Three and a half hours drive along the dry coastline of Southern California, we turned East into a small town shrouded in oak trees. I have come here to attend a yoga retreat at the Sagrada Wellness Center near San Louis Obispo. The center is rustic in that there is nothing fancy about it. It is not luxurious. Instead, it feels stripped of any excesses. Its style is a fusion of ranch and Zen. Being here, isolated in nature in a place designed for wellness, there is no way to escape being with yourself. This is the very reason to come to such a retreat. You come to a retreat to escape life so you can be completely present with yourself. The Sagrada Wellness Center feels as if it is designed minimalistically so as to be a bare container for self-reflection, transformation and rejuvenation. There is no distraction to be found here. They provide the most wonderfully high vibration foods and make it so that you have nothing to do or to think about. You are left squarely in the space of... self. As is customary on the first day of a retreat, everyone managed to bring their outside life with them here. We congregated and shared our stories about ourselves and our lives. Like most people, the attendees were highly identified with these stories and the sense of self they found in them. At the same time, they were desperate to shed the weight of them. As the days progress, these “things” people confuse for themselves are shed one by one until all that is left is the rawness of a person in the present moment with life coursing through their veins.
I love retreats. I love the way that a group of strangers is drawn out of their separate and seemingly unrelated lives to the same spot at the same time. I love how over the course of a retreat, the synchronicities keep rising to the surface and the divine order of the universe reveals that there is no accident to the meeting of any and all of us. On the first night, I struggled in the restorative yoga class to acclimatize to the feel of each of them. Each person is like a blast of unique flavors to each one of my senses and combining them all in one room is overwhelming when I am unfamiliar with the full range and depth of each one. In the meditation, I dis-identified far enough to watch my mind’s frantic trail. I watched it resonate with and seek connection with some people right off the bat. I watched it bump up against and feel repelled by other people right off the bat. I watched it struggle with the fact that I was not in front of the class and leading it as a teacher, which is the role I am most identified with. I watched it resist the lonely feeling of having to be introspective during the exercise while everyone else was deep in their own process; instead of performing where everyone’s focus (and therefore mental company) is entirely with me. I watched it want to perform the yoga moves the best so that I could go from being out of my comfort zone to in my comfort zone as the expert. I observed the way that my mind wanted to re-visit and chew on any of the negative feeling aspects of today. It did not settle for the duration of the meditation. I could see how tightly I was wound and how depleted I was, now that I found myself in an environment where I had to be totally present to myself. I crashed and I crashed hard. I started feeling sicker by the minute, more tired and as if I could feel myself aging. I felt no inspiration to do anything except sit with my head under the covers and rest. I was completely exhausted. I ran a fever and sweated throughout the night.
In the mornings here, we do Qigong. I love Qigong. I certified in China years ago to teach it in fact. I could feel just how depleted my energy centers were. At the end of the first day, we did a meditation to call into power the masculine (yang) energy and then the feminine (yin) energy within us and then mix the both equally to integrate them. I am currently very deficient in yin energy. Which makes this retreat all the more necessary. I could feel how my being is craving the reflective, calm, artistic receptivity inherent in yin. I could feel how the deficiency has thrown my kidneys into weakness.
We have been doing yoga sometimes 3 times a day since I arrived here. I find it interesting that yoga is considered a pleasurable luxury by some. To be honest, every time I do yoga, I end up feeling terrible. The body stores trauma and opening up energy channels by stretching your body, releases that trauma. Yoga practice will stimulate conscious and unconscious responses in every individual. Your body’s responses to yoga, whether those responses are sensations, emotions, moods, or images, are the first sign that something important is going on within us. Yoga meets the psyche and emotional center in the place where we feel reactive to the yoga. Every muscle has its own associated psychological/emotional function. A health practitioner, like myself is concerned with the responsiveness of a muscle. And a muscle’s responsiveness in yoga is mostly related to its state of elasticity. If the psychological/emotional function associated with a specific muscle was abandoned early or was not learned at all, the muscle will be under-responsive. A person will usually have a lack of aliveness and sensory awareness in this area of the body. Psychologically there may be a sense of numbness or of something missing or of not knowing how to do something. In yoga, when we stress the under-responsive muscle by using it strongly, the psychological history related to this muscle will be triggered.
