Monday, May 06, 2013


Warning: This is a long one. So, if you're really interested in how this goes, you need to get yourself a snack and drink and settle in for the long haul.

Yesterday morning, I set everything else aside, broken heart and all, and took the ferry over to Vermont to spend the day at the Burlington Yoga Conference. It was like an early birthday gift to myself. For my workshops, I chose a Prana For Spring Cleaning (Vinyasa flow class, where you match your movements to your breath, kind of intense); a mindfulness workshop; and a Restorative Yoga for Breath workshop.

I'll 'fess up right now: I was terrified at the thought of eating lunch at the conference. I had added the option to eat lunch at the conference when I registered, but I had absolutely no idea what was being served, only that there were vegetarian/vegan/gluten free options available.

As I walked into the building, I looked at the other participants walking with me, all of us carrying our mats and tote bags and props, and I tried to imagine what it would feel like again to be just walking. Just walking. No fear, no anxiety, no pounding heart or queasy stomach. Just...walking into a yoga class.

Before I went in for my first class, I sat down on the floor, took off my shoes, and took out my journal. I've been keeping an anxiety journal for the last few months where I write down what's worrying me and what's making me feel anxious. Somehow, putting it down on paper makes it less scary in my head. So, I just wrote, "I will not get sick from eating. Nothing bad is going to happen to me today. Not today."

Goddess forgive me, but the teacher for that first class reminded me of Yoga Barbie. Petite, cute, blonde, with a bright pink shirt and a long strand of huge beads around her neck, she suggested that we all turn our mats facing east so that we could look at Mount Mansfield while we practiced.

Before we began, she started talking about spring and change, and how spring is a time of renewal. Her words really resonated with me, or maybe it was just the nervousness again of it all catching up to me, but as we pushed back into that first downward dog, I once again found myself in silent tears. (Thankfully, I was towards the back of the room, so I don't think anyone saw me, just the instructor and her assistant. But I'm sure my neighbors heard me sniffling.)

As we moved through the practice, I became aware of how powerful I felt. Even when I had to do modifications for some of the poses (because I just ain't that flexible in my hamstrings yet, and I did NOT want to hurt myself), I could feel that heat rising through me that Robin is always talking about in our classes back home.

When we got towards the end of the flow and started doing some standing, wide-legged forward bends, I could feel myself getting slightly queasy. My mind was fighting it. No, damn, I thought, I just can't DO this anymore.

But, really, I wasn't doing anything super-strenuous. There was no reason to think I couldn't finish this practice. I was sweating like a dog, yes, but so was everyone around me. I wobbled a bit, yes, but I held my ground, rooting down through my feet in the standing poses. I acknowledged those thoughts, and then pushed them aside and continued to move through the flow.

The balancing poses gave me a few minutes to rest and focus. I know, it sounds crazy, but balancing on one leg is where I feel strongest in yoga. I can do some pretty crazy shit, I don't mind telling you. So when she presented some new variations on Eagle Pose and Warrior III, I was down with it.

At the end of the practice in final savasana, a thought boomed into my head like a cannon: I'm still afraid to eat. It made me so mad, but I acknowledged it and let it go on its merry way until the end of practice.

Class had run about twenty minutes over, so I had about thirty seconds to munch down a snack and get to my next class, Modern Mindfulness.

The mindfulness class was a much-welcomed break after that vigorous vinyasa practice. As we sat in mindfulness for a few minutes at the start of class, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my mind was calm, so calm. It was a wonderful class, and it basically just reinforced my practice of using mindfulness to work my way through the anxiety these last few months.

Then it was time for lunch.


Just as "backup", in case I totally freaked out over eating, I had brought along my lunch sack with some quinoa tabouli, fruit, cheese, and crackers. (And brownies. Can't forget the brownies.)

When I got down to the lunchroom, I saw that there was a magnificent spread: mushroom risotto, a medley of zucchini and summer veggies, a hot lentil salad with sweet potatoes, a quinoa salad, tabouli, a HUGE salad bar with kale and mixed greens, shredded cheese, homemade buttermilk dressing, two kinds of bread, and three different deserts.

 I told myself, okay, you don't *have* to eat any of it. Just fill up your plate with what looks good.

So, that's what I did.

My stomach and my body were telling me, urgently, that I needed to re-fuel before that afternoon's workshop and subsequent drive home. So I nibbled at the mushroom risotto, and it was delightful. I started munching on the kale and the slice of rosemary bread with butter. Yum.

While I ate, in order to distract myself from my impending anxiety attack (which I felt was coming, no question), I got out my journal and started writing in it. I understood that I needed to release this fear of food and eating and of my body because it doesn't serve me. I thought to myself, what reasons could I possibly have for hanging on to these fears? So, I wrote in my journal, "Being afraid of food..." and then just started free-associating with it.

Well, wow. The shit that popped up on the page not only surprised me, but also felt true. I'm not going to get into it here, because that's what I pay my therapist for, and she's definitely going to have her work cut out for her this week.

