A Bag Full of Pennies Bought a Lifetime of Shoulder Pain

There she stood at the teacher’s desk, must have been in 4th or 5th grade.  She held a plastic sandwich baggie full of pennies. She couldn’t even afford a Ziploc. The teacher made her count them out loud, in front of the whole class.

One, Two, Three……One Hundred and Nine, One Hundred and Ten. Lunch money.

They all laughed.  They all pointed.

The teacher announced loudly that the next day the girl needed to bring a dollar bill.

An awkward child figure, with big curly hair and a big nose with second hand clothing, hung her head and silent tears rolled down as she shamefully walked back to her desk without a friend in the world, knowing without a doubt that at 10 years old, she was poor, she was different, and no one really cared. Her shoulders hunched a little more that day as she learned to close off her heart and protect herself.

This is one of my earliest memories of trauma and I found it in a yoga class. It has sat inside my body, inside my muscles, creating an unknown tension for many years.  The memory of it just sort of popped up one day, in an intense shoulder opening.  Like an unwelcome visitor in the body, knocking on my mind to say, “you need to deal with me.” And just like that, the shoulders relaxed a little more and that bit of tension was forever gone.

Many people walking around in your life have untold stories of trauma. It isn’t just one story, it isn’t just trauma from abuse or war, any experience that leaves you feeling shamed, unloved, unwanted, abandoned can give you a traumatic shock in your body system. We get very good at hiding our stories from others, we get very good at getting small and unnoticed, and we call that “fitting in.” Except even if you never talk about it, never remember it consciously, your body knows and you can’t lie or hide from it forever.

Maybe your trauma lives in your shoulders and neck as a sort of tension you can’t seem to let go, no matter how calm and soothing or sweaty and hot the yoga class. Maybe it’s digestive issues that no medical doctor can seem to explain or they tell you “it’s all in your head.” Perhaps it is an intense desire to eat your emotions.  This is the power of yoga practice, the awareness it brings to your body and mind so that you can be open and available for true deep healing.

This is also why some people don’t like yoga – it makes you face things that perhaps you aren’t sure you want to dig back out, so you think, I’ll just outrun it – maybe with a marathon. Except that as you age and you stop being able to run, the body catches up and it still holds the tension of those traumatic lessons you chose not to deal with in your earlier years.

The point is, everyone has a story to unravel and a yoga mat is usually a safe space to reread and release your story so you can feel less trapped by your body. The next time you are in a yoga class and you feel the urge to leave a pose you don’t like, try staying and see what comes up. Keep a journal so you keep aware of how you feel and what you might purge. Be OK with shedding some tears and having catharsis.

Not every pose is beautiful and not every yoga class is joyful – you need to know that it’s OK to release and feel angry or sad, don’t suppress those emotions any further, they are physical expressions of fear from your life lived and all the accumulated experiences, but to heal you have to wade through them. You need to know where they live in your body. To know they exist so you can let them go. The final limb of yoga is joy – not the first. It takes a lot of hard work; trust the process, it’s time tested for at least 3,000 years.

Yoga is NOT entertainment, there is no doubt that you can have a rockin’ good time in a great yoga class with high volume music and that’s OK too, not every yoga session needs to be a huge release of some trauma. But if you want the real meat, the real healing, you have to do the real work and it’s not balancing on your head – it’s going into the deep unknown, exploring the abyss and that can be scary.

Find yourself a teacher that has been there and come back, not necessarily enlightened – for the ones that claim enlightenment are usually false gurus. Find the ones that don’t judge you, that allow for quiet, that make you feel safe. As Pattabi Jois said, “Practice and all is coming.”

I give thanks to my own teachers, to my own students, and those that have walked the path of life with me.  I am the person I am because of life’s traumas and my work in overcoming obstacles.  Thank you, dear reader, for spending a little time in my world.  You are loved.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. ONE
    Jan 15, 2015 @ 22:38:08

    Thank you Kirsten for following my posts and thank you for your ‘bagful of pennies’! I liked it. I have learned that we can either be Victims in life or Victors. The choice is ours. The ‘story’ is our chosen lesson. When we Detach from our story we learn the lesson and move on. I look forward to any yoga tips I can glean through your blog. Thank you again for liking my post.

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