Learning to live with a chronic illness involves finding joy in chaos.
I have been experiencing a tricky time recently, with a reactivation of symptoms, including my mental health, and the feeling of impending doom that is carried in the pocket of denial. Then last night I remembered that I wrote a book, in meditation, that was quite useful for people in this kind of crisis.
The chapter I read is called “The Gateway to Living”, and describes a path and tools to living not existing that seemed to ease the angst I was feeling. It reminded me that even in times of suffering, we can choose to live rather than survive.
I offer the chapter, in the hope that it also will have some meaning for you.
The Gateway to LIving
Module 5 was the gateway to living rather than existing. It was now July and it was becoming clear my recovery was not going anywhere; in fact to the contrary, my condition was continuing to improve. Now I felt some obligation to do something with it and I had no idea what or how or even why.
However, my psychology was still in the mode of ‘existing’, even though I had given back my power chair and cancelled my disability allowance; in my mind I was still disabled.
In the medical crises of my life I had had an ambiguous relationship with death and through my mentoring with Andrew had discovered I was more afraid of living than dying, a little like the mortality version of being more afraid of success than failure (which I have also experienced). So now I needed to learn how to live, like a crawling baby learns how to walk – I think sometimes I still fall.
The reason module 5 was so integral in this process of learning to walk was twofold: firstly I felt like the practices worked on stimulating and unblocking the centre of dynamism and enthusiasm; and secondly it was the interim assessment: our opportunity to sit an assessment that would allow us to teach classes as student-teachers, if we passed.
The practices included action postures like the eagle, sitting spinal twist, warrior sequence and the cleansing breath, and as I practiced them over the next few months (and still today), they filled me with a strength and a courage to act as I had never experienced before.
The eagle locks at the base of the spine with legs crossed over and the thoracic spine with our arms crossed over, then builds up energy between using breath with the spinal wave and folding over from the hips. A few breaths in this folded, locked position, enables intense focus and stillness. Then in one graceful and powerful motion, unfold and unblock.
It releases energy into the whole body-mind complex, for me focusing on my dynamism centre and my heart.
Andrew demonstrated this posture in the module and I was in the front row. When he did the dynamic version, the unfolding was so potent that the person next to me screamed and jumped backwards a step and we all gasped. I am sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who wanted some of what he had.
The eagle has been with me ever since and whenever I perform this posture I feel such an infusion of power and strength, not to mention clarity and focus.
The sitting spinal twist is a posture I used to do with the television after Romper Room when I was three. I loved twisting my body into knots and still do. I first encountered it as an adult in Bellingen with a lovely yoga teacher who encouraged us to move our internal organs around, getting the twist in the lower back.
Learning the Dru version took the posture to a deeper level as I became aware of the twist as it moved up my spine, releasing tension gradually as each vertebra twisted around and the muscles around my spine released. Finally, to rest with my heart open was and remains beautiful. On return there always seems to be a sucking in at the heart.
This posture never ceases to make me feel energised and generous, while bringing a satisfied smile to my face. I have learnt, practice and teach a version of the Sitting Spinal Twist for anywhere you aren’t doing yoga (see Workplace Sitting Spinal Twist).
The Warrior sequence speaks for itself. Warrior 1, 2 and 3, together or in isolation, never cease to give me courage and strength when I think I have none. Somehow, even if my legs are shaky, I can relax into the warrior and feel strong; and if I am visualising, my posture becomes straighter and my head is held higher.
The cleansing breath just made my brain feel like it was in a brain version of a carwash – I so loved this practice I used to do it all the time when I first learned it (unfortunately perhaps too much as I strained my breathing muscles in the process). However, it did seem to clean my thoughts of some pretty limiting ideas of how I could live.
And, well, the interim assessment was a validation of my practice and my capacity to share this, perhaps more so than approval of my teaching skills.
I arrived at the module realising perhaps I had not done enough technical preparation. I knew the postures intimately and had visualised them, practiced them, read about them and written about them but I hadn’t studied them. And vitally, I hadn’t practiced teaching them.
After a little cramming with my yoga buddy, I decided to just do what I do in my head, but aloud, and hope for the best. For the second time in the yoga course (and possibly my life), I turned myself inside out and spoke what I had only internalised until then.
It was quite bizarre and feels vaguely pretentious, but strangely it felt comfortable; for those moments of teaching my ‘class’, I felt like a yoga teacher even though I was just sharing what I did in my head. I got the first glimpse that maybe I could do this.
Over the next few months, I started a small class and began to teach. I had shared bits with my maths students but now I started to actually teach full hour and a half classes.
- Sitting with your buttocks on the edge of your chair and your spine straight and relaxed.
- Breathe out and engage core stability.
- Breathe in and lengthen through your spine, lifting your breastbone and raising your right arm to shoulder height (or your own comfort level).
- As you breathe out, cross your left hand over to the outside of your right thigh and begin twisting you lower spine then middle spine to the right until your right arm reaches the back of the chair.
- Rest as you breathe in.
- Breathe out and use your arm to lever your upper body around into the twist a little further.
- If it is comfortable, stay in the twist for a few breaths before returning to the centre on an in-breath.
- Repeat to the other side.
This stretches the muscles of the back, and neck, opening the muscles of the chest, while massaging your abdominal organs and improving digestion. Fab on many fronts!
A Journey to Peace through Yoga, Lynnette Dickinson