How I Got My Yoga Back

In January of 2015, my yoga practice was hijacked by anxiety. That was the month when I unexpectedly recovered a long-suppressed memory that brought with it all the emotion of the original event—fear, helplessness, paralysis, and an inability to breathe. The cascade of sensations and recollected details nearly drowned me.

With the help of a Somatic Experiencing therapist, I learned the basic steps of trauma recovery and how to apply them to stay present and grounded. I had a personal yoga practice of 30 years’ standing that I continued all through this time, but my breath felt disconnected from my movements and I was unable to relax enough to really let go into postures. Anxiety kept me on guard and outwardly focused, even when I closed my eyes.

Yoga had always provided a way home to myself, a path to feeling more fully alive. Now it seemed more like body maintenance than a way to connect inside. I mourned the loss but just couldn’t release into the stream of energy that used to carry me so reliably through postures and pranayama.

A year after the memory surfaced, when I’d learned a lot of tools for dealing with anxiety and my outer life was finally getting back to normal again, I wrote two stanzas of a poem after meditation.

I know how to move
so that the grooves
of habit and conditioning
melt away and my awareness
rests undefended in the
bare and wordless truth.

I know how to breathe
in order to receive the
mystery inside of me.

The phrases “I know how to move,” and “I know how to breathe,” haunted me. “Do I know?” I asked myself the next morning as I went through the motions of a yoga practice that felt rote and lifeless. I tried slowing down my movements and focusing on inner sensation. I tried linking my breath with these slower and more spacious stretches. I struggled to find a connection that had once been second nature, and now seemed lost to me. I had a few flashes—a moment when a sense of presence lit up my core, a breath that reached right down into my depths, but the very next breath would be shallow and disconnected.

I can’t really explain why I kept at it instead of abandoning a practice that no longer brought me any joy. In part, yoga was just what I did each morning. Some people reach for a cup of coffee; I do yoga. After 30 years, the habit was so ingrained that I continued to do postures even when the rewards were meagre. I went into my practice every day hoping the dry spell would finally end. After all, I’d experienced other such times, and they’d always concluded with me connecting again to my depths, so why would this be any different? It definitely helped that my husband had a steady practice, so I had both company and support. I was slogging through a routine that didn’t give me much juice, but at least I was showing up.

Then, one morning, with no fanfare and no warning, my practice was back. Each breath led into the next movement, each new stretch initiated another breath, and the whole experience felt like an unfolding process of discovery. How could the same postures feel so different, one day to the next? It was as if the best of me was suddenly illumined again after a year of being lost in the shadows.

Introversion and absorption seemed to be both the cause and the effect of this nourishing and regenerative practice. Instead of being only skin deep, my yoga practice was once again reaching to the very center of me, where that elusive connection to something beyond mind and body provides energy, meaning, fulfillment, and serenity. It turns out I do know how to move so that each reach of the limb opens into some small revelation. I do know how to breathe so that what’s outside me is received inside with wholeness.

All of a sudden, I’m looking forward to my yoga time again. After enduring a year on the mat that offered little in the way of self-discovery, it’s a gift to get my practice back.

Danna Faulds, a poet and yoga practitioner, has published six books of poetry and a memoir, Into the Heart of Yoga: One Woman’s Journey.

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Danna Faulds, author of six poetry books and the memoir Into the Heart of Yoga: One Woman's Journey, is a long-term Kripalu Yoga practitioner.

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