I'd like to share with you a powerful and simple story of one brave young gal's journey through yoga; from traumatised to confident in 7 days.
When I first met Keira she looked like a rabbit caught in the head lights. She had experienced a deep amount of trauma and looked terrified.
She was only 18 and her mother had sent her to us, desperate for help. Her parents didn’t know what more to do for her and felt their daughter was in real danger. They were a close, highly functioning, supportive and loving family and they just desperately wanted their girl back. Keira was mentally and emotionally distant. Keira was a classic example of how secrecy is a killer. Her tight-lipped nature was sending her further down the hole of disempowerment. Time was of the essence to bring Keira back from the edge. Luckily we have such confidence in the tools that we use that were 100% sure we could assist.
Moving Beyond The 1950's Approach To Mental Health
Her family naturally felt cautious and skeptical of our approach. Alot of concerned family members do. When they see the words 'yoga, mindfulness and meditation' as part of our healing program and 'coaching' instead of psychology they baulk. We have this general public conception about mental health that I feel is entirely outdated and built on a system created in the 50's. We feel that medication and sitting in a strange psychiatrist's office is the only way to heal. I call this the 1950's view of mental health. It is the exact reason I created the Alive Process and this site and our retreats. There just had to be a more compassionate and inspiring - even exciting and uplifting - way of moving through our pain.
The 1950's approach - It largely involves labeling what is 'wrong with us', filling us with dread and fear about that label, gives us little tools to work with how we feel other than talking and prescribing something that can possibly diminish our health further - believe me medication if not correct can do the opposite of what is intended. Some of us go looking for a different approach. An approach that is built on self empowerment not disempowerment.
Why Empowerment Over Disempowerment Is A Better Approach
That approach didn't work for me and it hasn't worked for many others. Someone like Keira comes to us because they have already tried that approach and it terrified them, made them feel worse about themselves and gave them no tools to move forward with. This isn't a general consensus of that system but it's a very common one especially for all the clients I've worked with that are on the ledge. And that is alot of people.
Someone like Keira is looking for a connection again with herself and knows instinctively that maybe that relationship is going to be found on a yoga mat, in a supportive kind environment where our first conversation doesn't involve focusing on what is wrong but instead what is right within you and highlighting that which you already have within you that can be used to move your forward (it also involves hugs, nothing clinical and a whole lot of raw empathy). Yoga, and the yoga system includes mindfulness, meditation and behavioral change, became the cornerstone of our program for a reason - it tells us that there is nothing wrong with us. It tells us to go within and rebuild our strength through compassion and nonviolence. It tells us that we can heal our own suffering if we have a pathway to follow.
Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel that you are constantly trying to put broken pieces back together.' BKS Iyengar
Back To Keira.
Her Heartbreaking Story
She found herself in a violent relationship at a very young age and as commonly happens in abusive relationships, she had distanced herself from family and friends, leaving her feeling very alone, isolated and trapped. Her shame was all consuming and compacted by the violence she experienced. She trusted no one and told no one nothing. Next she was pregnant and scared for her life. If you can imagine the fear she felt at 18 and then times it by 1000 more levels of fear this might come close to to Keira's state of mind.
She didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. After losing the baby she fled from her boyfriend and sought help from her parents, who in turn sought my help.
Keira was stuck but not broken.
One of the first things that struck me about Keira was her fierce determination and piercing concentration. She hung on every word and immediately took on everything that was said. When the food was cooking she was right there asking questions and taking notes. She was intensely committed to change.
Never underestimate the power of the human spirit to heal themselves.
Her intent and willingness to change rapidly sped up the process and she was able to feel the benefits on such a deep level. I would see her around retreat, alone, diligently doing her exercises, journaling and reading whilst the others chatted and soaked up some much needed rest time. She had taken full responsibility for her behaviour at 18. She was making different and better choices to be a different and better person. Remarkable. This gal was special and stole my heart. I knew that if we could channel that drive that she would fly, and fly she did.
Moving & Breathing Instead of Talking
Once we opened Pandora’s box (she unveiled her secrets) her severe anxiousness started to lift. But she wasn’t a talker and made that very clear so hashing things out in a coaching or counselling environment wasn't for her. It is for this reason that we let clients choose the Alive Process tools that will work better for them. We let them be their own guide, steer their own path and radiate towards what feels good. If it's helpful and it works we use it. And it is our belief that healing can come about without talking so much about it. Especially with trauma, rehashing the pain is pointless. Sometimes a less confronting tool is needed.
Yoga gives us this ability to transform our relationship to ourselves in a quiet and silent space with no judgement.
