If you are struggling on any level, in any capacity, with any kind of emotional disturbance; from my personal experience, yoga can help.
I resisted yoga for so many years—mostly because I could not find a yoga studio that I felt safe with and connected to. If you are going to yoga class strictly for superficial purposes, to get in shape and have a hot yoga body, then it really does not matter what studio you choose. Any old class will do and any yoga instructor will give you a good workout. But I have always thought of yoga in spiritual terms. I can get a workout doing any number of things. I do not need yoga to get exercise or get in shape, although of course, that is an added benefit of this practice. Instead, I need yoga to facilitate deep change in my life, at a more profound level than I am able to accomplish without. And unfortunately, I have found that very few studios are committed to that path. But I am lucky enough to have found one that is literally minutes from my house.
Last year around this exact time, I had just gone through a very painful relationship ending and I was needing a change. I was done being sad—okay, I wasn’t exactly done being sad, but I was done crying and feeling hopeless and sorry for myself—and felt ready to move on with my life in a positive way. I did some praying and meditating about what to do next, how to move on and how to heal, and yoga was the only thing that kept popping into my brain. I resisted the thought at first because I have always had such lame experiences with yoga. However, after a short period of procrastination, I finally heeded my internal nudges and started searching for a yoga studio nearby. There were several in my area, but one particular studio had the same name as my beloved essential oil company that I have been ordering my beautiful flower and plant essential oils from for years. The name is STILLPOINT. I took the matching-named establishments as a sign to, at the very least, give this conveniently located yoga studio a try.
Stillpoint Aromatics, Sedona, AZ
Before I get into my incredibly positive and life-altering experiences with yoga—post-Stillpoint—I want to share a more horrendous yoga experience I had several years ago, so you can understand the difference between quality and not-so-quality (I am being polite here) yoga.
I was living in New York City (around 2009) and “hot yoga” was all the rage. I do not really know what compelled me to try a “hot yoga” class (maybe a friend recommended it), but I went to the Manhattan studio that someone had told me about, and gave this insanity a whirl. Wow. It was one of the most ridiculous experiences I have ever had, as far as “exercise classes” go.
I arrived at the studio and there were people everywhere, lots of commotion, no welcoming energy, and not even a check-in desk with a smiling face behind a counter. No customer service offerings at all, but rather a crowd of young females, hard-edged and super silent, hurriedly preparing themselves for class in their own individually isolated ways. I remember asking someone a question about set up, and a clearly annoyed girl murmured to me some abruptly cold instructions about what to expect. Even after her response, I recall still feeling very confused and out of control. It was not clear who or where the instructor was, who I pay and when, where I put my things, and where in general was the designated place to awkwardly wait until the start of class. Finally, a door opened and students from the previous class filed out like animals with no manners. More chaos, double the un-fun. Once I found an opening in the sea of sweating bodies, I made my way into the classroom and found a parking lot full of yoga mats already laid out, almost on top of one another, with only about 12” at most in between each neighboring mat. The room must have had enough mats laid out to fit at least 75 people.
I sat down on a mat and just tried to stay open to the whole experience. The temperature in the space was jacked up to around 105 degrees, so the moment I took the mat, I began feeling sweat droplets trickle down my cleavage. Five minutes in and my body was completely covered with perspiration. The room filled up fast and after several minutes more, a sinewy, half-naked (sports bra and underwear-like spandex shorts) woman entered the room with brisk and unwarm authority. She closed the door behind her and informed the class that she would be keeping the door locked for the next hour and a half—no bathroom breaks and no getting up for water. WHAT? Instantly, I began internally fretting. She also advised us that since she would not be letting anyone leave the classroom, that if anyone started feeling faint, we should just sit down on our mat and rest, because she would not open the door for any emergencies. WHAT? WHAT?
