May 24, 2011

How I Found Bliss in the E.R. ~ Tracey L. Ulshafer

Falling to the pavement, I paused as the faint echo of my friend, Rebecca’s, voice called for help. Sense of time, space, senses and sensations began to alter. I felt encased in light – or was it darkness? Feeling immediately in touch with the surge of pain in my gut I began to notice my diminishing unawareness of much else. Fear gripped me as the pain seemed to increase. And for one brief moment, I reminded myself to breathe.

Yes, yoga teacher, breathe.

I began taking full, deep breaths, just as I tell my students to help calm their minds. I remembered trying pranayama exercises the numerous times I’d been tattoo’d to no avail. Yet I felt compelled to do it again now.

I then sensed more people around me and heard muddled voices discipline Rebecca for not pulling up to the ER door as I was briskly wheeled – somewhere. Opening my eyes for a brief moment, I recognized the sterile room. I had, unfortunately, been there before.

Several others were waiting in the E.R., although I did not implant any recognition of who they were. Wheeled to the back of the room and out of the way, I closed my eyes, bent over pressing my fists into my stomach and began to rock. The last thing that I remember was noticing the clock: 11:00 am on the dot.

And then it happened. I had heard of it and I’d read a lot about it. I had taught of it. I’d discussed it again and again in trainings, workshops and classes. But I had never actually achieved it. Sure, I had seen glimpses. I had felt connections. But this experience was something all-together different.

In the student’s quest for yoga, the limbs of asana or posture, pranayama or breath control and the moral and ethical codes, are fairly straight forward. I have always found a gray zone for many students in their understanding of three limbs of yoga that lead up to the final stage: pratyahara, dharana and dhyana.

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses – a detachment of sight, sound, hearing, taste, touch and smell. Dharana is concentration and focus on a single point. And then Dhyana is meditation. This occurs when the state of dharana is achieved in a prolonged state so there is a continuous and unbroken flow. The only thing left after that is Samadhi, the bliss or ecstasy of oneness: Yoga.

So, I began to breathe slowly while I rocked soothingly back and forth. It happened nearly instantaneously. I was not asleep, that I knew. But was I awake? Awakened? How would I have known? I only knew that for one brief moment that lasted a thousand years, I was without any feelings of pain or any sense of self. I saw nothing but a white light that I felt encompass me. There were no sounds, smells or tastes where I went. There was no time nor no need for any of those things.

I simply was.

And then suddenly, like being pulled out of a vacuum, I was back. The E.R. floor came into focus and then slowly, so did the pain. I peered up at Rebecca’s wide-open eyes.

“What happened,” I asked her.

“Dude, you – went somewhere,” she said.

“What time is it?”


I immediately knew that I had found bliss for the last 22 minutes, and even in my reestablished pain, I wondered if I could find it again. I closed my eyes and began to rock again. I did everything the same as before…well, everything except for let go. It didn’t work, of course. My mind was now acutely aware of the experience and my ego so wanted to find it again.

Within a few short minutes I was admitted into the E.R. and my long day’s journey into night began. An appendectomy was performed at approximately 9:00 pm that night and through general anesthesia I would come the closest that I had been to those 22 minutes of bliss since I had originally achieved it nearly 10 hours earlier. Yet, the experience was quite different. My E.R. journey was lucid and connected. But the surgical journey was numbed and medicated. While I felt awake in my E.R. experience and I felt asleep during surgery.

No, it was not the same. In surgery I lost 2 hours of my life. But in the E.R. I gained a lifetime in 22 minutes.

Tracey L. Ulshafer owns and directors One Yoga & Wellness Center llc in both East Windsor and Ewing, NJ. While impassioned about her yoga practice and providing a sacred space for her students to heal their body, mind and soul, what she really wants to be when she grows up is a professional writer. Tracey contributed yogic stories in two books: Yoga in America and Stories from the Yogic Heart. She self-published two novels Butterfly and Wolf, and has a third on the way. Tracey’s hope is to continue to combine her passions for both yoga and writing as she continues her journey. Visit Tracey’s website to view her blog, detailed bio or order books at www.traceyulshafer.com or www.oneyogacenter.net.

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