Yoga Making Space

I am starting a new journey this weekend. Over the next 10 months, I am a student training to become a certified yoga teacher. This wasn’t a part of my plan. It’s funny how things happen like that. One moment I am sure of one path and the next, something and someone I couldn’t imagine or didn’t know grace my path and things begin to coalesce.

I am a dancer and have lamented my disconnection from dance as physical, emotional and spiritual therapy. Since my move and the various transitions of my life, I have not been in touch with my physical form. And I’ve suffered because of it. Sure things have been pretty good as of late, but I have felt like a piece of me has been missing.

I haven’t been grounded.

I haven’t been in touch with my body.

I haven’t spent time moving and stretching and breathing life into tired joints and stiff muscles.

I haven’t engaged in something that causes my mind to stop and allows me to hear – to hear my own inner thoughts and to hear that small, still voice of God that reaches out to me when I am engaging in that which I love.

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Enter Yoga. A colleague of mine is a yoga instructor and owns her own studio. I became close with her and the Spirit showed up. There’s more to this story that I will share later but the short version is that through this connection I am beginning this journey.

All of this is happening at the same time that I am experiencing some breakthroughs in therapy. I am beginning to peel back layers of myself and it has become clear that now is the time for me to confront some fears, some insecurities and some maladaptive ways of being. I can’t run from certain things anymore. It’s time that I make space…

Yoga is a way of life. The word yoga actually means to unite; to unite one’s mind, body and spirit on a journey of peace and acceptance. I realized tonight that I am on a journey of making space to knit pieces of myself back together as I seek healing and wholeness.

The part that’s been missing, the part that I’ve been longing for, is an integrated sense of self. I got this through dance. I was able to fully embody who I was created to be and the practice of dance taught me much about myself and ways of being in the world. After our first practice and class tonight, I was overwhelmed by the feelings that emerged simply because I made space.

Making space allowed me to feel some emotions that I’ve been avoiding.

Making space allowed me to hear from my body.

Making space allowed me to confront the negative voices that spew lies about who I am that my depressed mind has a tendency to believe.

There’s so much more to share and this is only the beginning.

Love,

Me

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Dance Lessons Part 1…

I love to dance. There’s something that happens when I hear music that causes a soul-stirring reaction.

I love movement. I love the expression of emotions through movement. I love how beats and rhythms and lyrics come to life in a physical form that is dance.

I am not a gifted dancer. I define gifts as those things that are like breathing, those things that you don’t even have to think about that just flow from you. Dance was not something that came naturally to me. Anyone who knows me from childhood knows that I wasn’t the most coordinated person. Truth be told, I was quite awkward. I discovered dance through my experience as a cheerleader in middle school and high school. I switched over to just dance when I got to college. Dance saved me from myself. When I was a junior in college and in the midst of my second major depressive episode, dance was the only thing that kept me from killing myself.

I am a passionate dancer. Passions are those things that can be cultivated. I see as many dance companies perform as money and time allow. I secretly want to be a member of a Salsa dance troupe and envision the costumes, music and pure joy that would follow. As I’ve gotten older and my passion for dance has been realized, I seek out classes and troupes and studios that would allow me to hone my skills. I’ve taken ballet, jazz, modern, hip-hop, Latin and pole classes. Yes, pole classes. (For more about my experience with pole dancing, click here. It was seriously the most liberating experience of my life!) I have stretched and strengthened muscles I didn’t know I had. I’ve gone from being a terribly awkward girl who was not comfortable in her own skin to a woman who fully embraces her body and sees it as a gift from God. Dance has connected me to my soul and to the Divine.

Dance continues to be one of the best forms of therapy that I experience. I recently moved and while things have largely gone well, I have had some rough times during this transition. Once I found a therapist, I realized that I needed to find a dance class. I signed up for Salsa lessons and am ecstatic that it works with my schedule.  There is clearly a link between exercise and dealing with depression and every time I attend a dance class I am reminded of it’s importance. However, the what I’m learning goes beyond the physical. I am gaining life lessons from this passion of mine and am so grateful.

What things/hobbies/activities serve as therapy for you and teach you life lessons?

