What Happened When I Held Hands With Death

I held hands with death today. The grip suprisingly strong around my hands which were closing so gently around skin, paper thin and velvet soft. In the yoga sutras, Pantanjali tells us that the one suffering no human can escape is a fear of death, or a clinging to life. This hand to hold, clinging to life, I felt that desire in waves not only from a wizened hand – but shuttering throughout my whole body. Tears sprout and I cannot be sure if they are for the fear of death in a loved one, or my own fear of death that lives within me. The hand holds mine and I feel a soft caress, in the repose, I know we connect.

United in this moment, there is love, anguish, and a sharp flash of ego, which haunts the end of a life. Not the ego of the dying, but the ego of the left behind. Ego telling us to hold tight, complete that bucket list, time is short. That’s not it either. There is a space to live between clinging to life and letting it go. The saying is, “You only live once,” but that’s not true.wpid-instaquote-20-03-2015-23-16-45.png

You only die once. We receive life every day we open our eyes and in that moment, opportunity to fully awaken presents itself.

In yoga there is the practice of dying called Savasana. At the end of every class, we allow death for our hurt, our pain, our suffering, and then we reawaken into our potential and possibility. B.K.S. Iyengar says:

Savasana is about shedding. We have many skins, sheaths, thoughts, prejudices, preconceptions, ideas, memories, and future plans. Savasana sheds all of this….threads of tension…like Gulliver imprisoned by the threads of the Lilliputians…to cut tension is to cut the threads that bind us…to find out who we are not.”

Savasana can be scary in this way too. No one is clear on what happens when you cut all that binds you from the material, physcial world. There is a thread of tension that will always linger, tying the soul to the body here on the earth. Since no one can know what happens after death – there is fear in the letting go, slipping into the void. Many master teachers will agree that the practicing of many little deaths, many letting go’s, prepares for the ultimate letting go, the body death.

I find Paramahansa Yogananda’s quotes on death to be helpful in times of death awarenss, I espeically feel drawn to this one on this day:

Natural death—that is, in old age, or whenever the soul is ready to change its mortal form—is just like the falling of ripe fruit from the tree, of its own accord, without the resistance that green fruit exhibits when being pulled down by a storm or other great force.

Final Rest and Relaxation, Practice for Death, Art by Felipe Ikehara

We can use the little deaths of savasana to allow us to release the ties that bind us, then tensions of living, so that we can float through our life aware of the experience, never missing a heartbeat. In that, Savasana is the most important and the most difficult asana in our practice.

I give thanks and honor to the many teachers in my life. Without the shared practice, the shared wisdom, and all the shared love – I cannot hope to progress in yoga or in my life. Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. May the peace of the practice shine through my teachers, through me, and into you dear reader. This one light may and must shine in all of us – Namaste.

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Overcome Bullying with Yoga

I was bullied. I was threatened, shamed, and physically abused through bullying. Now, 33 years old, the pain and disquiet of being bullied lingers. Being bullied can make you feel that someone is watching and waiting to poke a big hole in your balloon, hoping to deflate you.

Inflated/Deflated Project

Inflated/Deflated Project

Enter yoga.

Yoga means union. Yoga is a community. Yoga makes a person feel like it is ok to be different; it’s ok to just be you. We find an acceptance in all the yoga-speak about being non-attached, forgiveness, offering love, compassion, and self-care. Yoga class is the place one can go to make mistakes, to fall down and get back up, to practice overcoming obstacles and find inner potential.

We strengthen our bodies so that we strengthen our spirit. We practice strength so that we can share that strength with others who might not be as strong, so we can support and lift up the other folks who are having a hard time.

Bullying is something that makes a person feel alone. Yoga is a practice to unite and overcome isolation. You become strong enough to forgive and shift perspective, which opens up a new space within you, a space you can fill with your potential to create, to share, and to love.

The magic of the practice is in the journey. As you work your body, you find you have a new script, your own personal inner life coach that tells you that you are capable, that you are strong, that you are beautiful – just the way you are.

I did not have a context for inner strength until I found the practice of yoga. Bullying is not personal, it is one person transferring their negative shit onto your negative shit and making a giant shit pile. It stinks, but manure makes great fertilizer. Keep practicing your potential and see what can bloom for you.

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

Out of the Muck Grows The Flower

 

Have you ever been bullied? Feel free to share your story with me in the comments, or direct message me on Facebook at Kirsten Hedden Yoga. I know you can feel alone – sometimes it helps to reach out to someone that cares – I’m here to listen.

4 Practices to Try Right Now:

Protect Your Inner Child

Protect and Strengthen – A Downward Dog over Child’s Pose

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.

