Reclaiming My Breath and Body

Reclaiming My Breath and Body

I forgot what it felt like to breathe. To take in a full breath of air, calmly and slowly, allowing my chest or belly to expand and fall gracefully and wholly.  

In the weeks leading up to my last move, I remember describing to someone that over the years I had spent there, I had oftentimes felt like I had this heavy armor I had to put on to walk out the door in order to endure the pricks and pokes of microaggressive – though still potently violent – behavior, while simultaneously holding space for others’ trauma as I was consistently navigating my own and still learning, for myself, how to rest. It wasn’t the rare panic attack that reminded me to exhale, it was the frequency in which I held my breath when I couldn’t speak, or I needed to flee to some remnant of safety, but all I could do was freeze. Inhale, hold.

And hold… and hold… as the knot tightens in my throat. Hold it. Until little droplets of sweat form on my nose’s bridge. Keep holding, you got it.And sometimes my glasses fogged, even. Hooold it. And just when you think the encounter is over… Hold. Hold. And breathe…That coveted, gasping sigh of relief. 

Yoga is something I did as a child – my mother took my sister and I to the weekly class at our place of worship. This became a community I wanted to re-immerse myself in at this point in my journey, as I opened a new chapter. 

The first class I took when I moved – I went to during the very first weekend in this new city; I made it a priority to attend. I can remember feeling safe and connected and respected. With this particular practice, it made me recognize that it had been so long since I was fully present in my body. 

And I cried.

As much as I encourage others to cry, even for me, it is sometimes still very difficult to do so. Yet, I had suspended judgement of my emotions, I had felt what my body was feeling, and I was overwhelmed with the salvation I discovered through the hour of movements. I laid there on the floor, on my mat, water seeping from the corners of my closed eyes; and, as I later rose, felt so revived. 

Yoga is spiritual for me; it is healing. 

I don’t practice for physical flexibility or strength – though I am grateful for those benefits – but I truly practice to become one with my whole body and thus, my Self. I’ve had a lot of trauma when it comes to my physical body; and I, myself, have put it through a lot as I’ve coped. There have been times I didn’t listen to my intuition, or could barely hear it as the days whirred by, and compounding stress intensified. I have triggers with touch. At the same time, I give reverence to my body; I caress it and love it and work towards nourishing and strengthening it so that it can move me about this realm optimally. I acknowledge that my body is sacred and capable. In my practice, I find oneness with the spiritual and physical experiences. I reconnect with all that is me, and all that is around me; and I raise my frequency to stay above the afflictions of hurt. 

Yoga reconnects me with my whole Self – when I am able to focus, meditatively, on just me for that time being, and to thank and be amazed at my body for carrying me through everything and for being so damn beautiful! 

I felt centered and sure; alive and awakened. 

Incorporating the practice of hatha yoga into my everyday life has transformed my existence and well-being. Among some of my own personally experienced benefits, I am less stressed, patient with myself (especially my time and body), and able to work heavy emotions through and out of my system. Though, most importantly, I breathe; and cultivate space to allow myself that privilege of breathing and being with myself in this vast environment. Yoga has been equally humbling and empowering, and it is a pleasure of mine to be able to facilitate that level of restoration in others. 

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to work on fulfilling my teaching requirements for certification. I volunteered my time at the 22ndAnnual Racial Justice Summit in Pittsburgh. 

“This is your class; it is for you. My role is simply to, hopefully, facilitate calmness through a restorative yoga practice,” I told the class, which was half and half, women from my cohort and random attendees from the conference. 

“Is anyone allergic or sensitive to jasmine?” I asked.

Everyone said no, so I filled my diffuser with that essential oil.

“I really don’t like lavender,” one woman commented. I laughed to myself because I had lavender in my bag, but as I was packing earlier, something told me to bring other options and go with something different. 

“Go as slow as possible. Inhaling slowly… You have nowhere else to be but right here, right now; listening to what your body needs in this very moment. Breathe…”

For 30 minutes, I guided the group through a sequence of poses that alternated between tuning in, exploring our limits, and building acceptance.

“And let’s just sit here in lightning bolt; breathing. Reach your fingertips… and face upwards towards them… Imagine all of the wonderful things you desire to come into your life – understanding, peace, happiness – all of that serenity raining down upon you. Breathe; Washing away all that does not serve you any longer.”

“Take your time… When you’re ready,” I would prompt the yogis. 

“Thank you. I feel so much more centered and grounded,” one participant let me know at the conclusion of the class; and much to the strangers’ surprise, I revealed to them that this was my first full facilitation. I was happy that I could aid in their creation of inner stillness.

“I really liked how you incorporated gratitude for our bodies – like, people say it, but the way you had us thank our bodies and really love on ourselves…” another noted.

We talked about little ways to incorporate yoga throughout the day, and then I prepped for the next session. I left feeling reinvigorated to continue learning and infusing this practice into my eclectic little mix of healing skills.

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