If the disruption occurred later in the developmental period when a muscle was being imprinted, it will be over-responsive instead of under responsive. A person will usually have a sense that they lack flexibility, hold back, or respond in a rigid way relative to these muscle groups. For an over-responsive muscle, the trauma associated with this muscle will be triggered when it is stretched. Conversely, either stressing an over-responsive muscle or stretching an under-responsive one will tend to suppress the psychological and emotional content associated with that muscle. In my opinion, the psychological and emotional content contained in the muscles will not change simply by stretching or strengthening the muscle. You must first work-through the particular psychological/emotional issue. But that being said, working from both the direction of body and mind is ideal. Working through a psychological/emotional issue frees the associated muscle from having to “hold” that trauma. This leads to more freedom of movement and more flexibility on a mental, physical and emotional level.
Most asanas (yoga postures) will stimulate more than one set of muscles, stretching some and stressing others. As a practitioner of yoga, it is super beneficial to notice if there are certain asanas you enjoy doing and others that you consistently dislike. Are there moods or emotions that are usually evoked by certain asanas? Do you feel fatigue and give up easily when you stress certain muscles or stretch certain muscles? If you hold the asana instead of continue through with a movement, what kinds of sensations, thoughts, feelings or images come up for you? What insights come up for you? Of course, positive experience is also stored in the body. And when these parts are stressed or stretched, they also cause positive response on a psychological and emotional level. But these negative feeling experiences that occur during yoga are indications that some unresolved part of your past that is currently being triggered so as to call your attention and say, “I need your conscious presence and I need to be worked with”. Obviously, strong physiological and emotional reactions to an asana may indicate that a traumatic experience you had in the past is being triggered. I have emotional reactions every time I do yoga. I find yoga painful, even when I am doing restorative yoga. To be completely honest with you, my hamstrings are my emotional waste dump. When I stretch my hamstrings, I end up feeling completely overwhelmed to the degree that I feel the impulse to give up and run out of class. Very few times have I ever done yoga where I haven’t ended up on the verge of tears. I despise downward dog. When the instructor says “and now to downward dog”, I feel an internal collapse. I approach downward dog with absolute drudgery. This “emotional break down” reaction has happened multiple times on this retreat. The yoga is enabling my body to integrate. But as we all know too well, integration is not always an enjoyable process. My hamstring muscles have been recruited by my body to maintain a sense of emotional self-control. They are trying to maintain my boundaries. All the trauma involving not being allowed to set or maintain my own boundaries and as a result feeling out of control of myself and my world is stored in my hamstrings. And when I stretch them, I immediately feel those old feelings of being totally out of control, especially emotionally.
I spent the first three days of the retreat sick and feeling disoriented and sort of pulled inside myself against my consent. I started crying when we all went to the beach because I was experiencing emotional burn out. Honestly, this year has been exactly as I predicted it to be in 2014. It has felt like all stability has been stripped from me. It has felt like I’m in the ocean break, struggling to come up for air and getting a gasp only to be tumbled by another colossal wave after another… And not knowing when it’s going to end or if it ever will. I felt fragile and shaky coming into this retreat. I felt like my emotional bank account was past empty, as if I was in fact in a state of emotional debt. I will be so glad to bid 2015 farewell tonight during a new years eve ceremony. Like all things, the greatest gifts often come on the heels of the greatest pains, but before I step into those gifts fully, I will admit that on an emotional level, this has been the hardest year of my adult life. Today is New Years Eve. I woke up feeling better today. I woke up feeling as if the retreat has done exactly what a retreat is designed to do. It has put me back in my power. I am beginning to feel restored. As the sun rose, I participated in a group meditative walk. We staggered ourselves so as to feel as if we were on a solo walk. We wound our way through the shadows and fragile light of the morning, listening to our footsteps crush the frost that covered the grasses on the trail. I could not get the “Tealers” (and you, the people whose lives are so linked to my own) off of my mind. In truth, I did not want to really. I believe you were meant to be in the present moment with me this morning on that frosty walking meditation. I felt the warmth of you. I thank you for that warmth. I intend to carry it into the New Year. We were asked a question on the walk… “What am I ready and willing to let go of?” We were told to allow the answer to come to us naturally with no thought over the course of the walk. My invitation to you is that in honor of New Years, you ask yourself the same. “What am I ready and willing to let go of?” My invitation to you is to make this question part of today’s meditative practice in your own life so that you may step into this New Year as if it is just that… NEW.