A few months ago was the one-year anniversary of my stepfather’s death; I spent the majority of the day denying my emotions.
My day started early—I was up by 6:30 a.m. I phoned my mother around 7:30 a.m. but made no mention of the significance of the day.
At work, my mind wandered away from my tasks several times and a few mistakes were made. I felt anxious and moody. So, like I often do when I feel restricted mentally and emotionally, I committed to attend yoga class in the late evening at 7:30 p.m.
Although I practice Vinyasa flow yoga on occasion, the majority of my practice is in the Bikram style—26 postures and two breathing exercises performed in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and lasting 90 minutes.
I have been practicing Bikram yoga for a little over a year and still find myself frustrated by the heat. Instructors refer to the room as “the torture chamber,” but as yogis understand, being tortured while practicing is all about mind over matter and about remembering to breathe.
I try (and try some more) to always remember this, but sometimes I rely completely on the instructor to walk me through what it is that I should be doing in the yoga room.
I love all of the instructors where I practice but each for very different reasons:
Diana, the studio owner, infuses her classes with a lot of humor and encouragement; I’ll try to get to one of her classes on days I’m feeling like a party pooper and need to snap out of my “angry-Paula” mode.
Debby is all about proper form and alignment. If I want to be humbled and reminded that my practice isn’t even close to being perfect, I attend one of Debby’s classes; I learn a lot about anatomy and why it’s important to break bad habits before they break me.
Spencer is extremely patient and relaxed—I want to be more like Spencer in that regard. I take his classes for obvious reasons. Plus, he’s always smiling, which seems to be contagious.
Elizabeth is the total opposite of me: she’s extroverted, uber-friendly and has the most calming and even-toned voice of all the instructors. Her class generates energy that can only come from pure passion. Elizabeth is passionate!
On this particular evening of the anniversary of my stepfather’s death, Elizabeth was teaching. She was wearing a funky, asymmetrical top and shimmering, long yoga pants along with her signature flower in her hair. She, of course, was her usual bubbly self, and I quickly became focused on her voice as me and my fellow yogis moved through the poses.
There are two master poses in the Bikram series: triangle (trikonasana) and camel (ustrasana).
Triangle is a standing posture that uses and strengthens every major muscle group in your body—my inner thighs always seem tested during triangle.
Camel is part of the floor series and is one of the last postures of the practice. Although camel is the deepest backward bend in the Bikram series, the greatest benefit of camel isn’t the physical strengthening and flexibility of your back—it’s the emotional impact camel has on your inner spirit.
Camel opens up our heart chakra (anahatra). It’s our heart chakra that allows us to love others and ourselves, empathize and to accept things divinely.
Unfortunately, our heart chakra can be easily blocked or congested; events like a divorce or the end of a relationship, abandonment, abuse and the death of a loved one can cause an imbalance of the heart chakra.
Negative emotions such as hatred, guilt, selfishness, paranoia, impatience and self-pity are all signs that our heart chakra needs recharged and repaired.
Camel pose can help kick-start both processes.
On Elizabeth’s cue, I came to the front of my mat for camel, stood on my knees with about six inches between them and six inches between my feet, placed my hands on my lower back with my thumbs facing the floor, tilted my head back until I could see the lotus flower painted on the wall behind me and then leaned back lifting my chest as high as I could while pushing the rest of my body forward.
Gravity took over, but so did something else.
Instantly, I sensed a change from within—something stirred. Something caused me to become nauseous and I had to release early. I quickly turned around and relaxed in savasana and attempted to regain control of my spinning head.
Then I had to do it again. (All 26 postures are performed twice in the series.)
Upon releasing from my second set of camel, I felt like I was going to vomit. The nausea was that intense.
Elizabeth sweetly lulled to us:
“Quickly lie down in savasana and breathe in that smooth camel flavor. Camel opens up your heart chakra where you store all of your emotions. That is, if you have a heart.”
I felt like shouting, “I have a heart, Elizabeth! It’s in my throat. You wanna feel it?”
About 10 minutes later, as I drove from the studio to my home, I began to cry—I could not control the tears and had no desire to control them. The time had finally arrived for me to mourn and release my broken heart from its pain and suffering.
Thank you, camel pose…I needed that.
Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and on her blog.
Like elephant yoga on Facebook.
Ed: Bryonie Wise