And we learn as we breathe, move, watch and observe to allow the pain and discomfort to pass without needing to entangle with it. The heaviness starts to lift. Soon this carries off the mat and into our actions, reactions and behavior. It magically moves into our daily life like a surge of positivity and requires very little effort. We are essentially becoming empowered to heal from within. And that my friends is magical.
Keira was so highly socially anxious she couldn’t be around others. Even coming to breakfast in a group was terrifying. Over a few days she bravely challenged this actively with breathing through her fear (learnt everyday on a yoga mat) and allowing herself to open up to discomfort rather than trying to push it down and bury it deeply. Having the understanding of how her ‘cave man brain’ works (ACT Therapy - closely aligned with the yogic system) helped her understand that we are all driven by that need to be accepted and understood, and so to an extent, everyone is a little socially anxious. It was just that for her this need to be accepted was simply heightened and her fight or flight switch was always on because of the genuine terror she had experienced.
Through yoga, meditation and mindfulness she was learning to be open to that part of her mind and not to identify with her thoughts in such an intense way. She slowly became more accepting of that part of herself as the meditation kicked in and she learned how to make room between her thoughts and voila! The anxiety lifted and she began to socialise.
The Power Of Non Judgement
We shared many stories with Keira about others who were ‘blessed to experience this kind of crash very young’ and this gave her a way of shifting her perception and understanding that good things can come from awful experiences and that the shame, fear and guilt she felt, would have less power over her when she found the right tool for her. The importance of non judgement in yoga is one of the cornerstones of the moral codes - all of which come before getting on the mat and all of which are entwined in our Process. Learning to transform our relationship to our experiences without the need to cast judgement upon them and label them is how we learn to see, through the yogic system, that even terrible experiences are opportunities for great change. Self study, community connection and having a teacher or guide (someone wiser) to help you in times of need are also parts of the system. It's why all yogi's have a guru. And why all yogi's never stop learning.
We worked through the process in search for that one key thing that was going to click for her and that she could target her focus and drive. Once she found it, she ran with it.
Coming Back Home To The 'Self' - Yoga Is Like A Sweet Homecoming
Keira found herself on a yoga mat. In every sense. That ability on a yoga mat, to be alone, but safe. Keira found the purpose and depth she was seeking by being in a nonjudgmental space where she could slowly rebuild her confidence without talking. Slowly she began to trust her body, trust herself and reconnect inwardly through her breath. Through moving with respect for her body, she found a way to feel confident in her skin. Through meditating she lifted out of the fog. Through mindfulness she created space to be able to see the difference between thought and harmful past pictures in her mind and what was truly available to her in her reality. She started to smile and glow. Suddenly all of her shame started to fall away and instead we could see this strong, confident and sweet girl emerge right before our eyes in 7 days. Keira had reintegrated with her true self; meaning who she is beyond her past experiences.
She was rebuilding the only relationship that really matters, the one we have with ourselves.
Keira went on to make wonderful changes in her life, including a change of job, reforging relationships with her family, becoming a yoga teacher and travelling to meet her mentor in the States. I have watched with such joy her journey over the years as she continues to inspire others as a yoga teacher to find a deeper connection with themselves and a deeper connection to their life. She did all of this on her own.
A beautiful and courageous person indeed and one of the true Alive 'stars'.
There is not a day go by that I am not thankful for the practice of yoga in my life. The lightness it brings and its ability to lift me out of the depths of even the crappiest periods of life. It's remarkable.
Start Your Journey With Yoga - 3 Steps
1. Understand More About What Yoga Really Is
There are a lot of misconceptions about yoga and that it is only for hipsters and navel gazers. Yoga is for everyBODY. More importantly the physical postures are not the only part of the system. Breathwork, mindfulness, meditation and more make up the system. Learn more about what it really is by visiting my free info guides here.
2. Do Free Yoga Online At Home
You've gotta love youtube. Most of my own practice is at home, on my deck with youtube teachers. Head to youtube and google 'Yoga for Beginners' or 'Yoga for Stress' or any class that you feel suits your mood and you will find a whole heap of classes free to do at anytime.
3. Head To A Class
Even if it just once a week. There is a reason why yoga has become so hugely popular in the West. At the same time our lives have sped up more people flock to classes to gain the reprieve they are looking for. There are many different style and schools of yoga. Steer away from classes that are focused on the shape of the pose or physical aspects of yoga and seek out a teacher who has more than 2 weeks training. Look for someone who inspires you and is genuine but not too serious and not too fluffy. In the beginning go for a Hatha or Vinyasa class that is aimed at beginners. A little trial and error and you will find the right fit.
"Yoga is not a religion. It is a science. Science of wellbeing, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul." Amit Ray
I'd love to hear about your experience with yoga (good or bad) and ask me any questions you may have in the comments below.
Have a great day!