Stay tuned…

Love,

Me

Rediscovering My Soul Through the Power of the Pole

I have no desire to be a stripper. Many people reading this will recoil when they realize that this is a post about my experience with pole dancing. Yes, I am writing about this and am unashamed. If you are offended, I suggest you stop reading right now.

After my husband and I separated, I felt like shit. Pure and simple. I felt like a failure. I felt like no one could ever love me. I could barely look at myself in the mirror. I began to realize that this shame and hatred I carried inside truly affected how I viewed myself. What was more startling was the realization that I don’t know that I loved myself before my marriage. How could I be in the most intimate relationship with someone and not even love who I was?

These reflections actually went a step further. I was disconnected from my body – from my thoughts, my feelings and my flesh. I’ve spoken about my thoughts in another post. Embracing My Shadow deals with my feelings. But today, I want to talk about my disgust of my flesh and how this led to a massive disconnect that not only impacted my marriage, but also my identity. Believe it or not, pole dancing went a long way in helping me love what God created….

I don’t know if it begin with my history of molestation. I don’t know if it began with the teasing for looking different and being different when I was younger. I don’t know if it began with my first sexual encounters and experiences with the opposite sex. I don’t know if it was the messages I got from my father and other sources that said I must be pure, holy, and untouched and knowing that I wasn’t any of these things, at least not in the ways they meant them. I don’t know if it began with my mother’s attitude towards sex and femininity. What I do know is that there were moments when I thought that my body was disgusting. This carried over into adulthood and I’m sure it was a factor in my ongoing depression. Along with other issues, the way I viewed my body and sexuality had a negative effect on my marriage.

I feel like I was always struggling to find out who I was, what I wanted, what I liked and what I should feel. These feelings were complicated by the mixed messages from church and my faith about sex and sexuality. I’ll write more on that later….

So fast forward to six months after I separated from my husband. I was hanging on by a thread and looking for ways to deal with my reality. I was emerging from a depressive episode and was seeking forms of healing and support. I also needed to start exercising. A few friends of mine had talked about pole dancing and I was like, why not? I am not an adventurous person but I felt like it was time to confront some fears, stereotypes and assumptions. So I signed up for Pole Dancing Level 1 with the amazing PoleLaTeaz studio.

My first class I was so nervous. I arrived thirty minutes early and sat in the parking lot wondering what in the hell I was getting myself into. I finally got up the courage to walk into the studio and was immediately surprised by what I found. The atmosphere was lovely, the receptionist was hospitable, there were women who looked like me sitting and waiting for our class to begin. I took a seat and said hello to the woman on my right. I could tell that we were all nervous. The receptionist could tell that this was our first pole dancing experience. I think she could smell our fear.

When the time came, we were led back to Studio A to meet our instructor. The studio was very much like a dance studio except for the fact that there were eight gleaming gold poles that went from floor to ceiling. There were mats in the corner and the front wall was totally comprised of mirrors. There would be no hiding from myself. At all.

The first thing we did was sit in a circle and introduce ourselves. At this point, some of my anxiety began to ease. I heard stories from women like me – professional, divorced, seeking confidence, nervous about being here – and I realized in that moment that I was about to begin a sacred journey. Yes, sacred. As the instructor gave more information about the class and our curriculum over the next eight weeks, I knew that I was in the right place at the right time.

Pole dancing forced me to look at myself, at my WHOLE self. I learned to appreciate my body. I learned to not be ashamed of what God created. I learned that my body was capable of doing more physically than I ever imagined. I am 150 pounds – yes I shared that – and had to lift and swing and hold my body up. Talk about weight training!! There were days when the instructor would turn down the lights and we were told to just look at ourselves. To see who we really are and notice the beauty. I got to know this group of women who were so empowering and supportive. We created a safe place to share our deepest fears, concerns and hopes. It was amazing to see how each week, we got a little closer, grew more confident and literally shed clothing. We began as fully covered women hiding ourselves and ended as confident women who realized that one could not pole dance in sweats. Let’s just say it’s an occupational hazard and one needs to be able to have skin to pole contact in order to stay up. 🙂

The end of the course culminated in individual performances that we shared with the group. We had learned a routine but we got to choose our costumes and music and yes, even a name. I never thought I would be able to dance by myself in front of a group but I did it! I felt so empowered! The community was so supportive and I can honestly say that it was an experience I will never forget.

