An Integrated Practice

I really enjoy being with N (the yoga therapist). It’s different because her job is to help me notice my feelings and to make observations, not to go into them. We don’t address them and in some ways that makes it seem safer to have them, to feel them. 

We talked for a good twenty minutes. I came upstairs, she smiled and said “welcome” and then once my shoes and socks were off and we were on our respective mats, “is there anything you want to share with me today?” And she is so calm and centered and has this lovely resonance to her voice. 

And I said “thank you for not asking me about my wedding. Thank you for being the only person to not assume I feel fantastic.” She responded with “tell me about that if you’d like.

I talked about some of what I had told A earlier in the week, that I felt bad for not being society’s definition of a blushing bride. For the issue with my parents being so damn wonderful last Saturday but they can’t muster that when I need them the most. Only when it checks off society’s checklist of “what parents are supposed to do in <insert situation here>.” We talked about missing my grandmother really acutely, and the body shame. We talked about alcohol. I shared that A read me that Rumi poem and how I felt about it, turns out N loves that poem and asked if she could continue that theme of “welcoming in the emotions” by building today’s practice around it.

We talked about going back to MO and the importance of it. It is too soon. I have had two other triggering experiences regarding my parents and then you add the sexual assault I haven’t even talked about – with anyone but A or Lu – and yet it is unavoidable. And she asked me a variety of questions about how I wanted to feel – how I wanted to experience being there – what my goal is – and invited me to share. 

I like that she knows her role as opposed to A’s, that she doesn’t try to counsel – and I often find new insights from N because she isn’t trying to sort through things, she’s there for whatever is happening now, and her sole goal is to help me safely feel that – whatever that is.

She summarized with “I would like to share what I see – and a reminder to always correct me if I’m wrong as I don’t want to assume – to me you seem very tender right now (yes). It seems like being with them [family of origin] causes you to disconnect (yes), to feel out of control (double yes), and like the only safe place is your bed, alone (yes). And you haven’t had time to come down from that really, because you’ve been so busy (also yes). And I am guessing this reaction came as a surprise to you, the severity of it, because you weren’t expecting to be feeling triggered on your wedding weekend (triple yes). And now you’re heading back and you’re worried about fragmenting yourself, about undoing work you’ve done, about not feeling whole (#nailedit).”

N is very kind, but has this stern concern to her sometimes that lets you know she could throw down if she needed to. She checks to make sure it’s the events around the marriage, not the union itself, that have triggered me. And it is – I am so happy with my husband. And she point blank asked if I had strategies for the alcohol and if A was aware. She can see things as potential roadblocks and ensures she addresses if they need assistance while knowing it’s not her place to be that assistance. And I like that about her. I really do. This gentle and compassionate bluntness and awareness of her role.

She thinks for a moment. “PD, let’s focus on making your practice about control today, and about reclaiming that – about welcoming in your feelings. Being aware.” And I am in awe of how well she has taken my rambling and formed coherent thoughts. How well she truly listens. How she seems to have picked out key points from what I was saying. And I love how we sit when we talk. “However is comfortable”. She’s a yoga teacher and practitioner so she is just this bendy person and it’s relaxed sitting on mats across from one another. 

I had told her about hyperventilating being an issue for me and she first teaches me a new breath, that I really like and I hopefully will ask A if I can use it in our sessions. It requires more focus and concentration and is helpful for me – it makes it easier to stay with things. It is all about the sound of breath – you breathe as if you’re about to whisper but with your mouth closed. She told me “it’s okay if you don’t like this, many people don’t, I invite you to try it – but know it’s not my only card if it doesn’t work” – and she incorporated it into the practice.

We move through the practice. I forgot how optional everything is. I don’t really need the anxiety going to see N. If it feels good to your body, do it. If it doesn’t, opt out. If you want to do something else, do that. You can always share, you don’t have to. Follow your instinct. It’s about the internal experience. 

