Monday, July 14, 2014

Naked Yoga: Keeping the Black Panther at Bay

Thanks to naked yoga, I'm not feeling so cranky anymore. (see previous, F-bombed post

I am happy to report that my knee is well on the mend, that I’ve had the blessed(ly noisy) MRI, seen some good docs, and have a plan. Doesn’t everything feel better when you have a plan?

I no longer am feeling like an old lady (aside from my B.A.V. status--and I will say here: I am holding out for real connection and affection). In fact, I am feeling full of youthful vigor again (yee-ha!), thanks to a few small changes I’ve made to my daily wellness routine: I’m eating more (seriously, I am terrible at feeding myself), and incorporating weights and hip-stabilizing exercises into deeper, longer, more frequent yoga sessions. And it feels great.
The anxiety sticks around. It has a way of doing that. Hello, I'm here again. Pressing its sticky fingers against my throat. Filling my head with weighty clutter. Clenching my belly. Making my heart skip a beat. And there’s nothing better for dealing with it than getting back into the body as much as possible. Working out. To good music. In the summer heat. Naked. Yes, naked.

Really. You should try it. In the privacy of your own home, of course. And perhaps with the shades drawn. (I don’t have to worry about that where I live, lucky me).

Anxiety, after all, is often about being stuck in your head, trapped in an endless loop of imagined trauma and tragedy, of catastrophic outcomes that haven’t happened yet, and may never happen, and that suck the lifeblood out of your ability to simply live in and enjoy the moment. There are no bigger demons. In my family, we call it the Black Panther, particularly when it comes to us at night, a palatable, suffocating darkness that can swallow us whole, and make getting any semblance of sleep impossible. 

But here’s the thing: The best way to get out of your head is to get into your body. It is so simple, and yet, somehow, can be incredibly difficult to do. There’s a vast range of how we experience anxiety; sometimes the sense of overwhelm is so great that to suggest that a few simple moon salutations before you go to bed might just help keep the Black Panther at bay might seem a bit ridiculous. 

But I beg to differ.

There have been times in my life when I haven't been able to get any sleep at all, save for a few snatches here and there just after the sun had come up to chase the demons away. And particularly during the time when I was waiting for my breast cancer diagnosis, and then for landscape-altering surgery, and still later, my prognosis, I was so full of fear that I would spiral every night down a dark, murky well, where I'd try to fend off the black panther, who smothered me with panic attacks that sent my heart a skitter and made it hard for me to find my breath. And when I was able to finally close my eyes and sleep, my dreams were often overtaken by desperate, malevolent spirits, who swarmed into my bed space to torment and taunt me. Crazy shit, I know, but there it is. Fear will do that. Taking back control was instrumental to my being able to get through--not only did I need to reclaim my body, but I needed to welcome in the positive forces of love and light that shimmer on the edges of those shadows, inside and out, and at times, just beyond, just out of reach. Yoga--a practice of making peace with a body that had betrayed me, of pushing myself physically to feel strong and healthy again, of letting in that light--quite possibly saved my life. Yoga, and of course, walking--although, of course, I didn’t do my walking at bedtime. (and that's a different blog post)

"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow." ~ Tolstoy

It's not that I don't love my shadows. I do. What would I be without them? I would not be whole otherwise. Where would the beauty come from? Even the darkest shadows bring gifts, providing the backdrop for those stars to shine.

But when the light filters through in only tiny fleeting slivers that dance, then fade quickly into darkening skies, it's time to take action: to wrangle with those demons, birth some new stars. I was determined to be free of the anxiety and negativity that was making it so hard for me to stay afloat, let alone sleep enough to make it through my days, and be able to deal with the inevitable stress of managing fear while managing a household (and homeschooling my two boys). I wanted to be hopeful. What else is there to be? Friends had sent me lovely cards, candles, shells and trinkets chosen, they said, especially to help me get through, so the first thing I did was to intentionally create an altar of sorts next to my bed with a few of the special objects that had been infused with their love. And I started a nightly yoga practice at bedtime, with candles sending light into the night skies and illuminating the approaching shadows. Those gentle moon salutations stretched out into whatever I needed at the time, at the foot of my bed, where I’d untangle and camber and flesh out the spaces in between the twisting, dark patches until they vanished altogether. I found my breath, and it filled in all the hollows so there was nowhere for the fear to hide. Yoga allowed me to climb back into my physical self, leave the dread-head behind, and instead, open my body and spirit to the Pandora-like collective love of friends and family. Powerful stuff, indeed, akin to an elixir of life, soothing and emboldening me, while vanquishing the Black Panther. I felt strong and loved, and started to feel hopeful again. To shine. I was able, finally, to trust what was to come, rather than to fear the uncertainty of what lay ahead, and to believe that everything would, indeed, be okay. Sleep came swiftly and sweetly that first night, cradling me in comfort and surety. 

I suppose we must revisit these lessons over and over again as we make our way through life. Six years later, under totally different (thankfully) circumstances, I find myself once again sitting upon the realization that I have to pace myself, particularly when the terrain becomes unfamiliar, or unforgiving; that I have to try to stay in the present as much as possible; and that I have to breathe myself back into all that is right with my body. 

And so, I continue to work through the fear and doubt. Make my adjustments. Forgive myself. Let go. I walk. I work out with weights. I do yoga. I dance. And as I step back into the wholeness of my body, I feel the ache and gimp in my knee, the crackle and pop in my hips, the searing tightness on my left side, and I listen to the way they all talk to each other, and to me, a constant, resonant hum that makes my body sing, the body electric. And they have become my stories, bound deep in my scars, echoing, traveling, across arterial trails, a reawakening landscape, mapping out a rich archipelago, and coursing through my veins, in the rhythm of my breath, the beat of my heart. I am glad for the way my body responds. It wants to fight back, always. I think we're like that. No matter how hard or far we fall, we pull ourselves up and stand tall as best we can. We rediscover, over and over again, the blessed strength at our core, fused by our imperfect angularities, our irregularities, our scar tissue, our stories. Climb back into your body, and let those stories feed you, heal you.

And naked yoga? Well, that’s even better. Especially after all my girls have been through. Sometimes it's better to bare all.

Old lady? F*#k that shit. I've got things to do!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi there, I'm Lindsey! I have a question about being a breast cancer survivor, could you please email me when you have a chance? Thanks so much, I look forward to hearing from you!