I was living in chronic, mysterious pain: pain in my body and pain in my heart.
Three years ago, I developed a strange autoimmune illness that plagued me with this: a highly sensitive immune system, a slew of strange food allergies and a body that was losing weight rapidly. Even more baffling, my physical shape continued to waste away despite my best efforts to nourish and strengthen myself. I was committed to my yoga practice, which mainly consisted of vigorous vinyasa classes, and on “rest” days I would run up to eight miles.
While I certainly was ill, exercising and exerting myself physically made me feel strong.
In hindsight, I can now see how the issues—emotional and physical—were obviously related. In fact, they really are the same thing.
At the time, I refused to admit that I was hurting on any level that wasn’t physical. Sure, I was stressed and scared that no one seemed to know what was going on in my body, or how to fix it. People expressed their worry to me, or would tell me how terrible, tiny, or tired I looked and I’d counter their concerns.
“Yeah, but I’m so strong.”
I would always say this, then I’d usually follow that up with a handstand push-up or some other cool yoga party trick I could pull off to prove my point in case there was any doubt. It was so important for me to be strong during that time of illness.
I had a really distorted view of what strength actually was. I thought that attending “balls-to-the-wall” vinyasa classes or running five miles a day would prove that I was strong and undefeated. In reality, the illness just wouldn’t budge, my body was wasting away. I thought I was doing “the right thing,” and taking care of myself, but at the end of the day, I felt terrible. I was trying to trick my body into being healthy, when I was only getting in the way of its healing.
I had a lot of letting go to do. I was unwilling to admit at the time, though it was obvious, that I had a lot of blockages in my lower chakras. All my digestive, immune and emotional symptoms stemmed from the vice grip I had on these areas. Though my study of yoga and energy healing made me aware of this, it was the scariest thing in the world to even think about working through those blocks to the point of letting go.
And then I developed a new motto: Let go or be dragged.
That little phrase turned the situation around.
The turnaround didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Slowly but surely, as my body gave me stronger signals, I listened. I needed to slow down, heal my heart and be okay with letting things go.
Sooner or later you just have to let go, the load becomes too heavy.
I tried to build strength to carry a heavier load. Instead, I could have let it all go. I incorporated extreme measures to avoid letting go; I got really, really, really sick. I pushed too hard without realizing I was pushing. Had I carried on for much longer, I don’t know how much more my body would have tolerated.
I am extremely lucky that I had the tools available to me to heal when I was ready. I had my teachers and healers. I had my yoga practice (both vinyasa and Kundalini), my meditation, my acupuncture, and knowledge of Reiki and energy healing. When I was ready to use these tools in the way that truly benefited me, I had to be honest in the face of a lot of really uncomfortable and confronting questions:
“Does this chaturanga serve me?”
“Do I need to take a handstand?”
“Should I go to an Yin class instead of Forrest?”
I was terrified that somehow these choices would mean I was no longer strong, yet I began to recognize my real strength was in the following:
My willingness to live through pain and my faith that one day I would heal.
I had to embrace the yogic principle of sthira sukham asanam, the quality of being strong and steady while also comfortable and at ease. I was still learning how to truly care for myself, but I truly wanted to heal. And even more than my own healing, I wanted to be able to use my experience as information to help others heal as well.
In order to do that, I had to get better.
And in order to get better…I had to let go.
Giuliana Hazelwood teaches yoga, writes, coaches, and crusades to help people care for themselves, and each other. You may expect in her classes to connect to your strength, love, and capacity to heal. A graduate of the Open Hearts Yoga School 200-Hour Foundational Training, her classes fuse principles of Vinyasa, Kundalini, Anusara, and Forrest Yoga. As a dancer, track athlete, and total anatomy nerd, Giuliana also incorporates elements of ballet, modern dance, and embodied movement in her teaching. She’s currently studying to be an Ayurvedic doctor through the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, and training in Level I Reiki. Giuliana created “Lovely Healthy,” a health and wellness blog + video channel. She’s also a contributing writer for Greatist and an ambassador for Urban Detox Club. Please visit her website for more information about her teaching, philosophy, and writing: Giuliana Hazelwood.com.
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Ed: Lynn Hasselberger
Asst. Ed.: ShaMecha Simms