Last night was orientation to my fall seasonal module of Sukhavati, Leigh Evans and Summer Quashie’s 300 hour yoga training. These wonderful ladies guided me through my 200 hour certification, and, after awakening to the mystery of the body, breath, and mind through the lens of yoga, I felt compelled to join them on this even deeper journey. I want to know everything that they know.
Broken up into four parts (seasons), I’ve joined halfway through their first year offering such an in-depth course of study, joining in on the Fall Insight Module. See, I moved to Toronto back in May, a move I had long dreamt about. It could have been any city, really: I just wanted to move somewhere new, somewhere I had never been before and start all over again in a place where I didn’t know anyone. Something about Toronto called to me, so I accepted the invitation.
Walking into that room last night with so many beautiful faces (half the people studying the module with me also studied with me during my first YTT), familiar faces from my old studio and neighborhood in Williamsburg, I felt slightly overwhelmed. I hadn’t been in a place where I knew so many people WHO KNEW ME in so long. The last few months I’ve been like a fly on the wall, an observer, going about my business mostly unnoticed. Seeing my sisters of my practice brought such an immense amount of joy, I didn’t know how to react; I smiled and kept my head down.
It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate their excitement, their elation to see me. Quite the opposite: My feelings matched the energy I felt being sent in my direction. But having spent the last four months by myself with no one to send such energy toward, I had spent a lot of time turning my attention and awareness inside, building a new relationship with myself.
And it wasn’t just the fact that I was in a new place without any friends that I decided to shift my focus on myself. Two weeks before I made my move, my best friend of over 20 years died. I had planned this move long before I got the news of her passing, and going to her wake and funeral, seeing people from my past that I hadn’t seen or thought about in ages and telling them of my plans, it seemed like I was making my move at the exact right time of my life. With this catastrophic event, I needed to get away. I needed time. I needed to be by myself.
My self-imposed exile brought me all these things that I craved. But once I got there and realized I really was by myself, it was scary. I didn’t have anyone nearby to run to when I felt I needed a shoulder to cry on, didn’t have anyone doling out hugs that I so desperately craved. I have a few core friends that I know would do anything for me that I would call crying in low moments, but I realized that I could only make so many of those calls, that even though this event had shaken me to my core, it was a lot to ask of someone else who hasn’t experienced the loss of someone so close to them to be there and listen to me sob about how much I miss her, how it felt as if a part of me had died with her, how confused I was about how to feel since we hadn’t been on the best of terms when she died. If I was going to get through this, I needed to make better friends with myself.
I still reached for the phone in these moments, but as a wave of grief washed over me, moved through me, I set the phone down and just let my feelings surface. Sure, I’d flip through my contacts and think about who I could call, but realized I couldn’t exactly put into words what I was feeling or why I needed them at that particular moment. After a few fumbles like that, the subconscious urge to let out my problems on others began to wash away. I began to give into the waves and just let myself cry, let myself be completely present in the emotions I had clearly been too scared to let myself feel. They came on at odd times, sometimes brought on by nothing in particular: the loss of a button, a thunderstorm, the dirty dishes my roommate left out on the counter for days on end. Other moments were more significant: hearing a song that we loved or from a band she was obsessed with (Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, Pink Floyd), seeing two friends on the street or in a cafe catching up, saying certain catch phrases that were now part of my everyday vernacular (my favorite, her personal pep talk: “Heather, get your shit together,” which she said in time—she was a musician, after all).
One terribly beautiful moment occurred at a friend’s wedding, when the bride’s best friend and maid of honor decided to give her the gift of a dance at her wedding. I was touched by the strength of their friendship, yet saddened that I would never get to share a moment with my best friend like that. I had to excuse myself from the room as tears streamed down my face, running to the bathroom to let myself let it out so that I could go rejoin the room with my party face on.
But back to last night: I listened to my teacher and friend, Leigh, talk about the affects of fall on the mind and body, this contracting, beginning to draw energy inside after the abundance and radiance of summer as we prepare for the hibernation of winter. My ears perked up to discover that the emotion associated with the season is grief, its sound that of weeping, the organs associated with autumn the lungs and large intestine.
I realized that I had been working with the bullet points of fall’s cycle all summer long, that I could speak to these ideas and practices as I had become more aware of all these energies as I took my journey inward to deal with the loss of my friend. I had experienced deep grief and, though it was NOT an easy thing to do, I let myself be open to the emotions and thoughts that came up in relation to my friend’s death and worked with these areas of the body in order to try to set myself back to normal, whatever normal means.
