So this post is really overdue. I had an experience this summer that I meant to share, but life got in the way. It’s on my mind again though, so Better Late than Never, right?!
This past summer we had a Yoga Retreat at the home of a fellow teacher. I was blessed to not only help with the event, but to have a lot of time to just be a part of the retreat. Time for chilling on a hammock, time for sitting around with friends old and new, and time for yogi playtime (which is the best!). There was one part of the weekend that I really wasn’t looking forward to, though. Painting. In particular- painting with a whole group of people. I am not an artist in that way. Sure, I make jewelry and crochet a single repeating stitch blanket, I even play with paper crafting from time to time. However,
I am not a painter. I cannot draw a straight line to save my life. I do not know what to do with a paintbrush.
So when I found out that part of the retreat was painting, I wasn’t really that excited. I was nervous. I was apprehensive. I was considering skipping that part of the afternoon by staying in the hammock and taking a nap. But… Molly, the art therapist who was running this session, is an absolute doll. Seriously, I love her to bits. At that point I’d only really had one conversation with her, but I already adored her and knew she was one of those people I’d be close to. So I felt bad skipping her session.
So, I went. I sat down next to the canvas (which was HUGE) in a circle with a bunch of other people. I chose a brush. I mixed paint. And then it came time to make that first mark on the canvas. The premise of the painting was for everyone to take turns sharing their truths- then for the rest of us to paint what those truths made us feel. Molly shared a truth, I painted a line. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing. Another person shared their truth, I painted another line. And then a swirl of lines. I was feeling better about the process but was still embarrassed about my section of the canvas when I looked over to other peoples spaces. They were painting lines and swirls, too, but theirs looked WAY better than mine somehow.
Then we had to get up and move around the canvas- moving to whatever space felt right. Adding in our color where we felt it should go, in a design that matched the feelings evoked from the truth statements everyone was making. I’m not sure when or how it started, but something happened in that space. I suddenly felt the urge to put the stupid paintbrush down. To use my hands. To feel the paint and let my body convey the emotions of the statements.
So I did.
You have to understand, I’m fairly reserved. Not because I don’t want to do fun wild things- because I’m frequently worried about what other people will think. So to put down the brush and use my hands… well, that was a BIG step for me! I went from tentatively running my hands through the paint to reaching my arms out and pulling my hands back through the paint. To placing dots here and huge lines there. I could feel the painting. I could feel myself losing some of that inhibition and fear. I quit looking at what other people were doing and just allowed myself to feel. Feeling the emotions and letting them out with the movement of my hands through paint. At one point I wanted to paint myself instead of the canvas. So I did. Then I painted Jackie, and she painted some more on me. Soon we were painting everyone and everything. It was a freaking painting orgy. It was insane. It was ridiculous. It was fantastic!
To shed ones inhibitions like that- to truly live freely in a moment- is such a blessing. Whether it is saying what you think, doing what feels right, or choosing for yourself- we all have things we hold back on for various reasons. Usually those reasons are what others will think or what we think we are “supposed” to do. So my challenge to you-
The very next time your soul cries out for something different, do it. Let go and just do it.
For me, painting with a group was an incredible experience. One that I never ever ever would have signed up for on my own, but one that I am so grateful for. About a month after that, Molly hosted a similar workshop at the home of another teacher. I not only willingly signed up for it- I jumped at the opportunity! I brought my mother and my daughters with me. It was just as beautiful as the first experience. And now- Molly is offering the same workshop at Evolve. Can you guess if I’ll be going or not? I’ll be there. Maybe I’ll even put the brush down again and paint with my hands if the urge strikes 😉
My first introduction to yoga wasn’t actually yoga in it’s entirety. Because my grandma Judy, who you’ll likely hear a lot more about in the future, was hospitalized quite a bit for issues arising from lupus (SLE), an I worked at the hospital at the time, I was often there during her treatments and sessions with hospital staff. It was a physical therapist that taught my grandmother hand mudras (ways to hold your hand to help focus, lower stress, etc). He called it yoga though, and I started looking around to see what more I could learn. And there it was, on the cover of my first copy of Yoga Journal- a beautiful and graceful image of a woman in a standing balance that continues to be one of my favorites to this very day. I didn’t care about mudras anymore, didn’t care about the purpose or the benefits, I just wanted to be able to do what she was doing! (My first attempt, in socks on my linoleum kitchen floor was not so very graceful!)
So I followed the home practice plans from Yoga Journal, I bought yoga dvd’s, eventually started practicing with the help of online videos. This wasn’t a daily practice, or always a weekly practice, but it was a random constant- I kept going back to it in random intervals and felt like the term “yogi” applied to me.
Somewhere along the way I realized that there was more than just a feeling of physical balance that was bringing me back to the mat. There was a calm, a sense of focus and wellbeing that had worked its way into practice that was strangely addicting.
Then life got kind of ugly, as lives can sometimes do, and I lost any desire to do anything, let alone clear a space on the floor for a yoga mat and space in my mind for a solid 30 minute practice. Really, I lost my desire to do pretty much anything. Cleaning was kept to the bare minimum required to survive, interaction with my kids was reduced to prompting them to get ready for bed at night, leaving the house was for grabbing groceries and getting home as quickly as possible. Looking back, I was depressed- bad bad depressed. But when you’re in it, it’s hard to see it. There were a bunch of reasons for my depression that I’m not going to go into here- but a lot of little factors played into the depression, a situation that seems pretty common for most people who suffer from depression. That’s why there is no one quick fix answer. It’s a battle that can’t be won until you realize you are fighting it. And even then, it is a lot of trial and error coupled with a tiny little light of some kind to focus on.
Included with the depression was my long lost friend, stress induced anxiety, who had always stopped by for short visits when I was super stressed but had never stayed for long. This time she had packed 5 bags and a trunk. No matter what the reasons are for suffering from anxiety (chronic stress, being attacked, just a general tendency towards it), it all ends up in the same place. Heart palpitations, crappy skin and hair, feelings of lethargy, and a state of foggy, slow thinking. Keep at it and you end up in critical condition- a point I was walking towards every single day. Somewhere along the way I cleared out of the fog of depression, but anxiety wouldn’t leave so quietly.
So anyway, after a lot of re-reading her website and basically stalking her facebook page, I finally worked up the courage to call Erin at Evolve Yoga and Wellness Center and basically laid it all out on the table and asked if I could join her classes. (You don’t actually need approval to join yoga classes, you can literally just walk in at the start of one and join. I’m not sure why I felt that I needed to get permission, but Erin was great about it.) And the rest, as they say, is history.
I brought yoga back into my life, but in a more solid way this time around. I do my best to follow the whole of Yoga (the physical practice of yoga is such a small part of the whole. There’s an entire 8 limbs!) and I’m learning as I go. There are still days where I have to guide myself gently into breathing, but they come less often than they had in the past. I’m calmer. I’m happier. I’m actually interested in trying new things, going places, and just being a human being. It feels wonderful.
So wonderful, that when Erin reached out to find new yoga instructors, I jumped over that cliff with zero insight as to what lay ahead. And I’m grateful every single day that I did.