Princess Phoebe

Last Monday, June 30, 2017, I had my oral final exam and completed my internship in Integrated Movement Therapy. My paperwork is under review with the International Association of Yoga Therapists, as I was doing concurrent contact hours with clients to apply for their certification as a yoga therapist. On the Thursday following I had my first “real” session for a client I’m working with on trauma recovery.

This would mostly account for the long silence on the blog while I finished up all my work. We also lost both our elder kitties this winter, the second kitty, Phoebe, the day before what would have been my Mother’s birthday. She went from spry and healthy to gone in less than a month to an aggressive cancer that came out of the blue; it was pretty demoralizing and made it hard to write for a while. After I pulled myself out of that funk, I got my internship application in and have been hard at it ever since.

“Goddess” by Washington artist, Sarah Jane (IG: @sarah_janes_studio)

Ever since finding Shunryū Suzuki Roshi’s charming rewording of the Lotus Sūtra, to “shine one corner“, the essential message of the Buddha’s last instruction has been with me. I’ve been learning how to shine myself, to make a light of myself. Yoga has provided both the essential fuel, as well as the map, in this quest.

As I’ve been on this journey towards my certifications that word “Shine” keeps coming up for me. It first appeared in some artwork I began in January 2016 and in my classes I have been encouraging students to let their hearts shine. It is an act of courage to shine brightly, to take up space in a world that wants you to keep quiet. As a child I was often told to keep quiet, to “not rock the boat”, that no one wanted to hear my opinions, and that no one likes a “know it all”.

Messages like these sink hooks into a person, especially when you hear it from your extended family, as I did. It is even more difficult when you hear this from society as well. Every time I sit down onto my meditation bench or step onto my yoga mat I’m doing the work of undoing decades of being told to hide my bold, bright self. I’m not only resisting the message in my life, but working to repair the neural connections that make that resistance possible.

The majority of my students are women, not uncommon for a western yoga teacher in the United States. Overwhelming numbers of these women have been told at some point in their lives to make themselves small, that they’re intimidating, that no one will like them if they don’t “tone it down”. Women are told all the time what to do, what to wear, what to think, what to say, and how to say it.

In nearly 12 years of teaching yoga I am able to count, easily on one hand, the female students who haven’t identified with this messaging, who were told they were worthy, brilliant, and they should be proud. So far only 3 women have said they were told messages of confidence and encouragement, that they were not told to somehow lower the volume on their personality. Three women out of hundreds.

We need to start taking up space and having the courage to let our amazing hearts shine forth. Refusing to sink into smallness and depression is a way of resisting a world that increasingly sends a message that compassion, empathy, and justice aren’t valuable commodities. We don’t have to do it everyday, it is hard work and on some days in can feel overwhelming to just get through the routine of getting ourselves fed, clothed, sheltered, and remembering to take our meds.

“Goddess” by Washington artist, Sarah Jane (IG: @sarah_janes_studio)

Even if you don’t feel ready to put on your brightest, wildest colors and stand on the corner and tell people you love them, you can start small by offering people genuine smiles and engagement. Tell the cashier at the market you adore their cotton-candy hued hair, make sure the woman in the vibrant hijab knows you love her colors and style, wave at little kids, and make funny faces at babies. Take a moment to share with a friend how important they are in your life.

In the words of mystic poet, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī:

Don’t postpone it!
Existence has no better gift.

Start with yourself. Be a little more gentle with yourself, take a nap if you need to, allow yourself time to rest and heal. Be kinder in your self-talk and mindful of those moments when shame begins to run the show. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror and making a disappointed face.

That’s a big one for me. As someone who’s seen dramatic weight shifts, I once weighed nearly 300 pounds, my body has loose skin and stretch marks, places where I feel lumpy and misshapen. Since I began practicing yoga taught me how to feel more comfortable in my body, now, after 14 years of practice and through my training in Integrated Movement Therapy, I’m finally trying to learn how to be comfortable with my body inside and outside.

As a person who lives with chronic back pain I live with a body that at times feels weak, that keeps me up at night because it can’t find a comfortable position to sleep. As someone who lives with C-PTSD I struggle with anxiety, depression, terrible shame, and negative self-beliefs. All of these, including my struggle with my weight, are the legacy of a childhood filled with adverse experiences, with the abuse from my Mother continuing into my mid-40s.

Why do I practice? To learn how to love myself better. To see myself as whole and complete, lacking nothing. To repair the damage done by years of abuse. To be liberated. To help others feel liberation.

May all beings be free from anxiety and fear.
May all beings feel peaceful and content.

Note of Gratitude: The glorious Goddess is a recent creation by my friend Sarah Jane and artist in residence at the Grünewald Guild. In her words, “A goddess who is unafraid to take up space in the world.” 

As I was working on this post this morning Sarah Jane posted these photos, taken after last night’s firing of the work. She graciously has allowed me to feature her along with this post, please check out her amazing work. If you are, or know someone who is a survivor of sexual trauma, please consider getting involved with her participatory art project honoring survivors, Mere Objects.