one man and emotionally abused by another that I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I didn’t think I deserved love because I felt so much shame. During those two years, I tried to date, but I just wasn’t ready. I never went on more than one or two dates and sex was a non-starter. I didn’t want anyone to touch me. The few times I tried to be intimate with a man, it ended badly, awkwardly and usually with me in tears. I still needed to heal myself. I had to be whole before I could give of myself to someone else. I had to learn to love me first.

Yoga has given me toned arms, sure, but more than that, it gave me a chance to be happy and to be whole and just maybe to find someone to whom to give all this love I have in my heart. I felt like the butterfly in me was born, and she was ready to continue exploring the world around her as she was meant to do. What is meant to be will be.

I came out of the place of darkness, and I felt the warmth of light on my soul.

PART III: The Journey Continues

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