Somewhere in the middle

I’ve been craving calm lately, and rejuvenation. I’ve spent the last few weeks perusing yoga retreat websites, searching for the perfect destination. I needed something restorative but also inexpensive.

Then I heard about Yoga Fest from my yoga teacher, Andrea. The annual day-long retreat in Raleigh features dozens of yoga sessions from meditation to acrobatic yoga. I attended my first Yoga Fest on Saturday, and it turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. It was a day of releasing for me. I let go of emotions, tensions, judgments. By the end of the day, I felt cleansed, lighter and looser. It was a powerful experience and more than I could have imagined.

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My day started out with an amazing Yin Yoga session with my yoga teacher Andrea. She’s the coolest yogi I’ve ever met. I just adore her! She’s a wonderful teacher. See how happy and relaxed I am after her class? 

The biggest turning point of my day came in the afternoon. Between sessions, I visited the exhibitors’ area and had my aura read for $5 by a woman from a Raleigh yoga studio. I’ve always been fascinated by aura readings and curious about what my own aura looked like. I’m not an expert on the subject of auras, but I’ve been reading about them since I received mine. The best way to describe an aura is it’s a field of energy that surrounds a person and reflects their essence — who they are and what’s happening at their core. The rainbow of colors that appear in an aura are supposed to reveal one’s emotional, physical, spiritual and mental well-being. Since I’ve been dealing with some heavy emotional “stuff” these past two months I was eager to see what my aura would reveal. I placed my hands in the outlines of what looked like two metal fingerprints and within seconds my aura appeared on the screen in front of me.

I studied it for a second and turned to the woman beside me anxiously awaiting her analysis. My aura contained an overwhelming amount of red, which she said represents high energy, creativity and love. “You have a lot of passion,” she said to me. I smiled and nodded. But red, she continued, can also indicate anger, stress and too much thinking and analyzing. She asked if I had been under a lot of stress lately, and I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Not really.” I’ve been managing my stress better at work, doing more yoga and meditation every morning and sleeping well. So no, no stress. She said I have so much energy, creativity and ideas that I want to accomplish, but I’ll never be able to accomplish any of them unless I focus my energy. True. That’s been an ongoing issue.

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“This concerns me,” she said, pointing to a darker area on the screen. I looked closer at the cloudy blob of darkness sitting in the center of my chest. It looked like an ominous, black hole and it was near my heart. I noticed more murky blackness along the edges of my aura, around the crown of my head, but the hole in the center of my heart appeared the densest. “You’re protecting yourself, keeping your emotions closed in,” she said balling her hands into fists and pulling them to her chest. She mentioned illness and grief. I told her I had suffered a great loss in February. She nodded as if she already knew.

It’s been almost two months since my husband and I lost our baby. And it’s a loss unlike anything I have ever felt. It’s a shock to the heart, to the body. Most of all, I grieved the potential, what could have been. Now, what I’m mostly left with is anger. I’ve been through a lot of tough experiences in my life – chronic illness, deaths, divorce – but nothing compares to losing our baby. That black hole, it feels like an abyss. And I was staring directly into it. As I sat there studying my aura on the screen, I saw so much sadness. It’s a strange thing to see your emotions displayed in front of you. It was almost like looking at a self-portrait I had painted. But it’s up to me to change the canvas. The woman who did my reading recommended I meditate more, do some deep meditative breathing and yoga postures to open the chest and release the emotions I’m holding onto. “The gong bath will be good for you,” she continued. “It’ll be interesting to see what your aura is like after the gong.”

Gong bath. I had been hearing about this all day but had no clue what it was, and for some reason I never felt compelled to ask someone. I guess I wanted to be surprised and not go into it with any expectations. With my phone, I took a photo of my aura on the screen, thanked her, and went off to my final yoga class of the day: Cultivating Calm. How appropriate.

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The whole time I was in the class, I couldn’t get the image of my aura out of my head. Every time I tried to concentrate on a particular posture or my breath, my glowing red silhouette with that black hole in the center kept popping up. I kept thinking about how much better I thought I had been doing, how my life was getting back to normal … almost. But I’m still healing. As a friend so eloquently put it, I saw my “true colors,” and it scared me.

“Breathe in possibility and optimism,” the instructor said during our final meditation. “Breathe out fear and doubt.” As I breathed out, I pictured the black hole in my chest leaving my body and light coming in. My closed eyelids trembled as I tried to hold back the tears.

As I waited for the gong bath to begin, I pulled out my phone and Googled “gong bath.” The first result brought up: “A gong bath is a form of sound therapy where the gong is played in a therapeutic way to bring about healing. … The term gong bath means that you are bathed in sound waves, there is no water involved, or clothes removed.” Well, that’s a relief.

I closed my phone and laid down on my yoga mat, waiting to be healed. A woman with thick, blonde curly hair, black and white geometric yoga pants, and an off-the-shoulder black flowing t-shirt entered the room pushing on wheels a gong the size of a Smart car. She suggested lying down on the yoga mat with your head toward the gong and laughed as she told us one of her friends describes the gong bath as a “magic carpet ride.” The idea of floating around on a magic carpet sounded good right about now. The ultimate metaphor for freedom.

She turned off the lights, and as I laid there looking up at the dark, empty ceiling, I kept thinking about the words “healing” and “unreleased grief.” “Give yourself the gift of letting go,” the blonde-hair girl spoke gently into her wireless mic. And with that, the gong bath started. The sounds of the gong began gently like ripples of water, then increased in intensity. I could feel each sound wave reverberate throughout my body. I tried to stay grounded in the present and not let my mind drift, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the past – and that black hole. Eventually, the obsessive thoughts stopped and I let myself just be.

