It all started with a curtain.
The feeling of a knife—an invisible, but scary one—into the main branch—the left one —of my carotid artery, just between the Adam’s apple and the internal jugular vein, at this precise node below the jaw where you can feel the pulse bouncing. At the slightest movement, head up or down, possibly due to the vagus nerve proximity, I could feel the pressure of the blade deep inside my throat increasing.
An oblivious, baffling part of me had taken myself hostage.
It all started with a light source roughly shaded by a curtain.
The undefined illness.
The altered awareness.
The constant dizziness.
The splitting headaches.
The sharp stabbing pain
On a cloudy Sunday, my body couldn’t stand this self hostage-taking anymore. I fainted. The following morning, I saw my doctor. I had to consent—no choice, dear—but to be off sick from work for eight days straight for the first time in more than eight years.
It may have started at my workplace—the discomfort, pain, nausea—with a clash of shadow and light. I used to feel much more relaxed when I had my workstation far from the noise and the bustle, at the back of the room, near a window.
It was my only way out to feel safe and also connected with outside.
Outside of what? Of the building and its concrete shell? Of the scope of the tasks I was asked to perform?
Of the box of my mind? Of my dull life (and mainly work life)? Or of my own “Slow Death” (1), maybe?
During the last weeks, I had to cope with a very nice and kind colleague…but one who suffered from conjunctivitis and could not bear any source of light. One morning, upon arriving in the room, she shut up the entire curtain, upon 40 inches of glass.
No asking. No negotiation.
It was not a sunny morning at all.
No special brightness. No reflected light on the screens. Just a normal day, and a covered sky.
And all what was left now was 40 opaque inches of a uniform grey fabric, and no light.
Now…did the story really begin with the curtain? With my eyes severed from their view?
The Knife Goes Chop
Do you know this song, this stupid song that says “Oh, I have all my fingers, The knife goes chop chop chop, If I miss the spaces in-between my fingers will come off”? (2)
A few weeks ago, I experienced what they now call a “burn out”—and what could have been as well a “bore out.” I was working in a call center. I did my best to be a good employee, a good performer, and a nice colleague, but I felt empty and alienated, and I saw my task as nonsense. My body sent to me many warning signs, and my heart and brain also did but I was like those unmindful and maybe crazy challengers of the Knife Game who now sing the chop chop chop song on YouTube and other media, while stabbing faster and faster between their fingers and smiling.
By ignoring my emotions, my discomfort and my distress, I was slowly pithing myself (my core, my heart, my limbic brain) with an invisible needle, stinging and stinging into my own stem, chopping my autonomic nervous system, my self-awareness, internal balance, when performing again and again all the tasks I had been assigned trying not to miss any space.
Sometimes all I wanted to do was screaming but you don’t scream at work, hey, you can’t. Neither are you supposed to flee as a savage animal would flee. Devoted, hard-working, well tamed workers, securely leashed with audio cables from their headset to the headphone jack of their computer, and always smiling on the phone (cheese, you’re happy!), are not allowed to behave as obnoxious, rude, unruly children.
The problem was: my core was untamed. Rude. Unruly. I could not bear leashes, nor audio cables. Nor—at certain times—my colleagues. My heart was a killer whale and my brain a wolf—and they were trapped. And now deprived of their way out. Maybe I was a sort of werewolf, a pithed werewolf, caught in a cage.
“Oh, chop chop chop chop chop chop
I’m picking up the speed
And if I hit my fingers then my hand will start to bleed.” (2)
I read once on online news that a huge number of big whales die every year because of stupid fishing nests or lobster pot lines, those kind of things. Sometimes slow death is nothing but that.
A vicious, cruel, infuriating schmuck…
How long would a killer whale survive, entangled in lobster pot lines? Say to me, what’s your view on that?
Mine is simple. One evening I came home, passed by a big pond—I used to love this pond—and thought calmly (and it was particularly worrisome because I was reasoned and calm): “What if I slept there, underneath?”
No sound, no light.
I was givin’up.
Yoga saved me.
Yoga is one piece of my jigsaw puzzle of “outside.”
I followed, as Alice down the hole, my own white rabbit’s paths: sun salutations, Yin Yoga Dragon Dance, or whatever sequences—often called “flows”—I felt great with. Heart opening flows. Hips opening flows. Building an awesome core flows. Flows for better digestion. Flows for great sleep. Detoxing flows. Meditative slow rhythm flows. Vitalising flows. Strength and focus flows. Flows for stretching. Creativity flows…flows were my little spheres of light—my colourful, joyful candies.
