Note from Evolve: Arran’s piece for this month provides us with a wonderful and moving example of the way that your practice can help you work through physical and emotional trauma. We are grateful for the opportunity to share it with you.
My memories of adolescence are punctuated by visits to the emergency room. With severe, out-of-control asthma I navigated the world doubled over, sucking air through a straw-thin airway, struggling through sweat and tears to pull in each precious breath. I was an aspiring nordic ski racer but most races ended well before the finish line, the cold air blistering my mangled lungs.
At 16 my doctor recommended yoga to learn self-soothing through the scariest moments of an attack. I signed up for a class and grabbed on as though it were a life preserver thrown into choppy water. I learned to find little pockets of un-inflamed tissue and channeled the air into those spaces. Soon I not only finished ski races, but finished well. My arsenal of inhalers was never far away but the attacks were fewer, less severe, and became something I could confront at as they happened–with faith that I would get through it.
Six years later I completed my teacher training in Stellenbosch, South Africa. For me, yoga had been about breathing. Sharing it with others revealed the myriad manifestations it could have. I taught from Ljubljana, Slovenia to Igiugig, Alaska, always in awe of how it delivered people right to the doorstep of what they sought.
One December I was driving to Seward to visit my family when my tires lost contact with the ground. A patch of black ice threw my car into a spin. It was eerie at first, like floating. I corrected the wheel and stayed calm, doing everything I was taught. But the red 18-wheeler is forever imprinted on my mind. Impact was inevitable. Within inches of the massive truck I realized that my life had been so careful and deliberate, but in this one defining and cataclysmic moment, there was nothing I could do. It lasted just a split second but the world slowed to a meditative crawl. The last thing I remember is telling myself, take a breath and engage your core. Then nothing.
I survived. Here I am. But the person who woke up upside-down in the car and pinned against the cliffs at Beluga Point was fundamentally different from the person who had set out on the highway earlier that day. My recovery from the physical injuries is wholly a miracle but the trauma left a gash across my psyche that I work every day to heal. For years yoga became a dangerous endeavor. Closing my eyes to find that quiet, peaceful space–perched on the edge of my eyelids was the semi-truck, the shattering windshield, the ambulances–each image waiting to pounce and suffocate. The flashbacks destroyed my yoga practice for a long time.
This studio brought me back. It combines intensity and introspectiveness with a light-heartedness and humor that I needed to ease back into a healthy routine. I grieve my old-yogic self, but now embrace that as another evolution of my practice. I can breathe, I can engage my core, and when those familiar instincts take over—a racing heart as I wheeze over the vice grips on my lungs, or the pitted stomach as I drive past Milepost 109—yoga taps me on the shoulder. It reminds me that unknotting tightly-held memories is slow and careful work. Sometimes I can retrieve only wispy threads, and sometimes it’s whole heaps of braided fishing line. But in those knots that I once so feared I find intentionality, calm, and even joy.