So, still feeling a little sick, and a little headachey, and with that annoyingly subtle pain below my right ribs, I went back upstairs and browsed the vendors' tables. A table full of colorful fabrics and gemstone and brass statues caught my eye - and there, I saw a little, tiny, labradorite Ganesh.

I picked him up - so tiny! - and saw that he was about the size of my thumbnail, but exquisitely carved. He just felt right in my hand, so I let him stay there. When I heard the price, I knew he was coming home with me. I looked around some more, and saw this adorable little crawling Ganesh, something that I can't remember seeing before. He, too, felt right in my hand - heavy, substantial, but again, oh, so tiny. The two of them were under twenty-five dollars, so I paid the vendor and slipped them into the little velvet sack I had brought with me that held a couple of amethyst and moldavite stones.

I found my restorative yoga class, and decided to just lay back on my mat, with a big bolster under my head like a pillow, hold my little labradorite Ganesha in my hand, and try to relax before class started.

The instructor talked about how important restorative yoga was, about how crazy and fast-paced our world is, and how we forget that slowing down is just as important as "getting things done". She talked about the parasympathetic nervous system, and how when we pay attention to that part of our physiology, our bodies have a tremendous capacity to heal.

Thirty seconds into the first pose, I knew I had picked the right class to end my day  at the conference. Just, wow. Draped over that bolster, first one side and then the other, allowing my body to expand and really breathe... It was incredible. It was that quiet, peaceful, place that I have been longing for lately. There was nothing else around me - just my breath, and the bolster, and the smell of lavender coming from the eye pillow.

About halfway into Frog pose, where I was settled tummy-down on a bolster with my forehead touching the mat, I started to think about what I had written in my journal at lunch, and yep, started to cry again.

It's funny that I feel safe when I need to cry in a yoga class. Probably because it only seems to happen in poses where absolutely no one but the instructor is going to notice. In this case, the instructor's assistant, who also is an experienced bodyworker, came over to me, and gently drew a line across my shoulder blades with her fingers. I felt my shoulders spread out and relax. Then she used both hands to draw a soft line down my back, and again, all that tension just left me. It felt like it was draining out of my feet, and far, far away...

Throughout this practice, the instructor read some poems that she had brought with her. The meaning of the words, the feeling of letting my body sink heavy, down into the Earth, and the absolute quiet and stillness of the room was just flowing through me. I could feel it like a circuit, like a quiet river.

When class was over, I didn't want to leave. I could have just sat there for another hour or two. My body felt amazing - no more pain under my ribs, no more headache, no queasy stomach. I just was.

I helped stack up the bolsters and blankets and collect the eye pillows. I was one of the last ones to leave. Before I left, I went up to the instructor and thanked her, gave her a warm hug, because I felt like she had taught me something so important. Just thinking about it now makes me tear up again.

The instructor warned us that when we left and went back outside to the rest of the conference and the rest of the world that things would seem different. She warned us about driving carefully.

Well, she was right. I walked back into the hubub of the rest of the conference, but it seemed softer, in a way. The light looked different. There were still dozens of people milling about, chatting, laughing...but it was all very subdued.

As I walked back to the car, I was overcome with a deep regret that I hadn't done the entire weekend at the conference, and resolved that next year, I would.

The ride home? Well, amazing. I had energy like I haven't felt in years. I felt joyful. The late afternoon sun streaming down on the fields and farms was gentle and beautiful. The music? Well, I had that car radio cranked up as loud as I could stand it. It was okay, really. EVERYTHING was okay.

It was gloriously warm on the ferry back across the lake, so I walked out onto the upper observation deck, and had a lovely conversation with a visitor from Florida. She was in the area with a friend who's husband had passed away last year, and they were taking pictures of every place they went and emailing them back to a friend in Florida who had never traveled outside the state! Turns out that this fascinating woman was a craft teacher, and she was well-versed in beadweaving, basic metalsmithing, and fiber arts. We had such a great time chatting that I was really disappointed when the ferry pulled back into the dock, and I had to go back to my car.

This morning, well, this morning I feel more than a little hung over. My head ached, my legs hurt (but in a good way), but I'm feeling stronger than I did on Saturday night.

I woke up around 3:45 this morning and could not get back to sleep. I tried, really, but it just didn't come. For the heck of it, to keep my mind occupied, I did a little research about labradorite and the crawling Ganesha (because I don't think I've ever seen a crawling Ganesha, and had no idea about the symbolism behind it) and found some very interesting things... But that will have to wait for another post.

For now, I've got blogs to write, pages to write, and a Battle piece to complete and photograph.


Tapestry Beads - Jill Wiseman said...

Powerful! What a wonderful gift for you - that you've found your "safe" place.

SaraBeth said...

What a powerful and beautiful experience for you!

Your little Ganesha figurines are adorable. Do you have a special place for them?


beadologist said...

I am so happy for you that you are doing this for yourself. We will have to talk sometime because it sounds like we have a lot more in common than just beads, my friend. Yoga is going to help you in more ways than you can imagine. Just stick to it and give it time and I promise you, your anxiety will begin to melt away. I speak from experience!
I believe the crawling Ganesha is a wee little infant form of him, yes?
Namaste to you,