Yep, Yoga flows in some way are like cupcakes: you may find one for nearly every single minute, emotion or need of each day. And oh my…I loved that feeling, that sensation…so reassuring: no matter what my problem was, a long or short, quick or slow sequence would fix it. Within an hour, or even five or three minutes, it could calm down my spirit, restore my body, clear my mind.
But how could I greet the sun or dance the Dragon dance or chain together a number of moves inside a worn-out body, and with a knife’s blade to my throat?
Even Urdhva Hastasana, the upward salute, arms overhead, back bent with the chest expanding, needs you to gaze slightly up towards your thumbs—or to the sky or the ceiling. The head is softly tilted back, challenging the C1/C2 vertebras. It’s now too much. Even smoothly and carefully, I just cannot stand my head backwards—it tightens my throat, leads me to soreness and more dizziness…
Oh please, please, try, says the Little Voice (the Little Voice is my best friend and sometimes my worst enemy). Listen, it’s easy, ground yourself, anchor your feet, anchor your tailbone, lengthen it, press your palms together, gently but firmly, a little away from your torso, so that your arms will raise in one single, fluid motion, now inhale and expand your elbows and just let your…
Pain. Blockage. Soreness. Nausea.
Oh no, says the Little Voice—no, no please.
But there is not much Little Voice can do about the threat of the Big Knife, its pressure—and here raced my fears.
I may have forced myself again. I may have gone beyond my pain. I may have cut my own limits.
Even Yoga has its own chop chop chop.
It may also teach life lessons as valuable as “know yourself,” or “set your own vital boundaries.”
The Onion’s Layers
One of my teachers (Reiki teacher and Reiki master) said: “Sometimes when you are working on yourself (it can be with Reiki, Yoga or anything), it’s like peeling an onion: an aspect of yourself, a problem or ailment is disclosed, and then comes another one, and another one, deeper and deeper or maybe back further in time or in your emotional background, etc.”
Why did I like sequences so much? Because they echoed my constant urge to move, to slip out from every sort of commitment like a fish, to run away from any enclosure. To escape.
I had been constantly fleeing, my whole life: avoiding people, avoiding contact, avoiding mirrors, avoiding difficulties, conflicts, emotions, avoiding memories, avoiding to deal with my true self and to face its frightening vacuum behind its own windows and masks.
No I was not “happy.” Not well. Not at ease in my body. Not at ease at all with my own aspirations, my own dreams. Not smiling with a genuine smile.
Out of place in my life path.
As I failed doing any “flow” and as the pain took over my mind as well of my entire body, I surrendered and did nothing except lie on my bed, motionless, numbed, anaesthetised. The curtain was snatched: I was nothing. Or maybe a dead child trapped in a strange, changing body. And changing mind.
One night, I was woken up out of my half-sleep by a sharp, vivid memory: my father’s bedroom, dark behind its closed curtains, in daytime. And by a painful, half-choked cry.
Begin With Thyself
On the third day of this comatose state, I stood up, dizzy, and said to myself: I’m going to restart.
Then I talked to the dead spirit of the inner child buried and wrapped in my own curtains, like I’d have done to a phantom limb: we’re gonna reset all this life.
Then I spoke out loud: And–I–Will–Do–Yoga.
What was Yoga? Not just sequences, movement, flows. Nor only perfect Insta poses. Yoga is not only ujayi breathing, performing contortions, twists and stretch; it is the meeting of the soul with the big spirit of the whole.
Now, where to start? With what sort of movement, what step?
One of the first sentences I heard in my Yoga classes was: Begin with yourself.
It had never made real sense to me. I thought it was: do Yoga at your own path, and begin at your own level. The point was not here. The real beginning is also the end—as it was quoted above the door of the temple of Apollo at Delphi: Know thyself.
Take off all the bogus and the fake.
And begin with you: you’re what’s left.
What was left?
I kneeled on the floor and my body answered: me-here-now.
We met together in silence—the universe and me. Kneeling in stillness. In silence. Forwardbending. No movement, no flow, just a pose.
A child pose. Stripped of all the superfluous.
A nude one.
A new beginning.
(1) I called the doctor / In the morning / I had a fever / It was a warning / She said “There’s nothing I can prescribe / To keep your raunchy bag of bones alive” Roy Loney, Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC
(2) Rusty Cage, “The Knife Game Song”
(3) Balasana is known as “child pose.” A restful, restorative one. Not as easy as it could seem when you go deep inside of it…that will be another story.
Author: Yael Assia
Image: uwenna at Flickr
Editors: Renée Picard; Caitlin Oriel