April 17, 2011

With This Asana I Thee Puke: Why a Camel is a Girl’s Best Friend. ~ Brittnee Henry

Photo: Judith

Part I

It wasn’t the first time I had felt the urge to vomit during a yoga class. There had been plenty of sessions in the steamy, close-quartered studio when I thought I was within seconds of tossing my afternoon Triscuts. But on this particular day things went beyond the typical symptoms.

I really did spew. And I’m so glad I did.

I guess I should consider myself fortunate to have a yoga instructor who has the ability to add meaning to the few asanas (yoga poses) in a Baptiste Vinyasa Flow class that I absolutely dread. Yes, I realize that’s not very yogi-minded of me, but let’s face it. We all have our not-so-favorite positions we have to will ourselves to twist into, and it helps to have a bit of encouragement. Just when I think I need to flop over into urdhva mukha upavista konasana (dead bug pose), Maria, my ever tender and loving instructor, reminds the class to breathe, feel rooted deep in the pose, and know that where we are right now is exactly where we are meant to be.

Hmm… Well, if you say so, Maria. I guess I can make it through…

There was this one asana, however, that not even sweet Maria could get me to participate in. Sure, I had tried it a handful of times but there was a loathing about it; a complete disgust about how it made me feel. So typically I sat this one out. I’d take time for a long drink, wipe away some sweat—basically do anything to avoid ustrasana (camel pose).

Except on this particular day.

The energy was flowing and my mind was clear. My breath had found a rhythm and I was soaking in the energy of the yogis around me. With all this on my side I felt I could conquer anything—even my loathing for some silly old camel.

So into it I went. My knees comfortably planted and square to my shoulders I took a breath and lifted through my rib cage. Up and back just like Maria had taught us. I visualized my heart saluting the sky. Like an old horse who knows a familiar path, my right hand gently grasped my right heel. The left followed suit. The steamy air came in through my open throat exposing the origin of my voice and my pulse. It was Light on Yoga textbook perfect.

Photo: Lululemon

I opened my eyes. The Namaste stenciled in gold leaf on the back wall shimmered in the dim studio light. Wow… I thought to myself. I’ve never noticed before how truly beautiful that is…

Maria guided us further into the pose. She encouraged us to surrender to it—to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, open, honest and accepting of whatever willed itself to come through.

And in her special way, Maria coaxed us to reach even further.

I pushed my hips forward and my spine responded by giving even more space for my chest and throat to open. A tingling arrived in my hips and belly. It was a genuine happiness and a natural pleasure that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Maybe this camel asana thing wasn’t so bad. Maybe I could actually grow to like this….

Then in her sweet voice, Maria invited us to return gently and mindfully just as we had arrived: first to our upright kneeling position, and then to a sweet recovery in balasana (child’s pose).

I lingered just a bit longer in my camel than the rest of the class. When I came back to center I felt a fire in my gut and the tingling sensation was still present in my hips.

This is nice, I thought.

But alas, all good things lead to even better things in yoga, right?

Forehead to mat. Knees spread wide. I fully embraced the release and comfort of child’s pose.

I bet this is how it felt to be held in my mother’s arms. Warm, protected, accepted. In this place I am loved no matter what. I am right where I am meant to be.

Photo: Wonderlane

I found my breath again but quickly noticed some changes taking place inside me. What had felt wonderful just moments ago now felt like hot lava bubbling up from somewhere deep in my gut, making its way to my esophagus and burning the back of my throat. My lungs suddenly felt starved of air. I tried to swallow It back, but whatever It was, It was relentless about finding an exit.

Then the image of her appeared.

There she was, my mother (gone seventeen years now; we shared only fourteen years together). She was sitting on the edge of our bathtub in the house I grew up in, rubbing my back and holding my ponytail as I suffered the curse of a winter flu bug.

“Just let it out, Doll. Just let it out,” she was saying.

In the studio I could feel the warmth of my mother’s hand soothing my arched back as I tried in vain to swallow down this thing inside of me. Hot tears swelled just like the ones that had squeezed out of my eyes that cold winter day 25 years ago when my mom guided me through my worship to our toilet bowl.

“It’s ok, Doll, she said. “Just let it out.”

And out it came.

“I’m not in love with Gabe,” I blurted.

Like an owl regurgitates the byproducts of all that has nourished it, those six words released the curdled mess that was the love I thought could sustain me. But somewhere along the way that love had grown sour and stale. In that steaming yoga studio, in camel pose, the tattered remnants of the love I had once held for my soon-to-be fiancé’ found their way out.

Heavy tears plunked down on my yoga mat.

I felt better but not good. I felt relieved, but not particularly strong. I felt things were about to get better but it would have to get worse first.

Be gentle. Be patient. Your heart is on the route to peace now.

It was the clarity that months of weekly sessions with my therapist had not uncovered. Until this moment I had just been going through the motions—playing it safe, and not opening the road map that lived in my heart.

I had been ignoring my camel.

But my camel did exactly what Maria promised it would do. It gave me courage and energy. It rejuvenated my spirit—reminding me what it should feel like when love was sweet and good. Like a bounty hunter for sadness, ustrasana sought out the depression that had been lurking in my heart for months and stood by me while I faced the dwindling love that had turned toxic in my system.

In a nutshell, my camel helped me throw up.

Today I like to think of my camel as the real McCoy. She’s a steadfast travel pal who packs light and is up for any adventure that might come our way. For every trip she carries knowledge on one hump, our heart’s truth on another, and a first-aid kit full of acceptance and love.

Over hills and through valleys, around curves and there to endure the episodic traffic jams that make up Life, my faithful companion, my sweet camel, is always there telling me: “It’s ok, Doll. Just let it out.”


Brittnee Henry hails from a fourth generation Iowa farm family. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a double major in Journalism and Psychology, (can’t beat that Midwest work ethic) Brittnee headed south down I-35 to the Lone Star State where she fell head over cowboy boots for Texas Country music and yoga pants. What gets the heart of this farmer’s daughter pumping? Anything Irish, soy candles and natarajasana (dancer’s pose). When she’s not writing, reading, tending to her collection of orchids or loading her Mini Cooper with
recyclables, Brittnee wages war against cancer—raising funds for research and patient programs
at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Got a bit of wit or wisdom to share
with Brittnee? Like what you read? You can contact Brittnee at [email protected].

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