March 21, 2012

When the Yoga Sh*t Hits the Fan. ~ Melanie Kim Summers

Jennie Faber

Comfortably in Sukhasana(easy pose), her knees hovered centimeters above the ground.

The class had finished “Om-ing,” and we were eager to receive the knowledge this beautiful woman could pass on to us.

“Yoga prepares us for when…”

Fast forward a year later, and I am the woman sitting in Sukhasana with my knees hovering over the ground, and I finish the statement, “…the shit hits the fan, because it always does.”

Let’s back up even further to where this journey began. I entered my first yoga studio about four years ago. My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer seven months prior. While I was learning sun salutations by night, she was receiving aggressive chemotherapy by day. After a year and a half I started teacher training. My mother remained cancer-free after a mastectomy, a year of chemo and radiation, and a severely compromised immune system. As I learned to let go of my extraneous thoughts, she held on to hers. As I learned Bakasana (crow pose), she got pneumonia for the second time that year. As she fought silently, I became my equivalent of a superhero, Super Yogini.

But even the strongest of superheroes have their human counterparts…. and that is when the shit hits the fan.

After yoga teacher training, I taught whenever and wherever for whatever. I was balanced in ways I didn’t know human beings could be. Even Mom seemed a little better. I was on the mountain top… which meant I was due for a kick in the ass. The business of yoga drained my personal mat time as my students’ yogic cups were overflowed. Workshops cancelled, spring fever ensued and classes shrunk. Yoga became the unfathomable — job.

Superhuman status dissolved. Shit hits fan. I feel a lump in my breast.

Jose Goulao

The message I got back: you don’t need my help.

So I went to my cushion — a folded up body pillow. I threw every question I had out into the Universe, and as per usual when I surrendered, I received an answer:

It is okay to fear; without fear how can there be fearlessness.

At that moment, I knew. I had to do what my faux armor was hiding.

I tell my students to experience the postures. In Virabhadrasana II, Warrior II, feel the ground beneath your feet, the strength of your legs—wobbly?—then go with the tide; feel the stability of your core, the extension of your arms—one reaching for the future, one holding on to the past. Feel the heart rooted in the present. Experience the pain and pleasure of Virabhadrasana II.

Now it was my time to experience Virabhadrasana II. Cocooned in my mother’s quilt, I stared at the ceiling and experienced the diagnosis, the double mastectomy, the reconstructive surgery, the chemo and the radiation, the puking, the shaved head, the weakness and the anger eating away at my body, the cancelled trips and then the whopper.

As a mother raising her son without a father, I entertained my demons. I watched a mental slideshow of my son being orphaned: his dark suit, his wild curls wavering with the changing winds and the explanation of being grateful and not angry at the reality of death. I cried, quietly, letting go of that which didn’t serve me — my fear.

Yoga prepares us for the when…

Yoga teaches us to be the eye of the storm, the stillness in chaos. In Warrior II, we hold it even though our legs are shaking. We power through Sun Salutations. We stop and rest in child’s pose, letting the chaos wash over us. With each exhalation, we let go of fear and step into fearlessness. When you want to move, when you want to wriggle your way out of the posture that is when you stay. This is what yoga teaches us, to be still when we want to go nuts.

The test results were negative, but that really isn’t the point. When I thought that my practice was at its stalest was when my practice was its strongest. Yoga isn’t about being on your mat every day. I learned that as long as I tread the Yoga path here on Earth, I would never be Super Yogini and, more importantly, didn’t have to be. I am a human being first and a yoga teacher second. I’m right here, sweating it out with you, in the Virabhadrasana II of life, and that is why my practice is so strong.


When Melanie Kim Summers is not teaching yoga in a classroom or scribbling in her notebook (yeah, she’s old school), she is trying to convince her son that just because we can stand on our heads doesn’t mean we should while we’re eating cereal. Contact Melanie at [email protected] or follow Melanie Summers Yoga on Facebook.

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