While Leigh spoke, she also shared a list of signs of lung network imbalances: unresolved grief (check), clinging to unhealthy attachments to things and people (check), lack of vitality in skin (my digestive issues were apparent on my face, check), congestion issues (I got super sick when I learned of my friend’s death, check), constipation (double check), spastic colon, vague and ambiguous, cluttered mind (my vata was all out of whack, triple check), lack of clarity (check), a quality in ones life of staleness and stuckness (my move obviously canceled this one out), inability of letting go of unnecessary thoughts and feelings (this is something that I have always had problems with, though in my move I became more aware of the thoughts that persisted, meeting them with “Why can’t I stop thinking about this!? Why can’t I just let it go?” CHECK), dryness or excessive mucus in membranes (check), sinus problems, asthma, stiffness of spine and neck (my entire spinal column seized up once I received the news of Heather, and it took WEEKS of yoga, restorative yoga, and massages to help work out the bigger kinks), rigidity, mental fixation (check), nasal congestion, lung and bronchial conditions, frequent colds, boundary issues (check), unexpressed sorrow (CHECK).
I was the poster child for fall imbalance.
But in drawing my awareness inside and really listening to what my body was trying to tell me, in dealing with my grief, I’ve addressed many of these issues without having needed a checklist to do so. I definitely wasn’t stuck—my move to Toronto wildly flagged that I wasn’t going to let myself stay tied into this rut. I took some ayurveda classes at my yoga studio in TO and met with an ayurvedic doctor to address my constipation issues, which, after realizing my diet wasn’t the issue, he attributed to my inability to express anger and/or let things go. My yoga practice has completely transformed as I’ve slowed myself down in my movements in order to be more conscious, aware of each pose’s affects on myself. Whenever I feel myself obsessing over a thought or idea, I take myself on a long, hard bike ride or go to the gym to work it out. I’ve taken up kickboxing to help me release my anger. I constantly purge my closet and belongings to rid my tactile life of things I don’t need, which has also helped me to clear the clutter in my mind. I’ve set up a daily routine for work and play that helps me to better streamline my thoughts and ideas while also aiding in keeping me focused for when I am working. I set my alarm for the same time every day. I meditate daily.
All these things have helped me to cope with my grief, and my grief has helped me to address these issues. Like I said, it hasn’t been easy, but the results have been extremely rewarding.
One last thing that I wanted to share: In coming back to New York to attend my training, I am staying at my mother’s home on Long Island so that I can visit Heather; we grew up in the same town, her body now lies in the crypt of the Catholic church in our town. Without a car, I decided to go for a run to visit her as a way to help clear my mind.
At the wake, I was so overcome with grief that I couldn’t concentrate on what I needed to say; having repressed so many emotions that came up when I thought of her, so much came at me at once. It was like I had been the target of a firing squad ordered to shoot squarely at my heart and mind. I was just completely overwhelmed with everything that was coming up, I don’t think I said everything that I needed to say. So now, almost five months later, having had all this time to myself to process my loss and try to figure out how to go on with my life, I felt like I was finally really ready to have this talk with her.
Running there, I was completely out of breath. The crypts only about a mile away, I had to stop and start again and again as I was finding it hard to breath. Once I got there, though, and had a cry, I said all that I needed to say (which was surprisingly short considering our lengthy past together), chatted with her about some things that were going on in my life, then left for my run back home. On the way back, I realized my breath came so much more easily; there was no wheezing, no shortness. And after I got home and took a shower, I sat down to eat some breakfast and felt this lightness, like a weight had been lifted off of me.
I felt free.
It was only then that I realized that all this work that I had done with and for myself had really, ACTUALLY done something: liberate me. And even though the journey was hard and long, I would do it all over again just to be able to feel at peace with myself as I do right now.
So if you are still reading this, I thank you for your patience. But I also encourage you to invite yourself to grieve, to allow yourself to feel, to dive deep within yourself to experience all the emotions you’ve refused yourself to feel. Because it may seem scary to deal with whatever it is that you are hesitant to fully experience, but I promise you, all that work to repress it takes a heck of a lot more energy out of you and causes so much more pain in so many different areas of your life, in your body than it does to actually invite it in and make friends with it. And really, pain is our greatest friend as it shows us exactly where we need to work on ourselves to become more aware and able to live more presently.