One day in particular stands out to me. I was at the studio working on some techniques before class and an instructor came to me and said, “You’re thinking too much. I can tell that you know the move, but you get to point of letting go and you over-think it. Just let go and trust yourself.” This advice was so powerful and I realized that pole dancing was a form of therapy for me. I rediscovered my soul through the power of the pole.

This experience was about so much more than the act of dancing. It was about learning to love my WHOLE self and learning to let go. It began a process of healing that I so desperately needed.

This might not be the thing for you. I am so thankful for this experience. My prayer is that you take a chance and do something that could transform you like never before. My prayer is that you find motivation somewhere that pushes you to embrace your whole self. My prayer is that you realize that you were made by God and that God said “It is good.”

Love,

Me

Ruminations and Recriminations

It goes a little something like this…

I don’t feel good.I think I may be sick.I should stay home from work.

Who wants to be around me anyway?I’m pathetic.I’m a failure.I’m divorced.I’m crazy.I run men off.Who would want me?No one can love me.I don’t even love me.

I could have done better.I should have done this/that differently.I feel so guilty/ashamed because…I will never be forgiven.

If people really knew what I was thinking, they wouldn’t love me.If people knew the real me, they would never want to be around me.If I were a better friend/employee/lover/sister/daughter I wouldn’t be alone/depressed/anxious/afraid.

What if I never have children?Does that make me a failure?Isn’t that the one thing I’m supposed to do as a woman?Who am I kidding? I couldn’t take care of another human being if I wanted to.

I’m going to be fired.My work isn’t good enough.Did I make the right choice?What should I have done differently?Why is this so hard?

I’m not good enough.I’m not worth it.I’m inherently bad.I’m irrevocably broken. There’s no hope…

What was God thinking?Is there anything good here?What’s the point?What if I ended it all?Would anyone care?Then people would know that I am really a coward.

God help me.

These are actual thoughts that have plagued me. They start off slow, without warning. They’re amorphous and at times, unidentifiable. Truth be told, if you aren’t paying attention, they can creep up on you. One minute you’re fine. The next minute, you are so sad, or even worse, you are so numb. Before you know it, you are literally paralyzed by your thoughts and incapable of emerging from the darkest of places.

When you can actually feel something, the worst feelings take over – despair, hopelessness, guilt, shame. When you’re incapable of feeling, you just know you’re bad, worthless, forgotten, abandoned. The feelings and numbness take you to dark places, make you feel like your life isn’t worth living.

They don’t seem that bad. I mean, they’re just….thoughts, right?

WRONG.

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Rumination is the act of focusing on the things that are distressing. Recrimination is a retaliatory accusation, in this case against yourself. Ruminating and recriminating have been my downfall and are signature markers of when my depression is at its worst.

Our thoughts have the power to be life-giving or life-taking. For those of us who struggle with depression, our thoughts are things we must pay attention to and fight on a daily basis. Guilt, shame and inadequacy can literally kill us by causing us to believe that we are worthless. Many people end their lives. While I’ve had suicidal thoughts, I’ve never taken steps to kill myself. I’m not sure why…

For me, the best things in combating these thoughts are medication, therapy, exercise, and spirituality. I’ll write more about each of these later but suffice it to say, without medication (Prozac and Xanax), therapy (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on a REGULAR basis to be exact), exercise (participating in a variety of dance styles including Pole dancing – more on the benefits of this later) and spirituality (deepening my faith life through my Christian tradition and embracing Buddhism as a way of life) I would NOT be where I am today.

My prayer is that your thoughts breathe life into you rather than take life from you.

My prayer is that if you struggle with ruminating and recriminating, that you seek help and support.

My prayer is that you are able to reclaim the goodness within and never doubt who you are, what you can do or your value ever again.

If you or someone you know are contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information about treatment options, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Visit Monday’s blog posting, which may provide some support through some very powerful lyrics – Music Mondays: Shine the Light by Sugarland.

When your thoughts threaten to take you under, please remember this one thing: YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Love,

Me