Surviving death was in many ways the easy part of my healing journey.
I wanted to walk.
On a rainy morning 20 years ago, my car hydroplaned, violently twisting into a crescent around a hapless tree.
At 21 years old, I sped through life as though I were being chased, an insistent, inner clench anticipating calamity around every corner.
Narrowly surviving the car accident, I spent two arduous months in a wheelchair, left with no other option than to slow down. Routine tasks became major feats. The next four months brought me onto crutches, to a cane, and then, miraculously, to my first yoga class.
All prior concepts were obliterated the moment my car crashed.
Surviving death was, in many ways, the easy part of my healing journey. Choosing to continue to live from that point forward has been the undeniable challenge. Through breaking my ribs, my pelvis, and shattering both of my legs, my perception has been altered forever.
The doctors told me I might not walk again. They told me the best I could hope for was to walk with a limp, uncertain whether the shards that remained of my legs would heal with any uniformity.
At the time of my car accident, I would have claimed that I had been forced to slow down. Today I would say instead that I had been invited. I see people’s lives become more and more compressed in this breathless culture of “you are what you produce.” Recipient now to an unlikely wisdom, I invite my yoga students to also slow down, to become aware of their wondrous breath, that they can see the truth of their lives.
Slowing down provides an opportunity to discover our true nature as divine human beings, seeing instead that we are who we are, regardless of any labels we attach to ourselves. We miss this understanding when we’re flying breathlessly through our lives.
In the “Yoga Sutras,” the seminal, classical text on yoga practice, Patanjali asserts that all human suffering is caused by the ignorance of the true self. Echoed in numerous ancient teachings, it is only through the act of becoming still that one can access the deeper callings of the heart, therefore shedding the bottomless, unquenchable dissatisfaction of the noisy mind.
When I walked into my first yoga class, I had been walking unsteadily without a cane for only a month. As many do in the beginning, I sought out yoga for physical healing, seeking relief from a pervasive, dogged pain, ignorant then of yoga’s more penetrating potential.
Beyond the challenge of performing yoga asanas, over time I noticed a growing sense of calm. While practicing the poses certainly increased my strength and stability, it was this perceivable calm that became the true motivation to continue practicing yoga.
Most of the scars left by the car accident are not outwardly visible.
I walk without any obvious sign that I have endured anything at all. Yet I hold both the visible and invisible scars as trophies for wisdom I realize I asked for—yet, I could not have known the suffering that would be involved. Injury and limitation have been my noble and wise teachers. Chronic pain has taught me compassion and empathy. Learning how to walk again has become a metaphor for an odyssey of self knowledge. Yoga is my practice for acceptance of the experience, and the inherent wisdom that lies therein.
In my journey, I have learned that while an aspect of yoga is physical exercise, yoga, in truth, is an exercise in awareness. Yoga is a means for transformation. When we move with consciousness, we discover that we are more than our bodies, and the first signs of peace arise, like a tender, sapling tree. I now see that peace for the world begins with peace within me.
Through the limitation that severe injury has brought to me, I have come to understand the necessity of the human form in the soul’s evolution. To transcend and discard the body without this understanding is to miss the point. To be physical is the point, for the spirit cannot know limitation. The ego/self constructs the illusion of limitation in order to create relativity. Restraint brings knowing and wisdom, which the soul desires above all. The soul, or the “Observer” (Patanjali’s term), understands without interruption, that it swims in the ocean of Brahman—the beginning, the end and the middle of all that is and all that ever will be.
I am a practitioner and teacher of the Kripalu yoga tradition. Kripalu is a practice of “meditation in motion,” a compassionate, empathetic approach to practical, accessible yoga practice. Each movement is linked to the breath and to the sensation of the movement, therefore informing the movement. Detail to alignment and to the engagement of musculature invites liberation, spiritually as well as physically. The breath flows and so energy flows unimpeded. Self-knowledge is the unfolding result.
I envision a world in which breathing deeply becomes a widespread practice.
Through my yoga and meditation practice of 20 years, I have come to see that the breath is the reason that we are having any experience at all. The breath is what links us to life and to the potential for fulfillment, contentment, and a sense of unity—yoga’s true purpose. Through an effectively deepened breath, we find dissolution of repetitive, often misinformed thoughts and perceptions of ourselves. Coupling a deepened breath with a conscious yoga practice brings ease to the body and a gentle stillness becomes possible.
The Sanskrit term, “samskara,” refers to the grooves made by repeated patterns. The nature of the mind is to relentlessly cycle invariable thoughts we have about ourselves and others, maintaining a worldview that imprisons us into a well-worn, constricted groove, or rut. The mind is captivity. Yoga is liberation. Patanjali states concisely and conclusively:
“Yoga (unity) is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.”
~ “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” Mukunda Stiles
The mind’s nature is to analyze and categorize. The heart’s nature is to open, to beat the pulse of life. When the mind is dominating the voice of the heart, imbalance and misperception naturally result. Yet through the balance of the two, and the balance of all the aspects of our true nature, we learn how to see ourselves and others more clearly. Fostering this balance, as a yoga practice will do, can yield a reflective, integrated life.
Skilled paramedics and physicians on the night of my accident gave me the ability to survive my injuries. The practice of yoga has given me the ability to thrive—and to ultimately transcend the limitation of a mind-dominated paradigm.
Through yoga, my healing journey continues and I walk on in profound joy.
See all articles from
Yoga in America:
In the Words of Some of its Most Ardent Teachers
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger
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