Needless to say, for the majority of the class, I expended most of my energy fending off a full-blown panic attack. Rather than risk the horror of fainting and being left for dead among a crowd of careless and insensitive faux-yogis, disrupting the Auschwitz flow of this curriculum; I remained down on the mat for most of the class, humiliated, angry, terrified, and insecure. During this time of proactively protective defenselessness, I had the opportunity to observe the other crazies in the class who, week after week, deliberately chose to participate in this madness. The men and women in the front row were all dressed half-nakedly like the hypnotized instructor, and stood inches from the front mirror, staring at themselves with a frightening, determined, Type A, motivated-yet-misguided, self-absorbed, conviction. I recall one deranged-looking girl was smiling at herself in the mirror for the entire class, like a character in a Hollywood action movie, post-vengeful murder scene. Each row of students behind the front-mirror machines appeared less and less fit, more and more horrified, and overall much less angry and naked. Thankfully, I was not the only unfit, sensitive, loser.
Random image I found on the internet. This girl in the center looks similar to the crazy mirror girl. My hot yoga class looked and felt very much like this image, but with triple the amount of people in the room.
Needless to say, never again did I attend that class.
My beautiful yoga studio on the other hand, has a range of instructors, all warm, loving, individual, special, caring, open, searching, goddesses; all living with an intention to contribute, and heal, and grow, and share. Imagine a studio run by actual goddesses, and imagine the difference in feel of a yoga class with this kind of nurturing and powerful energy.
My first class at Stillpoint was with a beautiful, exceptional, and powerful goddess, Alexis Strizziere. I remember the room was dim and illuminated by warm candlelight. The class was slow and gentle, but challenging and fun. Alexis was open and almost motherly, and challenged us to expand despite our discomfort and fears—yoga is kind of scary and intimidating at first, as you are in a state of vulnerability and surrender whenever you place yourself on your mat; so, it is important to trust and feel safe with your instructor.
That evening, after class, and after returning from a trip to the grocery store, in my car, I found myself releasing angry, raw, throat shattering screams as I drove home. These shrieks did not feel connected to any specific incident or emotion. They just felt like pure energy releasing in the form of frightening and repeated girl yells. However, they seemed harmless enough, and I deduced that this expulsion of guttural yelps was a result of the intense yoga experience I had had several hours prior. From there, I was hooked. I knew this was the change I was looking for.
It has been about a year now since I joined the studio, and my life is so full of beautiful, nurturing, goddess love. My body also does look a lot more kick-ass than it ever has, but that is just a side benefit. I have effortlessly forged some beautiful, meaningful goddess friendships with other women on similar paths towards health and well-being. And, just this week, for the first time ever, in my favorite class, taught by Alison Krywucki, I found myself silently weeping through most of our class. It was that same raw kind of emotion I had experienced in my car after that first night of true yogic exposure. My tears did not scare or upset me. They were also not necessarily tied to any incident or circumstance. They simply represented a release of sorts, and I have finally found a safe enough environment to let go whenever I need to. The room on this night as well was dim and I was surrounded by loving people who thought nothing of it, if they even noticed. I continued my practice, wiping tears when I could, and just kept going, gently. I felt so good afterwards, and appreciate that it took my body an entire year to finally untie some much-needed knots of tension and grief. This was validation that something is stirring within me, and that yoga is the thing that is facilitating this movement.
I have learned from my instructors that we as humans store much of our pain, tension, anger, anxiety, and trapped emotions, in our hips. This is why much of yoga (at least the physical part of yoga, since there is more to yoga than just poses) is about literally opening our hips. Once we can open this part of our body, we are freed from the stored-up gunk that has been trapped inside for years, and if we allow ourselves a bit of surrender, we can release these energies and deeply heal. I am so grateful.
Image borrowed from Hatch Yoga
“The pelvis is the home of the second chakra, Svadhisthana, which is closely associated with emotions and with the unconscious. The brain is connected to the hips, via the nervous system.
The hip muscles are programmed to be easily activated for “fight, flight or freeze” response. From the moment a fetus develops, the sympathetic nervous system response can stimulate a strong contraction of the flexors of the body, drawing the ribs around the visceral organs and the knees up to the torso to offer protection should the infant suffer a fall. When our body is in “fight or flight” mode, your body is prepared to kick an agressor, run away, or drop into a fetal position by clenching these deep muscles. The problem is, we don’t let go when the danger is no longer there.” -Quote obtained from here.
Goddesses, if you are interested in taking a yoga class, take the time to try and find a studio that you feel connected to. Make sure you connect with and trust the people who run the studio and lead the classes. It really does make a difference who you practice with and where. You deserve to feel safe and nurtured as you explore this path of healing, expansion, opening, and love!