Mind or Body? Connection in Yoga

Having already divulged my age I feel comfortable revealing that I was in college & graduate school in the early 1980’s, studying psychology.   I think it was the Star Wars movies, with the introduction of “The Force”, the knowledge that we only use 10% of our brain, and the plethora of  studies using biofeedback, that had many of us (I hope I wasn’t the only one) convinced that the mind body connection was both real and limitless.  We were sure that it was only a matter of time before someone discovered “The Force” and many of us (or maybe just me) worked really hard to do so.  We practiced our own forms of biofeedback, learned to slow our heart rates and pulse, practiced managing pain and discomfort  through the power of our brains.

Imagine our surprise when we failed.  As far as I know, no Yoda has come forward, no one has mastered the power of the Force, and the idea of using the 90% of our unused brain matter fell by the way side.    It was a sad time in our country.  Heading into the 90’s the idea of the Force disappeared as the age of technology took over , and most of us turned our attention to harnessing the power of the internet instead of the power of the mind.

It was with this frame of reference that I came to deny the connection between mind and  body.  I spent the next 2 decades firmly entrenched in the idea that my mind had no power over my body, except in the basic biological functions it controls.  I was certain that my thoughts and feelings in no way impacted the state of my body.  In retrospect this is rather hysterical, given the fact the farther I sunk into depression and anxiety the worse my health got.

I started practicing Yoga 5 months after my husband moved out.  By that time my anxiety had become manageable, my depression was lifting, and I was getting in touch with feelings I hadn’t experienced since the 80’s.    Over the next 6 months, with a 1 month hiatus for surgery, my yoga practice blossomed.  I was stronger every day, I was reclaiming some balance (no easy feat after chemo destroyed all feeling in my feet), and I was mastering new poses every week.   To say I felt proud doesn’t begin to describe the feelings I had when I left a yoga class, or finished a home practice.  I was freaking awesome!

During this time I was also in therapy, journaling and meditating, trying to repair my soul after 23 years of a bad marriage and 1.5 years of cancer.   At least, that’s what I thought I was doing.  Actually, I was convinced that’s what I was doing.  I made great breakthroughs every week, discovering why I had entered into and stayed in a bad relationship, learning about my faulty belief systems, identifying the fear that held me back, kept me stuck.  As I worked on these personal issues my practice grew stronger.

Then April hit.  I don’t know how exactly this happened, but I suddenly fell apart.  This caught me totally off guard.  How could I be falling apart now?  Hadn’t I done the necessary work to get past this?   Hadn’t I cried enough, talked enough, journaled & meditated enough to be past this?   This was not where I was supposed to be in my recovery, yet there I was, in what felt like the same shape I had been a year ago, maybe even worse.

As it turns out, the 1st year of recovery is somewhat of a holding pattern.  I was actually like the plane not yet allowed to land, circling the airport, waiting for an opening.  I was moving , I was covering ground, I was gathering momentum, but I had yet to land.  In April I landed, and all of the feelings I had uncovered while in that holding pattern actually hit me.  Full force.  I was shocked.  I said to my therapist  “WTF???  I thought I had been “dealing” with all this crap for the past 9 months.”   As a  fellow cancer survivor and divorcee she very quietly informed me that year 2 is usually worse than year 1.  Great.  Now you tell me.  I was pissed.  I was not going to accept that.  She was wrong, I had moved past these emotions, I was almost done my journey, I didn’t need to land; I could circle forever and be just fine.

Except that I couldn’t.

It took about 2 months for me to accept the fact that my work has only just begun, and that 2 months led me to believe in the mind body connection.    Two things happened during that 2 months.

  1. I was stuck in my head and my heart.  I was stubborn and unrelenting in my denial.  I was rigid in my thoughts and I worked vehemently at continuing my circling, making sure I didn’t land, didn’t have to land.   I became despondent, crying at the drop of the hat, raging one minute, crying the next, laughing moments later.  I lost control of my thoughts and emotions and was a mess.
  1. My yoga practice started to suck! Initially I went to class feeling ready to challenge myself, physically and spiritually.  But early in the class I would start to feel week.  I struggled to find my center in all of my poses.  I felt my arms giving out, my legs refusing to stay, my balance non-existence.  As the months went on my yoga practice started to look like the inside of my brain; a mess.   It didn’t take long for me to feel like perhaps my yoga phase was over.  I started to think that I had maxed out.  I thought that maybe the previous 9 months had been an expression of adrenaline rather than a true practice.   I was ready to give it up.

Then I landed.  It was dark.  My landing strip was bleak,  scary and lonely.   I felt abandoned by my control tower, like I had been brought to this place only to be turned away at the gate.

It took a few weeks to come out of this.   I’ve written in Awakenings about this process.  I came to see that I was like a tree, standing in the middle of the marshes of my life (corny, I know).  In the marshland I was surrounded with all of the issues I had identified over the previous 9 months.  I could name them, see them, understand them.   But now it was time to feel them.  Now it was time to pick each one up, find it’s place in my soul, allow it to wash over me, and decide if it would stay or go.

As I was coming to accept this as part of my recovery process I started upping my home practice.  I felt pretty rotten in the studio by this time so, while I continued to go to classes, I focused more and more on my home practice.   And over the process of a few weeks, as I grew to accept that I have to face these feelings and issues head on, my practice strengthened.   Gradually I got back my strength.  Gradually I started mastering new poses again, feeling centered in my warriors, getting back some balance.

I am a stubborn girl, and this is very hard for me to admit, but it is now clear to me that there is a mind body connection.  When my mind is stuck my practice is stuck.  When I live in denial I lose my power.  When I teeter in my emotions I fall over in tree pose.  And when I refuse to feel my life I lose contact with my spirit.  There is a connection.   Shoot.

Now if only I could harness The Force.

PS:  If my timeline is off please forgive me.  Turns out chemo brain is a real thing and one of it’s manifestations for me is a lack of awareness regarding time.

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