June 4, 2015

The Yoga Mat Pulled Out from Under Us: Reconnecting with Practice after the Earthquake.

Statue of King Yoga Narendra Malla in Patan (modern day Lalitpur in the Kathmandu Valley)

Seventy-three seconds was all it took to redesign my world. On April 25th, my home in Kathmandu, my life, my friends and my community were shaken so hard by a 7.8 earthquake that in little more than a minute, everything changed.

For eight years, my practice connected me with the Earth, with nature and with energies bigger than little old me, giving me perspective, grounding me and restoring my balance. It’s something I share as a teacher, helping others to access the power to heal. But how can we feel safe in a practice that roots us to an earth that can be so merciless, that connects us to energies so unpredictable? How can we feel grounded when we’ve seen the ground move like water and swallow the lives of almost 9,000 people?

The cheerful, practical, down-to-earth yoga teacher I identified with became someone whose body freezes when my phone vibrates, who grips a pillar when I hear a neighbor move a chair, who stops breathing when I hear a little girl laugh because for a moment I think she’s screaming. Moreover, how I can help others deal with this? How can I make students feel safe, to feel a sense of control and predictability in this new context?

I’m not trained in this; almost nobody here is. All I can do is try, to bring people together, create a space for something to happen, and love love love. All I can do is stay true to sharing a practice that I know helps people become themselves, and hope that by practicing together we can create enough stability to make decisions, to act, to breathe and to focus.

Physically surviving is not all it takes. We were left with the loss and injury of loved ones, the terror of our children, the damage to our homes and communities, the repeated tremors, the toll of not sleeping for days, the effects of dehydration from rationing water, the draining lack of nutrition from eating the little we could get, exhaustion, guilt, our emotions and the enormity of the fear. I’d never previously considered the sheer trauma of experiencing a disaster of this magnitude.

A trauma is a wound. It might be physical, like an injury or illness, or it might be psychological. This too, will heal. But it is unseen, hard to understand, hard to allow and it can transform our relationship with ourselves and to the life we had before.

In trying to reconnect to my practice, I find little of before makes sense in this time of after. Trying to stay on my mat for two hours felt meaningless. I needed to rediscover the salvation of the practice—and as a teacher—find new ways to use it as a sanctuary for others: my beloved community of students who all, overnight, and along with me, became traumatized.

I have learned that strength isn’t in jump-backs. It’s in getting back on the mat at all, putting one foot in front of the other, making myself breathe deeply and slowly again. It’s in avoiding the temptation to curl up and hide, and instead sharing with others than I am also hurting and am trying to figure out how to move past this.

My once-strong practice is now creating a new kind of sanctuary for me. If I cry all the way through my Sun Salutations A and B and then just sit down to cry some more, I feel more cleansed, lighter, better able to look at what’s going on with me and work with it. It makes me more able to be present for others. Even as it churns up feelings I want to forget, I’m learning to keep trying, until the balance deep inside which is part of the ebbs and flows of the Earth, where there’s safety even in unpredictability, speaks to me and reminds me that that this too will change.

Our small yoga community here in Nepal has a lot of healing to do and give. We’ve learned we can’t trust the ground we stand on, but that we can trust our community, that people far away will cheer us on and that we get knocked down, but then we get back up again.

We do not have to sit in lotus to represent hope in tough times. Yoga is who we are. I am practicing more truly than I have ever done before.



Author: Annie Seymour

Editor: Evan Yerburgh

Image: Flickr

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