"The goal of spiritual practice is full recovery, and the only thing you need to recover from is a fractured sense of self." -Marianne Williamson
It's been 4 weeks since my husband and I went through a pregnancy loss at 10 weeks. The process of healing and recovery has been, to say the least, amazing. Through the love and support of family and friends, through the outlet of writing and sharing our journey openly, through open communication and support for one another, and through the practice of yoga, our hearts are full of healing, acceptance, hope, and happiness.
I had the opportunity to spend a week with my guru Tim Miller in Mount Shasta, California two weeks ago. At that time my body was weak, my heart was raw, and tears still easily flowed. I started the retreat meeting several of the other students, all lovely spirits, followed by the embrace of the "love aura" of my guru, Timji. Just to be in his presence is enough to warm my heart and make me smile. His positive energy is infectious. Without even speaking about his own guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, it is easy to feel the love and respect he had for him. This love and respect emanates from Timji effortlessly. It wraps around each and every student, whether new or old to Tim, he simply offers it up and shares it, I think most of the time without even knowing he is doing it .
The following morning and every morning thereafter, I woke up and joined Tim and my new fellow students for Pranayama practice. This intense method of breathing as usual forced me to focus my mind on the task at hand....breathing.....(or lack thereof???)....and quiet the cries of emotional pain from loss that were lingering in my mind. Following pranayama, we practiced for 2 hours each morning. The Mysore room with Tim is quiet and steady, only briefly interrupted by a giggle here and there from Tim or a fellow student (myself being guilty of the laughs) as he and his assistant Leigha moved throughout the room to teach us. Every physical assist from Tim, no matter what posture I am in, feels like a safe, enveloping bear hug of love. We would then gather ourselves after a brief break for an afternoon of hiking in the mountains. Tim has each hike meticulously chosen and planned out, each one gradually getting longer, more challenging, and at the same time, more beautiful than the one before. Most involved bodies of clean, refreshingly (and some bone chillingly) cool waters. On the second hike Tim warned us that the water was cold, only about 50 degrees, but it was worth a "quick dip and swim" across the river to the other side where we could perch on a rock, bathe in the sun, and enjoy a more pleasing view of the waterfall. As much as I despise being cold....cold weather, cold water, cold whatever.....I was willing to follow my guru and fellow students across the icy cold river simply for the experience alone. With each morning pranayama and asana practice, with each hike full of breathtaking views of Shasta and the surrounding area, with each chilly dip in the fresh waters, my spirit lit up more and more. I felt less and less pain and began to open up to the other students around me. I formed new friendships that will last and came home with a heart full of steadiness and joy.
Not everyone who goes through a loss that leads to pain and suffering is so fortunate to study with their guru on a yoga retreat in a beautiful mountain range full of strong spiritual energy. I feel so blessed to have had this experience during a time of need. I planned this time to study with my guru before I got pregnant, but I did not plan it to happen after a miscarriage. My time at Mount Shasta with Timji, Ashtanga Yoga, beautiful company, and Mother Earth fueled my spirit and body. Healing took place. I was exactly where I was meant to be in my human journey at that time, and the coming weeks before as well. But we don't all have to go to Mount Shasta or another retreat to heal. I have shared with my students at The Shala how much I believe the Ashtanga Yoga practice can be a very healing practice. It can help heal injury, physical ailments, physical weakness, balance issues, depression, and anxiety. What about the practice is it that allows us to heal?
First, we work closely with a teacher that knows our practice, that cares about us individually, and can help to guide us through the practice day to day no matter what we have going on in our personal lives. Second, the practice itself is meditative. With focus on the breath, dristi, and bandhas as we move, we are given the opportunity to quiet our minds, which is a form of rest from stress and pain in our daily lives. In turn we actually physically calm our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Third, if we have physical injury, we can modify the practice and in doing so, build strength in areas that are weak or that we otherwise were not aware needed work. As we build strength where there is weakness, or open up where there was tightness, we are helping our bodies to heal physically. Finally, there is an amazing Ashtanga Yoga community that we become a part of. No matter where we practice, be it in our home shala or in a shala abroad, the sense of community that exists among Ashtanga practitioners is very strong. I have traveled to study Ashtanga Yoga in California and other states with Tim and other teachers, and I always leave with new and dear friends. Surrounding ourselves by beautiful spirits is in itself very healing!
The wonder of Ashtanga Yoga, what I think ends up drawing students in to commit to the method, is the spiritual journey on which this style of yoga takes us. Each student's journey is unique. Mostly, this journey takes us inward, helps us dredge up all our shit, and forces us to work through it. It is therapy on a mat. I think more than anything, a spiritual journey is not so much a journey of discovery, but a journey of recovery and healing......a journey back to the divine self.
Or to put it David Swenson style, "In a nutshell, I'd say ashtanga yoga is a universal tool to enhance life!"