August 5, 2013

This is Why We are Alive. ~ Jennifer White, Kate Bartolotta & Bryonie Wise

I fell in love unexpectedly; it took me by surprise.

As a writer, collaborations take you to new and exciting places; spaces within your mind that you didn’t know were accessible, or even there, until someone else reached over and tickled them. So when Bryonie and Kate suggested that we have a three-way, of course, I was all for it. A three-way as in writing. Working on an article together. A long-distance fusion of creativity—that sort of three-way. We decided to join our words together on a subject that’s near and dear to all of our hearts—our yoga practices.

Lately, my yoga practice has been stiff.

I’ve felt rigid and, well, lacking space—until my heart blossomed.

It happened on a walking meditation (one of my favorite ways to let go of my mental clutter and gibberish). I felt myself surrounded by the canopy of trees and the shadows of the sunlight made through their almost tropical branches (I’m in Ohio, but it’s rained a lot—a lot.)

And I’m looking around at all of this greenery, and then—zap!—it hits me! Open your heart.

So right then and there, I opened myself to the healing of my wounded soul, of that place inside that collects cobwebs and stuck emotions—and a vision popped into my head of an opening flower. In my mind’s eye, I saw this clean white flower take root through the newly bottomless well of love in my heart space.

Literally, it seemed like a cork had been popped! open from the area between my sternum and the base of my shoulder blades, and where it used to be old suddenly there was fresh, rich soil for the bud of my soul to re-bloom and grow. And it did grow—up and out through my shoulders.

I felt my throat chakra open at the base of my throat, and bright blue sky emerged from the clouded wilderness to better help this young and tender flower thrive.

And then I felt my feet on the ground—the crunch, crunch, crunch of the gravelly trail—and I closed myself off once again to the energy of the universe, enshrouding myself within the warm pink calm that had descended upon me and around me like a sunset—a protective bubble surrounding my being—that helped me to take this profoundly healing experience with me out of the woods and back into my life, where it’s needed the most.

And then I hit my yoga room.

I’ve spent more time running and walking and hiking these last few days than I have in the hot classroom at my yoga studio of choice. Similarly, my home practices have been a little shorter in length, and a little more easy-going and low-key.

In short, my body wasn’t exactly a breeding ground for hugely open backbends—yet that’s exactly what happened.

I worked through my practice later that day, after my husband had gotten home from work to care for our tiny lady and I noticed almost instantly that my side-body felt luxuriously long and supple, that the front of my hips soared towards the sky when I finally lifted into upward bow pose, and that my shoulders and my heart felt unencumbered and free.

I was free.

I had let go of my baggage. I put it down on that slightly damp trail and I haven’t yet picked it back up. I made the decision to be lighter, both consciously and unconsciously, and—just like that—I was.

I couldn’t wait to tell Bryonie and Kate that I knew what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about backbends and how emptying your heart actually leads to an overflowing of fullness.

I wanted to share how opening myself to tears and neglected emotions brought immense relief and intense truth.

And my truth is this: we all tend to harden as we age, and not just physically. We cling to our wounds like neediness lost at sea—and we end up drowning because of it.

Let it go of it—all of it. How? Get on your mat.

Your mat is the window to your spirit. It helps you understand exactly what it is that you need to see, to know—so that you can get rid of it and move forward.

And now I’ll move on into Kate’s experience, and Bryonie’s, because they practice too. They don’t shy away from the ugliness, and they’re not afraid of the dark, and that’s what I fell in love with—the notion that there is freedom in illumination and resurrection in sharing.




Jennifer is right; I don’t shy away from the dark, but it wasn’t always that way.

It’s taken awhile, but I have accepted that I am never going to be fearless. It will always be here. It will always talk to me. Sometimes, it will whisper insidiously; sometimes, it will yell at me.

I have given up on trying to make it leave.

Instead, I am learning to tame my fear. Or maybe a more accurate way to put it would be: I am learning to trust myself more than I listen to my fear.

A good friend told me something recently that I’ve heard time and again, but for whatever reason, on the five hundred and first time of hearing it, it finally felt true.

“Do what you would do if you knew you couldn’t fail.”

And there is still that piece that whispers to me: but maybe you will fail, you might fail, what if you do and it hurts and you’re embarrassed and you don’t get up and you just fail fail fail and everything falls apart.

But what if it doesn’t?

What if instead I get little bit curious, get a little bit bold, find a little bit of strength I’m not sure I have and just do the things that I would do, if I stopped listening to fear?

It’s a funny thing, what fear does in the body. Fear likes to tighten places up. Fear is cold, frozen spots. Fear immobilizes us. I’m not sure which comes first: releasing those icy walls fear has made in our bodies, or around our hearts, but I’ve noticed that when one begins to soften and melt, sometimes the other does too.

For example, I have this problem with my backbends.

Well, that’s not actually true.

Setu Bandhasana feels wonderful at that point in my practice. I love the backbending postures where I am prone and don’t feel as vulnerable, like dhanurasana, bhujangasana and ustrasana. I love exploring and feeling the flexibility in my spine.

But then, there’s dropping back into urdhva dhanurasana, or wheel pose, which used to make me freeze up. It’s like this little child inside that says “What if it hurts, what if I can’t?” and it becomes less a question of what the body can do, and more a question of what the body will do. I would get to a certain threshold and just…stop.

