Corpse pose feels like anything but the final resting posture to me.
In fact, it is when I am most painfully aware of what still lives and dwells within me. Things I don’t want to remember or feel come to life.
I have read that trauma has cellular memory; your brain can try to forget and compartmentalize trauma but your body does not, your body always remembers.
This became incredibly real to me during a yoga class a few years ago. I am a fitness enthusiast but yoga was not my thing. I did more along the lines of kickboxing, boot camp, HIIT, I will “kick your ass” type of workouts. It worked for me. It made me feel in control and empowered which was something I needed to feel to live a normal life.
Yoga and the mindfulness of the movements, the connecting with body and breath, were very out of my element.
However, after years of having a body and mind on high alert my muscles were becoming stiff and injuries were happening more often. I was becoming increasingly exhausted mentally and physically, and sleepless nights were happening more often than restful ones. My body was definitely telling me that something needed to change. On recommendation from my doctor, I signed up for an eight week yoga series.
During the first class I cried almost the entire time and I could not rationalize to myself why I was so emotional. All I knew is that my body felt extremely vulnerable and that vulnerability gave me emotional pain and made me feel unsafe. By the time we came to Savasana I felt like I was having a panic attack. I closed my eyes but I could feel my eyelids rapidly fluttering, my throat tightening, my mind racing, my breath shortening, and my heart rate increasing. I consciously knew I was safe but I could not talk my body out of the distress it felt.
I had always heard that the end of a yoga class during meditation or Savasana was like heaven, but for me it was torturous—physically, mentally and emotionally.
Confused by what had happened, I wrote it off as just having a bad day or nerves because I was trying something out of my element. However, I experienced the same emotions and distress during my very next class; I cried almost the entire time and almost had a panic attack during Savasana again.
I did not go back to that studio or to yoga for quite a while; it was just too painful.
It was at this point that I realized that I needed to listen to what my body was telling me, and that while I thought I had control of those ghosts, they were still in there waiting to come to life at times of quiet and mindfulness. That was not okay with me.
After some (gut wrenching) time in therapy, I felt I had released and worked through enough of what I needed to come back to my mat. I had the knowledge to understand what was happening and why it was happening and so now I could control it (so I thought). However, I still only practiced at home in my bedroom where I felt safe.
It was so healing! There were no ghosts, I felt whole and revived, and Savasana did feel like heaven! Practicing yoga was lifting a burden from me and connecting me in ways to my body and breath that I had never experienced.
And I lived happily ever after in Savasana and all the ghosts were gone. If only the story could end like this…but, sadly, it does not.
I felt so revived and alive practicing yoga that I decided to sign up for a yoga teacher training that began last month. I was so excited to take a deep and wide exploration of yoga in hopes of sharing it with others and also to deepen my own practice.
At the end of the first day of an amazing and inspiring training, the teacher announced that we would finish up by practicing some partner yoga to bond our group (who would be spending the next several weeks together).
My body felt instant anxiety. I could not control it no matter how much I tried—my palms began sweating, my throat tightened a little, my body went into full-on distress mode. While I had no problem being the giver of touch during partner yoga, receiving it was excruciating.
The ghosts were back.
I drove home feeling like there should have been some sort of heads up from the teacher that we would have to touch each other. Then maybe I could have mentally prepared for it or something. By the time I pulled into my driveway I realized that this was not the answer.
This was my issue not a “failed to receive a heads up” issue. Then I got mad, not at the teacher, but at my body for responding like that. Human touch and Savasana, these are things that should feel comforting and good. I was pissed that my body perceived them as threatening even though I was telling myself “you’re safe, this is okay, relax, get over it”. Not to mention, I had the knowledge to understand why my body was responding the way it was but I still could not control it, and I hated that! I needed to be in control. I…need…to…be…in…control.
When will my body understand this?
This anxiety happened yet again just this past weekend at my yoga teacher training during a thirty minute meditation and breathing exercise. My jaw clenched, throat tightened and adrenaline rushed through me—it was work to take deep cleansing breaths because my heart rate was increasing, and no matter how much I swallowed, a lump stayed fixed in my throat.
I was so upset that I could not control my body’s response; I could not exorcise these ghosts no matter how much my brain wanted it to happen.
So, towards the end of meditation I made a decision to just surrender to it. I gave in and let my body do what it had to do. After all, this is the body I have…it’s my body and it has experienced trauma; I can’t change that.
I decided right then and there to give up trying to control my body’s response and just to accept where it is in the moment. To feel what my body is feeling—no matter how difficult—and try not to judge, control or suppress what came up.
Making the decision to give my body the permission to respond how it needed to, without resistance and with love, was incredibly powerful. I felt closer and more connected to my body in a way that I never had before. It was hard, it was scary, but it was a major step forward.
I certainly don’t want the ghosts to come back again, but when and if they do, I’ll be united with my body (for once) and we will get through their visit…together.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photo: Hanna Norlin/flickr