The Dark Night of the Soul and Your Yoga Practice

**Please Note** This post contains a swear word.  If this would offend you, please don’t read further.

There comes a point in your yoga practice when you have to stare at yourself and you might not like it.  This is a dark little secret in yoga that some don’t care to discuss, with all the love and light and joy memes.  Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras does it say that all of your life will be blissfully happy – that’s something the marketing gurus selling you a yoga butt invented.

It is OK if you feel rotten, depressed, angry, bored, indifferent, or some sense of negativity in your yoga at times.  Read that again – IT IS OK to be upset.  Yoga opens up things within us and what needs to be taught is that it is NORMAL to not be cloying sweet and happy all your yoga life – you have to process the negative to become more positive.

You have to get deep in that muck and then like the lotus, you will emerge happier, healthier, and open to life – but first comes the mud and sometimes it smells rotten.  No Mud No Lotus

 

This point in your life practice is lovingly referred to as, “The Dark Night of the Soul.”  Basically, you have to get real about your problems.  You have to face the reality of all the actions you’ve taken up to this point of practice, you get to take a very real look at your Karma and sometimes that is ugly, especially if you are a human that has made mistakes (all of us!).

 

You may go through a depression or an increase in anxiety – don’t worry about it (haha and roll eyes).  This is actually a sign that you are clearing up.  You can’t clean what you can’t see.  Yoga shines the light in our darkest places; that can be very uncomfortable.  Those memories you worked so hard to suppress, they bubble right up to the surface and you have to deal with that shit.  And that’s why people sometimes quit on their yoga.  This part can be more painful than falling on your head in crow pose.

In the Dark Night of the Sould, Brightly Flows the River of God

It is at this point in your practice when you need to find yourself a highly experienced yoga teacher that is living this path, that has pushed past this very issue in their own psyche and body. This is not the time to focus on a yoga butt, but the time to enter into the deeper practices of Sense-Withdrawl (Pratyahara), One-pointed focus (Dharana), and Meditation (Dhyana). 

A good teacher can lead you through this valley of dark and shadows in a safe way and illuminate the more important teachings of yoga for you.  Seek out a teacher with years of experience and who still has a teacher of their own.  Be picky, don’t get distracted by shiny pants and tiny tops with great abs – remember that The Buddha had a belly and was never depicted with his foot behind his head – but rather in meditation and mudra.  Sometimes your best teacher may not be a yoga-lebrity, especially when you enter the dark stages of your practice.  10843791_345959338923369_1679910113_n

When people complain that they aren’t flexible enough or strong enough for yoga asana, consider that this is just a mental blockage – you do the asana to build the body strength and flexibility so that the mind becomes more pliable as well. Once you clear up the self-judgement, you start becoming a more compassionate, less judgemental person – that’s how you share your practice to make the world better.

It is true that the world has dark places – you cannot ignore the reality of death and destruction that permeate our planet, nor should you.  But you can remember that out of darkness comes the light and they both exist together.  G.O.D. – Generator, Organizer, Destroyer – rinse and repeat. 

Ask yourself:

Have you been the person that says, “I can’t meditate, I can’t be still, I can’t get quiet.” – yeah, me too.  That shit is hard.  You have to literally stare yourself in the soul and get open to what comes up.  But stay a while longer, Practice and All Is Coming.

The Dark Night of The Soul by St. John of the Cross

Upon a darkened night
The flame of love was burning in my breast
And by a lantern bright
I fled my house while all in quiet rest

Shrouded by the night
And by the secret stair I quickly fled
The veil concealed my eyes
While all within lay quiet as the dead.

(Chorus)

O, night thou was my guide!
O, night more loving than the rising sun!
O, night that joined the Lover to the beloved one!
Transforming each of them into the other.

Upon that misty night
In secrecy beyond such mortal sight
Without a guide or light
Than that which burned as deeply in my heart.

That fire ’twas led me on
And shone more bright than of the midday sun
To where He waited still
It was a place where no one else could come.

(Chorus)

Within my pounding heart
Which kept itself entirely for Him
He fell into His sleep
beneath the cedars all my love I gave.

From o’er the fortress walls
The wind would brush His hair against His brow
And with its smoother hand
caressed my every sense it would allow.

(Chorus)

I lost my self to Him
And laid my face upon my Lover’s breast
And care and grief grew dim
As in the morning’s mist became the light.
There they dimmed amongst the lilies fair.

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Alignment Authenticity Anatomy Junkie Spiritual Flow Mantras Mudras Continuous Education Practice What You Teach Progress Not Perfection Guiding Teachers: BKS Iyengar Pattabi Jois Shiva Rea Daren Friesen (Moksha Chicago) Marinda Stopforth (Prairie Yoga - Lisle, IL)

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