It starts out as plain, old, regular, tears. It’s been a long day, and besides, I haven’t cried for a couple of hours. That’s about all I can manage. Finally all the kids are in bed, including the twelve-year-old who spent all evening sobbing in my arms. I sit down on the couch, and can’t stop the tears from coming…again. My poor, bewildered husband is standing in front of me asking, “Can you tell me why you’re crying?” I look at him, stricken. How can I articulate all this pain? The sadness of the world that I feel all over my body. All the pain I see all day that I can’t escape, can’t get out of my mind. Another random picture on my Facebook feed of a tragic death of a baby, a child, to add to the collection of horrors I’m carrying in my mind. Horrors that don’t belong to me, but that I can’t seem to stop grieving all the same.
Then it changes. My chest seems to contract upon itself. I try and draw a breath through my tears. I can’t. I look up at Patrick. “I can’t breathe!” My heart races, like it’s going to leap out of my body. I’m shaking, sobbing, gasping for breath. I’m rocking back and forth, back and forth, clutching the edge of the sofa with one hand, Patrick’s leg with the other. I can’t think, I can’t help myself, and I can’t breathe. I fling my torso back and forth and back and forth, alternately trying to pull in a breath and squeezing my mouth and eyes closed as hard and as long as I can, because it’s all I can do. “Inhale”, Patrick says, and I open my mouth and try and suck in a breath, only to have my body expel it immediately, before it can do me any good. This goes on for what seems like forever, me squeezing everything I have in an attempt to regain control of my body, Patrick saying “Inhale!”, and me trying desperately to breathe. Every time I can get enough air to make a word I say “Stop!” like somehow my body and brain are going to heed my order and give me back control. Finally, finally, finally – it subsides. I’m standing, being held up by my husband, who is giving me detailed instructions on how to take in and expel the air that I need to live.
By about midnight, I feel calm enough to sleep. Around 3:30am I wake up, anxious. But now I’m scared. I’m terrified that my body and brain are going to take over again. Afraid they’re going to conspire against me, for some reason that will forever be unknown to me, and try again to steal my air, my control. I lie there for two hours, practicing breathing deeply, calmly. Someone’s alarm sounds and I get out of bed. I go to the living room and put my yoga mat in its spot on the floor, where I’ve been practicing for almost ten years. Where I’ve been served by my practice over and over and over again.
Renowned yoga teacher Seane Corn says that yoga without prayer is just calisthenics. I step on to my mat and begin to pray. With every deep, long inhale I move, slowly, peacefully. I ask the universe (insert, God, spirit, whatever works for you here), to help me. “Please, please show me the good. Help me remember.” Over and over I pray. Inhale, arms up. Exhale, fold. Inhale, look up. Every move is a prayer. “Show me the good. Help me remember. Please.” Gently and slowly, trying to care for my battered body and mind. Searching for peace. I remind myself, the longer and deeper the breath, the slower and more carefully synced the movements with the breath, the better for the nervous system. I move like this for forty-five minutes.
Something happens. I inhale, arms up. Exhale, fold. My hands touch the floor. My mind says “I bow.” I do it again. Inhale, look up. Exhale, fold. Hands on floor. “I bow.” I stand. My mind says “Thank you.” I do this over and over again. Something is happening. Inhale, arms up, Exhale, fold. Hands on floor. Finally, my mind says “I surrender”. I keep going. Folding, bowing, pressing my hands to the floor, surrendering. The dam breaks, and the tears come. This time, it’s relief, release. I feel the tightness ease, the burden grow lighter. I offer it all up. I give away my pain, my struggle. I sit on the floor, and feel raw, and broken, empty but it’s a good empty. I let the tears come and chant “Thank you,” and “shanti,” (the sanskrit word for peace) over and over in my head.
I feel raw, and torn open and vulnerable and broken. But maybe broken isn’t so bad. Maybe I’m broken like one of those fancy desserts where you have to break the hard shell and all the warm deliciousness oozes out. Maybe I’m just broken so the good stuff can ooze out. Maybe we all are.
The road is still long. It is still hard. My body and mind are exhausted. But my prayers were answered. The yoga worked, like it does every time. I stand up to begin my day with my soul a little bit lighter.