Movement, Grief, and Healing

Last week, I was delighted to be able to go to my dear friend Jenna Weintraub’s Curvy Yoga Class at YogaVibe585. It was the absolute best of all places I could have been at the time; my week had been emotionally and physically exhausting, and I needed the centering environment that Jenna creates in every one of her classes.

Not long into the class, I began crying. Deep, sobbing tears that weren’t accompanied by any particular story or reason… they were just there, and they needed to come out. And they continued throughout most of the rest of the class.

I am so grateful that Jenna provides such a deeply safe space for the participants of her classes, because I was able to just be present with the tears without trying to change, hide, or stifle them. By the end of the class, I was exhausted, but also re-centered; when I returned home, I had some of the deepest sleep that I had had in a while, and I have been able to navigate the needs of my mind and body with greater gentleness in the intervening days.

Why do I share this?

Because I think it points to something important that is often under discussed in regards to the healing that takes place when developing and maintaining a relationship to movement: being present in our bodies, while both optimal and essential for our personal and physical wellness, can be really, really difficult…

and that’s okay.

To pretend otherwise is a form of gaslighting that ignores the complex relationships that many people have with their bodies—particularly trans folks, fat folks, people with disabilities, people of color, people with chronic illnesses, and trauma survivors.

Being truly, radically present in our bodies can bring forth any number of emotions that are easy to want to push away… and, in fact, sometimes we may need to temporarily push them away in order to maintain our safety or to get through the day. However, it is important that we do eventually, in a safe and patient way, return to being mindful of our bodies’ experiences, sensations, and well-being.

I did end up adapting my practice in several ways during the class, not to make the tears stop or the grief and trauma responses that were unfolding go away, but rather to help me feel as safe and supported as possible while navigating deeper into them.

For example, I adapted one movement so that I didn’t have to turn my back to the room; this can be a simple way to help people with PTSD feel more comfortable within an environment when navigating experiences of anxiety. Being able to remain facing outwards towards the class and the door enabled me to stay rooted in the present moment, rather than projecting towards other times and places.

I also did some child’s pose and seated meditation during the times when the other class participants were in any positions that felt overwhelming to me, as well as any supinated positions (such as when doing savasana). Savasana is a profoundly vulnerable position: nearly every joint in the body is in extension, the tender belly is open to the surrounding area, and it is far from an athletic stance that enables quick, decisive action.

While traditional seated meditation poses typically contain a mixture of flexed and extended joints, they are very upright positions that have a quality of strength, responsiveness, and vigilance that is inherently present in the poses. As a result, they were my go-to when I needed poses that could help me feel rooted and willing throughout the class.

In stark contrast to savasana, nearly every joint of the human body is in flexion when in child’s pose; if one curves one’s arms and hands towards the top of one’s head, this is even more true. It is a position in which the body is curled in on itself in protection, much like a turtle in its shell. While this is also not by any stretch of the imagination an athletic pose, one need only “unfurl” and take one forward step of one leg to be in a decisive half-kneeling position that is reminiscent of sprinters at the starting line of a race. As a result of these differences between child’s pose and savasana, child’s pose is an excellent alternative for folks who feel too vulnerable in any given moment for savasana, but who still would like to end their yoga practice with a resting pose.

(Note: none of this is to say that savasana isn’t a wonderful asana. It truly is, and contains depth and nuance that I continue to be humbled and inspired by. It just wasn’t the right choice for me in that moment.)

I was able to find and adapt these poses to honor my body’s and heart’s needs partly because I was familiar with them as alternatives, but also because I have truly internalized the validity of adapting any movement session—whether strength training, yoga, or conditioning—to the my needs in that exact moment.

How many of us have heard a yoga teacher give the class permission to adapt movements however they need, and to move at the pace and in the ways that honor their needs?

Hopefully, the answer is most everyone who has ever been to a yoga class. If that has not been your experience, I truly encourage you to seek out a teacher such as Jenna who proactively makes sure everyone in the room has infinite permission to move in a way that is right for their heart, mind, and body.

How many of those folks have truly taken that to heart, and have allowed that permission to allow themselves to stay present when moments of vulnerability, grief, anger, and tenderness arise?

My guess is that it’s a smaller number than the first.

I share all of this so openly because I think it’s easy for folks to get the idea that, as a personal trainer who is focused on fat liberation and radical self-acceptance, I always enjoy my movement practice and that I just float through my life on a pink cloud of loving my body.

That’s not at all true!

The truth of the matter, like savasana, is full of depth and complexity and nuance. Sometimes, yes, I celebrate my body and all of its sensations and accomplishments. Other times, being present in it brings forth tears and emotions that I didn’t even know I was carrying within me until I paused long enough to experience them.

It’s okay for your relationship with your body, with movement, and with your physical sensations to be complex. In fact, not only is it okay, it’s inevitable! Touch into it when you can; be gentle and patient with yourself when you can’t. And, if at all possible, seek out a community of people who are also consciously engaged in learning how to honor themselves, exactly as they are: it helps to have comrades as we do this hard work of healing!

Be kind to yourself when the inevitable emotions and challenges arise: it’s all a part of the process.

And now, I am off to that same class as soon as I press “Publish” on this post. It is unknown what will unfold for me on the yoga mat this evening… but one thing I do know is that I’m willing to be there for it all.

 

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