I’m not sure how long the gong bath lasted. Ten minutes? Fifteen? When the gong music stopped, I laid there waiting for something to happen to me. Was it over? Am I healed? What am I supposed to be feeling? Do I feel any different? With the lights still off, a musical recording began to play a New Age song I wasn’t familiar with. I didn’t know what the song was about because the lyrics were in another language, but it was beautiful and moving. As I laid there flat on my back, palms turned upward toward the sky, something broke inside of me. Hot tears slipped from the corners of my eyes and slid down my cheeks. My throat tightened and my chin trembled as I tried to hold back the tears. This is the stuff I’m still holding onto. Let it go. I surrendered to my grief and started a flood. Tears streamed down both sides of my cheeks. Some tears pooled in my ear canals and slid down my jaw bone and down my neck. Others rolled off my skin not knowing where they landed. I felt like I would never stop crying.

When the lights came on, I dug in my bag for a tissue and dabbed the tears from my eyes. I was a mess. My cheeks were wet, my neck, my chest. I felt like my whole body was covered in tears. I kneeled on my mat and started to roll it up when I noticed there were tears the size of dimes pooled on it. I had never seen my tears manifested in that way. They looked so big — perhaps the larger the grief, the bigger the tears.

I took a few deep breaths, then collected my things and hurried out the door to my car. I didn’t want anyone to see what a mess I was. When I stepped outside, the gray rain clouds that followed me on my morning drive had dissipated and the sky was now a cloudless blue. I turned my face to the sun and let its rays dry the rest of my tears. And I told myself, “I’m going to be OK.”

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Andrea introduced me to the works of poet Thomas Merton after her Yin Yoga session. “Sit still and rest.” Ah yes. And I love the second poem “At the End …” I think I’m somewhere in the middle.

 

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Being comfortable with the uncomfortable

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Photos by Carla Kucinski.

I’ve been thinking a lot this past week about the idea of being uncomfortable, accepting where you are in your life and making peace with it. In my yoga class, my instructor often talks about this because it’s a huge element in the type of yoga I practice – yin. In yin yoga, seated postures are held for three to five minutes at a time, which forces you to surrender to the pose and allow your body, mind and spirit to just “be” no matter how much your body, mind and spirit fight you. It’s an exercise in letting go.

I’ve been practicing yin yoga for a little more than one year now, and it has helped grounded me in situations and periods in my life where I’ve felt groundless. February was one of those months. Sometimes life hurls at you one big explosion that pulls the ground out from underneath you. In one moment everything changes. That’s how my February started. It forced me to have to process a lot of difficult things and emotions all at once. Feelings I sometimes didn’t know what to do with. Every day felt like a freight train of raw emotions plowing into me.

After taking a brief hiatus from yoga, I returned to my practice last week to help find my footing again. Coincidentally, the lungs were the focus of class that night. The lungs represent courage; it’s also where we hold our grief.

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During the class, my instructor talked about a YouTube video she posted on Facebook earlier in the day. The video features a rabbi talking about how lobsters’ bodies grow, but their shells do not. When the lobster is ready to shed its shell, it retreats under a rock, casts off its armor and then re-emerges to begin growing a new shell.

I feel much like a lobster these days. For the last three weeks, I’ve been in hiding and spent a lot of time reflecting and processing. But something has shifted in me recently. I’m starting to shed my shell. With each new day this past week, I felt the ground returning beneath me. The chatter in my mind quieted. My emotions began to find balance. I started to make peace with this uncomfortable place I’m in. I’ve accepted that this is where I need to be right now, so I can grow, like the lobster.

“Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth.” I keep coming back to those words from the rabbi. They grabbed my heart.

A friend remarked over brunch this morning how good it feels to see pops of color beginning to emerge outside, after enduring a bleak, grey February. Winter is starting to let go, and so am I.

Spring is a transitional season. It’s a time of growth and renewal. It’s a new beginning. Letting go is all about moving out of something, so we can move into something else — another wise observation from my yoga instructor. (Are you noticing her pattern of awesomeness?)

I do not know what I will be moving into, but I do know what I’ll be leaving behind (fear and grief) and what I’ll be taking with me (hope and promise).

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Change of plans

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I’ve been home all week sick with a nasty virus that feels like the flu but isn’t. It’s been a rough couple of days, but hopefully I turned a corner today. I finally took a shower this afternoon. Progress.

What sucks the most about this unfortunate turn of events is that my husband and I had to cancel our vacation Monday night when he came home from work to find me  shivering under the covers  with a 100F degree fever, and we realized there was no way I could get on a plane the next morning or even a few days from now. I was heartbroken and cried — did I mention I get weepy when I’m sick?

Our original plan was to fly to Arizona for a few days where I was going to attend a conference for work while Andrew caught up with an old friend from college. Then, we were going to drive to California to visit my parents for the remainder of our trip and celebrate my birthday a few days early. My mom was heartbroken too when I told her there’s been a change of plans. She too cried. It runs in the family.

I know we can’t always prevent ourselves from getting sick — things happen, right? But I can’t help from blaming myself this time. The week leading up to our trip, I worked. Too much. I had a long list of items to check off my list so that I could leave for two weeks with peace of mind. It was a very stressful week and I worked all day Saturday and Sunday to meet my self-inflicted deadlines. But it came with a cost. My health. Continue reading