Feeling Stuck + Processing Pain
photo by SweatNet Charlotte
I've been in a weird headspace these last few weeks. I guess you'd call it being in a funk. It crept up on me slowly, so I wasn't even able to recognize what was happening until the last few days. It started with not wanting to practice yoga, as it usually does. I've felt an aversion to rolling out my mat. To meditating. To working out in general. I've just felt heavy but I also know that's okay sometimes so I didn't push and I didn't overanalyze.
Last weekend, I finally forced myself to practice. It felt great while I was moving, but then at the end when I closed my eyes in savasana, the tears started falling out of nowhere. Same with the end of Rocket practice with Gurveer at The Space a few days later. This hasn't happened to me in awhile. For me, it's a red flag: girl, you need to process whatever is happening instead of push it away. But processing emotions can be uncomfortable, even painful at times and as humans, we tend to run away from emotional pain.
I woke up the next day with debilitating neck pain. The radiating kind that feels like electricity shooting through your body when you try to turn your head. So I took ibuprofen, an epsom salt bath, slathered myself with CBD oil, alternated ice and heat, got out my lacrosse ball and wiggled around against the wall, did every restorative yoga pose in my memory bank and I was still in tears every time I moved.
It got so bad by the end of the week I knew I needed to call in the professionals. The earliest Tom Archer (better known in the Charlotte fitness community as "Bodyworker Tom") could fit me in was on Monday. He combines structural bodywork, visceral manipulation, cranial structural integration and lymphatic therapy. It's specialized manual therapy that takes a holistic view of pain and dysfunction. He has fixed me (and a ton of my friends and other fitness professionals) before so I knew I'd be okay after I saw him.
I went through my long, dramatic timeline of my every move leading up to the neck pain. Tom listened earnestly. He was quiet for a few minutes, then he gently suggested this may have more to do with stress than my yoga practice. My immediate reaction was to defend myself, "hold up, my life is great and I meditate and I am a yoga teacher so I know how to deal with stress." Instead I paused and decided to reflect. Mostly because Tom a) is always right and b) acts like he's just a bodyworker but I'm convinced he's actually an intuitive because he's always dropping thought-provoking knowledge bombs on me whenever I'm getting work done. I also study Ayurveda, where we look at everything that lead up to the imbalance (aka gigantic knots in my neck and shoulder), and not just physically. We look at what has been going on mentally and emotionally as well.
I started thinking about the last month.
"Well, I guess the buildup to the midterm elections kinda stressed me out."
Ok, so maybe I was obsessively reading the news and having intense conversations with people and lying awake at night thinking about the dark state of the world. And watching the elections that night gave me an overwhelming sense of anxiety and helplessness, even though yes, I know, they could've gone a lot worse. *note: will need Xanax prescription for 2020 presidential election.
Also my friend died last month. I went down to St. John to grieve and celebrate his life with people who are like family and it was really fucking hard and really fucking sad. I wanted to be there for the people closest to him, so I tried to be strong. Sometimes being strong means pushing back the tears until they transform into a lump in your throat that no one can see. Eventually the lump goes away, when someone cracks a joke and you're able to laugh and regroup and stand up taller, like a warrior. You keep it together. But that emotion you didn't let yourself feel, the words you didn't express, the tears you held back—they don't just disappear. Thoughts, words, emotions, tears—they're forms of energy. When they're suppressed, you better believe they'll show up somewhere else.
Ah. Yes. I see now. That sadness that turned into a lump in my throat transformed into a giant knot in my neck and shoulder. And then as of yesterday, crippling pain in my low back.
I had flashbacks to the debilitating neck pain I experienced for two years when I was living in Austin. When I had a job that made me so miserable and I felt I had no sense of purpose. When I was so unhappy in my relationship but I refused to admit it to myself or anyone around me. When I first started practicing yoga regularly and at the end of every class, tears fell hard and I had no idea why. As much as it freaked me out to be curled up in a ball crying in a yoga studio filled with 70 strangers, it was such a cathartic release I didn't even care. I'd wipe the sweat and tears away, pick myself up off the floor and walk home with a sense of clarity that only lasted five blocks, but it was enough. It was enough to get me through the day.
Everything in life is temporary. Life itself is temporary. I know this. I study this. I teach this. But when someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly, it's like being slapped in the face with this glaring reminder. When it's a concept, "everything in life is temporary," I can deal. But when you lose someone you love, it's no longer a concept, an idea, something you're reading about or preparing for. It just hurts. And because I'm human, I push that pain away.
When I got home from my appointment with Tom, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I rolled out my mat. I put on my playlist from the last SOLSTICE and I turned it up as loud as it would go. I moved, breathed, danced through it. At one point I was just flailing my arms around and out of nowhere I burst into tears. I started to sit down but thought better of it and kept dancing, let the tears fall. As you can imagine, Shanti was quite concerned by this whole scene and came to check on me numerous times. But when I finally sat down on my mat, a sweaty, teary mess, I felt free. Like I could relax for the first time in weeks.
Nothing is ours to hold onto. Not even the people we love, the life we've built, the moments we never want to end. It's part of my work right now — finding a healthy balance between wanting to ease the pain of others and make the world a better place and living in the moment and enjoying life as it is. Nothing is mine to hold on to. It's just so hard to remember when shit goes down.
I'm sharing all of this in case you feel this weight sometimes too. So you know you're not alone. There will inevitably be more heaviness, loss, darkness. Your heart will break again, mine will too. I'm finding comfort in knowing we'll come out on the other side stronger, but a different kind of strength. A strength that is soft, filled with more compassion and grace not only for everyone around us, but also for ourselves.
I wrote down this quote on June 14, 2012. I don't know the author and I don't remember where I was when I wrote it down. There have been many times throughout the years when the first line pops into my head and I dig around to find my old journal to read it in its entirety.
"Everything that comes to us, comes to pass or, more accurately, for us to pass on. Not just the money in our pocket, but wisdom, objects, ideas, even opportunities, all come to us, so that, at the right moment, we can pass them on. This is called flow. Being in the flow means being aware that the river of life is flowing to us at every moment. Being in the flow means accepting whatever comes and putting it to good use, before passing it on.
Going with the flow means allowing whatever comes to move on freely, without holding on in any way. If we do not pass on, we are trying to block the flow, and that’s when we feel pressure in our life. Pressure is always self-inflicted. Every time you feel ‘under pressure’ look at what you need to release and to pass on to someone else. Once you do you can..relax…again."
Reading these words this morning, I realized I haven't been in the flow. I've been refusing to let go. I want to hold on: to the way I think the world should be, to the past, to my friend, to the pain of those I love thinking this would somehow lessen it for them.
Letting go is hard. So I'm doing what I can to stay in the flow: practicing yoga, dancing, sharing my feelings with loved ones, writing, sitting quietly in stillness and reminding myself over and over that while everything is temporary, the river of life is flowing to me at every moment.
I've gotta relax and enjoy the ride, even when it hurts.