The thing is, what we can and can’t—or will and won’t—allow our bodies to do has an awful lot to do with what’s going on inside.

And then I had a day where that thing that I’d heard so many times before sank in and rattled around inside and without even really thinking about it, I decided to see what I could do. It wasn’t that much different than the day before. Maybe it was the accumulation of all the days before; maybe I had gotten a good night’s sleep. Maybe it was my friend’s words whispering to me a little louder than my fear of failing or being hurt.

And I opened up, not fearlessly, but despite my fear.

Iyengar said that it is through our bodies we realize we are a spark of divinity. I know I’ve experienced that at times. There are times that through our bodies opening up, we open up our minds, our hearts; we open up not to just what we know, but what we dream might be possible.

Maybe when we have those days where we get a little bit curious, a little bit bold and dig up a little extra strength that we aren’t even sure we have, we are louder than our fear.

We stop listening to it. We forget for a minute that we might fall and it might hurt, and accept the fact that we might succeed.

Maybe as I practice there will be more moments when that spark started by curiosity will create enough fire to make me bold. Maybe I’ll have that conversation I’ve been putting off. Maybe I’ll do the things fear tells me I can’t do yet. Maybe I’ll want to enough that my heart beating frantically in my chest will be loud enough to drown out the fear

But I won’t ever be fearless; I don’t think that’s even the goal.

Fear doesn’t go away—it’s going to keep coming. We never arrive at a place in life where fear can’t touch us.

I was fooling around with inversions earlier and my son was watching me in amazement. I asked him if he wanted to try it, and he said that he couldn’t. So, I sat down next to him and held his hand and told him that once, I didn’t think I could either. I didn’t think I could, but then one day I decided to see what would happen if I did. I wanted to enough that it was worth it to me to try. There were times I tried and fell, but I kept on doing it. I told him that even when he grows up, there will always be things that are scary; he will always have times he feels worried.

The point of all of it is not to become fearless or to remove it from our lives.

Our practice is learning not to listen to what fear tells us. Our purpose is found when we surrender to curiosity instead of fear. Our strength comes not from being without fear, but in acknowledging it—and doing what we dream of anyway.




When I started my practice, my body and I were strangers who passed each other in the night. We were aware each others’ existence, but we were disconnected on all levels.

I had become an expert at hiding shame, fear, anger—an entire closet full of skeletons, really, in each layer, each nook and cranny—every part of me was riddled with the-things-that-are-too-scary-to-share.

My darkness—partly something unique to my cells (a gift from my ancestors), combined with the enormous grief that settled in after my mother died—fed on alcohol and cigarettes, until in a moment of aha! a voice in my heart gently suggested that my life would have to change if I wanted to live.

And so I started practicing—I started moving and breathing and sweating. I started to create ways in which my deeply rooted secrets would slowly start to release and let go and float to the surface and form themselves into thoughts then into words…and finally, out into the open where everyone could see them.

The thing that they don’t tell you about yoga when you start is this: you are as deep as the ocean, as wide and open as the sky and as bright as the sun and the moon. They don’t tell you how many levels, layers, there are to your thoughts and they don’t tell you that it will take time to let your breath move your body and that soon you won’t have to think about breathing because it just happens.

They don’t tell you that your practice will become your mediation and that your body will change, just as your thoughts will change, just as you will become aware of your heart moving through space.

And the thing about backbends is that it’s impossible to hide—your heart cracks open and everything comes spilling out.

We are so afraid of this—even yogis who practice  every single day, even teachers who teach, even humans who breathe.

All of us.

We are all scared of sharing the truth; not the pretty-it-up-for-others-truth, but the ugly, smelly, festering truth. (Like how we really feel. Like what we really think. Like what we really believe.)

Preparing for this dive into the ocean takes care and precaution—I can feel as I move and breathe on my mat, little drops of sweat start to form down the small of my back, myself dropping further and further in.

The shimmer of gold, the shadows of the dark corners have me in awe—I start to feel the make up of who I am. I keep moving and send breath into each bone of my spine—I send this breath to create space, to get my cells singing.

As I move, I grant myself (and my body, the guardian of all) permission to let go—to embrace whatever it is that surfacing and to keep going.

I have learned to trust myself in movement (something I am still working on in stillness).

When I am ready to bend, I approach, with great love, with great care. I take my time and measure my movements; small ones to start and then bigger and bigger.

The place, the home I am heading towards for a time now, when I am warm enough and when my heart says go, is dwi pada viparita dandasana. When my forearms connect with the ground and my head lifts I can feel my rib cage double the size—breath is actually growing my body and my heart reaches each corner of the universe.

In this place, I breathe, still. I lengthen my spine and send my attention into that place in my lower back that has served as a dumping ground for all-that-cannot-be-spoken. I say, quietly, with my inhale and exhales, space, length, space length, you are okay and safe.

That’s what it is.

We are okay and safe in our letting go; we are okay and safe in our fear, in our joy, in our desire to crack open.

This is why we are alive.






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Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Main photo: via Pinterest; thumbnail photo via Kennedy Holmes by way of Pinterest}


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