Respecting the Undertow
For years I was desperately treading water, trying to stay afloat, gasping for oxygen yet getting pulled under by a relentless undertow, a toxic vortex of suppressed emotion. I was trying to move forward, reaching for shore, yet beneath my consciousness was a powerful opposing force holding me back. I was living out of my body because being in body, actually feeling all that had been getting pushed further and further down, was too painful. It was a terribly destructive way of being, and I progressed towards a state of dissonance and inner fragmentation. Yet the part of me that could not be harmed, the observer who saw a mind and body in pain, my limitless and true Essence, remained untouched.
On the outside, this manifested as trying to balance an unconscious and harmful life, which had become deeply engrained in my mind and body, with my newfound love of yoga and teaching, which my soul recognized as Truth. For me, this was impossible. I was trying to have it both ways but what resulted was such an unbalanced life that it teetered over the edge. This was never going to work and the more I tried, the longer I gave my heart glimpses of Truth and then snatched them away, the deeper my suffering became. It gradually led to dis-ease, slowly building and reaching a boiling point until I literally had to just STOP. In April of 2015 I reached for a lifesaver to pull me out of the rough waters. I decided to leave Toronto and move back to London, the place where I was born and spent my childhood, and follow the call to India. I didn’t know what lay ahead but I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. And so began the journey back to my Self.
Being back in Toronto over these holidays, Winter Solstice and the end of 2017 created a rich opportunity for reflection. Every time I visit, I feel a little more grounded, more centered in myself and less affected by this city and the memories that it holds. Because the truth is, it is never the place. The richer my inner resources are, the more deeply my roots are grounded into the Earth, the greater the balance between my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual bodies, the less affected I am by the stories that make up my past.
When a tree’s roots are strong and healthy, no storm can knock it down.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” –Nelson Mandela
This reflecting comes as I ask myself how I got here. Sitting on my cushion in Toronto, after two and a half years of journeying around the sun, a memory surfaced of my first ever experience of yoga. It was 2012 and a number of months after my concussion. The snowboarding accident that dropped me on my head with great force into the hard white ground was the Universe trying to give me a wake up call. I wasn’t yet ready to listen or allow Universal Flow to guide me safely to shore and so began the beginning of panic attacks and depression.
My mum and our friend Kat invited me to come along with them to a restorative yoga class. I didn’t know what that was but I agreed to go. The 90-minute class felt like days, I thought it would never end. The tightness in my chest was a fiery clamp around my heart. The fear of having a panic attack in the dark, “peaceful” room escalated and felt insurmountable and I spent the duration focusing all of my attention on holding it together. The key word being holding. In savasana, I remember the teacher coming over and placing a stone on my chest, right where the squeezing was. I didn’t know how she knew what I was experiencing and I wasn’t yet able to receive her offering and allow it to comfort me, but I am sure a little seed was planted in my heart that day.
It took me years to be able to return to restorative yoga. I dove into a dynamic and physical practice that allowed me to keep running from the undercurrent. Yet today, stillness, presence with my breath and lying in heart openness, is the most healing aspect of my practice and one I feel immense gratitude for.
I spent years taking tranquilizers to silence my heart. I thought the anxiety was something that was happening to me that I needed to control and get rid of. But as I have spent these last few years developing a relationship with it and listening, I have come to understand that it is not something separate from me trying to hurt me. It is my soul’s way of trying to talk to me, to tell me something that can’t wait any longer. I actually don’t believe it to be “anxiety,” it is deep and big emotion trying to surface, trying to escape so that it doesn’t hurt me anymore. My heart pounds into my chest, my soul knocking at the door of my body and mind, trying to be let in. It is the miracle of my body indicating that something isn’t right and needs my attention. As soon as I let go of the holding that had me imprisoned in that yoga class, once I surrender and let it in, tears come, release comes and with that, quiet peace and clarity, like the calm after the storm. Yoga gives me a container to feel those deep and scary places; I can move my body, come into the now and I know that my mat will hold me when it feels like I might fall.
I am learning that perhaps the most important thing we may understand to facilitate healing is that our body is on our side. It would never do anything to hurt us. It loves us unconditionally. It is a miraculous vehicle that our spirit chose to reside in and it is working to unbelievable lengths to support us in our evolution.