There are dark places in life. In these places, the heart aches, there is brokenness of spirit. The one thing I always take with is yoga. Yoga meets you in broken places and weaves you back together.
One December Thursday night a few years ago, I received a call from my husband’s cell number, only to hear a stranger’s voice on the other end. “There’s been an incident. I need you to meet me at the hospital. Please drive safely.”
After contemplating several benign scenarios in my mind, I arrived at the hospital to have the doctor at the ER ask me to have a seat. I’ll never forget the word choice of the ER doctor. “Your husband has experienced a cardiac event that is incompatible with life. He is conscious now, but this is highly unusual. I can’t guarantee what will happen over the next twenty-four hours. He was down for seven and a half minutes. That’s a long time without oxygen. There could be brain damage as well. I’ll leave you to gather your thoughts.”
For a long time, his words really agitated me. But in hindsight, his words merely expressed the reality of the situation. What my husband experienced was incompatible with life. And in life, there are no guarantees. But I’ve come to realize my objection was a reaction to his suggestion to “gather my thoughts.” What I needed someone to encourage me to do was to gather my Self.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, describes that trauma “overwhelms the mind and the brain and shatters you to pieces.” His research promotes the keys to overcoming trauma. He asserts, “You cannot tell the trauma story — you live it out in your body. It sits so deep in the feeling of emotion, terror and fear that there are no words to convey it. Trauma is lived out in heart-break, gut-wrenching feelings, and intense reactions that hijack the body. To overcome trauma, we need to know about overwhelming physical and emotional sensations — and how to calm the body down.”
In December of 2015, my healthy forty-year-old husband survived a sudden cardiac arrest. While there’s gratitude that he beat the odds, that incident disordered everything in my universe. No matter how many times I shared the story, and followed suggestions to focus on the positive outcome, night terrors plagued my sleep for weeks. My body rebelled against my logic. Panic was random and intense. Constant tension and racing heart impeded the ability to relax and stole sanity during waking hours.
As I felt powerless in life, I took to my mat. Synching breath with movement of my body in a predictable manner was the only thing predictable and safe in that season of life. As I practiced letting go into that rhythm of breath and movement, I was reminded how to do the same in that time of uncertainty – just one breath, one step at a time. It was time spent in moving meditation that helped me remain grounded and to release the enormity of bodily stress that time of life triggered. And in those moments at the end of practice when brief inner stillness occurred, I could marinate in love and gratitude that also enveloped our family through that time in life.
Prioritizing my yoga practice allowed something different to be all-consuming. Breath, movement, focused attention interrupted the preoccupation with past and future. Yoga afforded alchemy without speech or thought.
Yoga meets you in broken places, and weaves you together.
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