April 4, 2019

How I Healed from Childhood Trauma with Savasana.


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“A healer is someone that triggers healing powers within you.” ~ Thabiso Monkoe

Several years ago, I began practicing yoga at a local gym.

I was a busy woman, juggling a full-time ascending career and a burgeoning bundle of children’s activities. I was also battling chronic back pain, so I conceded to what, at the time, was a gargantuan gesture of self-care. I signed up for a yoga class.

I rushed into the gym once a week to get my stretch on, and then I would rush out to proceed with the obligations of my overbooked schedule. When it came time for the final resting pose at the end of class, I would roll up my mat and leave.

I didn’t have time for savasana.

In a gym, you can do that without seeming inordinately rude. Or, at least, I thought you could.

At the time, I would have told you I didn’t make room for stillness in my chaotic days because I literally couldn’t find the time to squeeze it in. And that was certainly part of it—but a larger truth is, I couldn’t live with the pain that came up in the quiet, so I avoided it at all costs.

I had been running nonstop since I was 17. I didn’t drink or smoke or have any recreational habits that slowed me down. I was intentional and purposeful, productive and efficient, building a secure life for myself and my family. I had never taken a nap in my adult life.

But I kept showing up, once a week, to stretch. And I started to feel better, to feel more at home in my body, to move a little differently throughout my day, to breathe a little more mindfully, to pause a little more reflectively, to notice the stresses I was putting on my body, to ease up a little, soften, slow down, to recognize when I was hungry and what I was hungry for.

Eventually, my commitment to my yoga practice yielded an invitation I felt ready to accept. After two years of consistent practice, I stayed on my mat for my first savasana. It was worse than I predicted—in every way. Inexplicably excruciating. I left the gym in tears.

I tried to drive, but I was crying too hard to see. I pulled over on the side of the road, locked the car doors and dialed my mom’s number.

I was surprised when she answered. We hadn’t spoken in well over a year and I struggled to find words. Eventually, from the quiet of my sealed car, I said, “Mom, I’m not blaming you, I know you did the best you could, but what happened when I was a kid, why didn’t you protect me? Why didn’t you try to help me when you found out? Why did we keep having those men in our home?”

She answered abruptly, “Michelle, what’s the point in talking about this? It was a long time ago,” she said, “You need to get over it.”

I was crying audibly now, but my mom had already hung up, and neither of us have spoken of it since. I forgive her, but we don’t talk. She doesn’t reach out and neither do I. What more is there to say?

I’ve thought a lot about love since then—how to give it and to receive it, what I want, and how far I am willing to go to protect my loved ones. For me, loving someone means staying for those painful conversations, even if you don’t have answers. Loving someone means you can sit with pain and not turn away.

This week, someone I love hurt me. We all know the pain of being let down or betrayed, and we know that sometimes we hurt those we love the most.

It hurt more than I expected. But I didn’t react.

I didn’t react because I have lain in stillness so many times in savasana and fought the urge to flee, I know what staying feels like. Sitting with pain feels hauntingly familiar. So, I opened the door and let it in. I thought of where I come from and how nothing is ever talked about or resolved. But what I could do is stay and have a dialogue with myself.

And I did.

I thought of the years and years of covering up for my family, of saying it’s not their fault, of understanding they were trapped in their own heads, their own fears, their own flawed systems, a swirling ecosystem of unmet needs, a drama in which I was just collateral damage.

I tend to apologize when someone hurts me. I say, I’m sorry for being too sensitive or needy, for wanting too much, for having unrealistic expectations. I say, “Don’t worry, I know you didn’t mean to hurt me. I’m fine.” But after sitting with pain, I realize it takes more love and more vulnerability to say, “I’m not fine. It’s not okay. I want better.”

I survived this week, but I want to hold my close relationships to a higher standard than survival. In love, fine isn’t good enough.

I can forgive without an apology. But I’ve decided that forgiveness will be from a distance. I can let people go and move on with my life, without wanting to hurt them, without wishing them ill.

I love my mom, but I have given up on closure.

Sharing my pain makes me feel weak and small, but I’m starting to realize being honest about what hurts is less about whether the other person changes and more about acknowledging what is and isn’t acceptable. And that’s not weak at all.

I respect myself enough to recognize when something is terribly wrong. And I am finally healthy enough to see that it is my responsibility to set boundaries to protect myself from further abuse. When I protect myself and ask for what I need, when I treat myself with respect and kindness, I show those who love me what love looks like to me.

And this is a gift not only to myself, but to anyone who chooses to love me.

Savasana helped me recognize there was something terribly wrong with my childhood. Savasana helped me hear that quiet voice in my head, gently saying, “You didn’t deserve that. It wasn’t your fault.”

Savasana has given me the gift of responding, rather than reacting. I no longer bolt from the room when I feel the anxiety of past fear rising up in me. In the quiet of savasana, I have learned to give up the hope for a better past. Savasana has given me the gift of the present.

And in the present moment, I know it’s my job to protect myself, and that is something only I can do.


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