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This and That, 2017, and a Little 2018.

March 9, 2018

You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning, and you try to say your first words but they stick like rocks in your throat? Or when you’re in a room with spectacular acoustics and when you talk, sound of your voice rumbles and ricochets? And it startles you a bit? I haven’t shared a blog post in over a year. A YEAR. There’s so much to say — too much to say — and my words feel stuck. The weight of 365 days worth of living feels heavy, so I guess I’ll just begin. I’m stretching my muscles, flexing my fingers and showing up.

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My breath.

I began 2017 training for my yoga teacher certification. I studied Ashtanga-based yoga and as a result, Sanskrit.  As I formed and pronounced the words, it felt like each utterance held roots of those that came before. How many people have said these words? I found comfort in them, my breath inhaling and exhaling to their rhythm, pulsing through the centuries.

I remember the moment I realized that I wanted to learn how to pass this practice on to others. I knew that I wanted to do this, but I had no way of knowing how much I’d learn and become during the process. It is one of my most sacred experiences.

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Through training, we learned a lot about Ujjayi Pranayama, a Sanskrit phrase that, roughly translated, means victorious breath. I was stumped a bit as I tried to understand this — how could breath be victorious? It’s a deep, resonate breath created by sealing the lips and then inhaling and exhaling through your nose. As the breath is exhaled,  you slightly constrict your throat. This rhythmic breath sounds a lot like ocean  waves or, for you Star Wars fans, like Darth Vader’s breath.  In a vinyasa practice, yogis use this as they flow, one breath, one movement.

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My story.

It’s interesting to me to look back at moments in my life that I can now identify as significant beginnings, when I was living a moment when roots were pushing down into the soil forming the foundation of a story, yet to unfold.

I’ve talked and written a lot about my mental health and my mental not-so-health. But when I was first diagnosed 20 years ago, I could hardly say the words. They swirled, oppressive and dark in my mind. I spent many years in the shadow of the stigma. But one evening I decided to admit my pain to a dear friend, and now with retrospect, I clearly see that as a wobbly, first step on my path to mental health advocacy.  It was a poignant beginning.

Then, four years ago, I made the decision to write about my struggles just in case my words might make their way to someone who might be in the hole, living in the shadow, feeling less-than, or sad, or anxious, or lonely as they deal with their own challenges.

And then this past fall, I had the incredible opportunity to work to help a friend promote her documentary, Angst (more on that in another post — but OMIGOSH check it out and consider bringing it to your school or community).  As a result of that work, I found myself standing in front of hundreds of people willingly, openly and honestly talking about my experiences with anxiety and depression. I wonder what the 25-year-old me, who sat with her friend and glanced nervously over her shoulder as she began to talk about her depression, would think of what took root and grew from that beginning, those words that caught in her throat and ricocheted in her mind?

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My break.

On New Year’s Eve 2017, I broke my ankle. I fell skiing and while my injuries could’ve been much worse, it was still a jarring, painful experience.  The Ski Patrol came quickly and my brother-in-law stayed with me until my husband made his way back to us. As they loaded me into the Ski Patrol toboggan, the shock settled in and my whole body shook.

One of the Ski Patrol Team was named Elke and she had a smile like the sun, warm and comforting. She was no more than 5’2″ and tiny.  Once I was secure, Elke started our descent down the mountain (such a badass!). I heard myself babbling about being a yogi and Ujjayi Pranayma. It turned out that she, too, was a yogi and encouraged me to keep breathing, while hinting that I would probably need my breath A LOT. They’d wrapped a yellow tarp around me and there was a small opening through which I could see the royal blue sky, the snowy mountains and legions of pines. The tarp flapped in the wind and created an old home-movie flicker effect.

My breath was particularly audible because of the yellow tarp. Elke would yell back,

‘How are you doing, Denise?’

And I would respond, ‘I’m breathing.’

As the days have morphed to weeks and months, I’m keenly aware of what I’ve taken for granted in the past. I’ve had the humble realization that I’d attached to my physical achievements on my mat. My ego had inserted itself into my inversions, into my arm balances, wrapped itself up in my eagle arms, my practice, my worth.

I’m back on my mat now. My practice is modified and will be for some time. This is hard, harder than I’d like to admit. I’ve had no choice but to truly practice yoga. Just like I did down the mountain, I’ve returned to the most primitive foundation I have–my Ujjayi Pranayama, victorious breath.

Breathing deeply through injury and trauma is victorious. Softening around pain is victorious. It’s victorious to show up and stay when it’s hard. But it’s where strength and resilience take root, allowing space for more stories and beginnings to unfold.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2018 10:57 pm

    That story of Elke helping you get to help and the breathing—just wow. I’m so glad you caught us up here. Continue to tell your stories here and everywhere.

  2. March 11, 2018 11:03 am

    Oh, Denise, thanks for sharing your time with Elke and revealing the terrain you are navigating. And gratitude for your reminder to keep breathing. xo

  3. March 11, 2018 1:43 pm

    I love this story. I love that you’re back. Really–squealed with delight when I saw a post from you. And glad you’re grounded in health and peace:). Welcome back!

Give me your grit.

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