And I think I’m starting to embrace that because there are only a few things I brought out of that practice – I was very present. I was in control. It was so empowering. 

She used a weighted sandbag at one point while I was in child’s pose. She asked first. She is allllllllll about boundaries. It was near the end, and she said “I would like to try this, but you tell me if it’s okay.” And I said yes. My eyes were closed and she was like “you’ll feel the weight now” and she gently and compassionately placed it on my back and then let her hand linger as she asked if it was okay again. She then said “if for any reason you don’t want this you tell me. It’s fine whatever you decide. We will stay here for a few minutes.” 

It felt so comforting on my lower back. I couldn’t really tell why then (we talked about it after), but I felt like it came off too soon. And then after that we moved through a couple more poses and at the very end, she invited me to lie comfortably and really breathe into that centre part of me and she asked again if she could put a pillow under my knees and asked if I would be willing to try a weighted blanket. She mentioned that since I feel safest right now alone and in bed, the idea came to her to try to recreate that safety. I said yes.

So she laid it on top of me and said “are you okay?” And then when I nodded she said “I want us to stay here for five minutes or so.. I am right here, on my mat, I’m going to be making notes. And I want you to breathe and focus on that centered spot. Focus on breathing into it. And as always if you want to come out or open your eyes you tell me. If you stay the whole time that’s okay too. Whatever you want is okay. You are in complete control PD. If you do stay the whole time we will make sure you come out of this slowly and I’ll guide you. As always, there is nothing wrong with saying, doing, or feeling anything you choose to.

A whole part of me felt activated, but in a safe, controlled way. I listened to her pen scratch as she took notes. I really, REALLY, could feel my core and all the years of emotion buried there. It was beyond uncomfortable as they were very active. But it was safe and I was in total control. And I knew that, I genuinely knew that. And I focused on breathing and knew she was there and wouldn’t let anything happen. And it slowly got less painful and just more uncomfortable. But it was a tolerable thing, and felt important.

She gently encouraged me to start moving my fingers, and then my toes, and then my head and neck, and then my arms, and eventually she pulled the blanket off (with plenty of warning and support, as N does). And I slowly got up and sat. 

She asked how I was feeling, how I was doing. I said I felt more capable of protecting myself, and less out of control. I told her the weights felt really helpful, really nice, but I couldn’t tell her why. I also said I wish I had recorded it – the goal is to do yoga every day in MO to encourage that connected, linear experience and I find her voice so helpful – so she said she would send me a video of a practice she has done and I could use that if I needed her voice, and she would also develop a new practice. She told me the word she was looking for earlier – when I told her about what I wanted to feel in MO – was the word “integrated”. 

I want to feel integrated. I like that word. I like it as a goal – integration. 

“You want to be in MO and be integrated in all your experiences. Within boundaries you set for yourself. You want to let things in but also set your boundaries. And I think, PD, and tell me if I’m wrong or this doesn’t land with you, that the weighted sandbag and blanket felt good because they were a conscious reminder of your body’s boundaries. Where you start and end. If that is true for you, I would like to do more work with them.”

It was true for me. That was exactly what it was. 

We went 1 hour and 15 minutes, but that’s another thing I like about N, she doesn’t rush the process. It’s very different from the boundaries of therapy which are necessary and vital to the work I do there with A. I asked her after how she felt about hugs, and she allowed one, and it felt right. I felt good, got a coffee from my favourite shop (her studio is close to) and decompressed on the bus home. 

I am glad to have a way of moving with emotions in MO, and I’m determined to use my resources there. And I’m absolutely convinced yoga therapy is one of the best choices I’ve ever made. I couldn’t imagine it working without seeing A as well – they are very complementary – and yet so different.

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14 thoughts on “An Integrated Practice

    • Me too. I wish I could spend more time with her. I’m aiming for at least 3 November sessions. I have re-read it too. I want to feel that cozy and comfortable and ‘one’ with myself again.

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  1. I worked with an Iyengar yoga teacher who had some therapeutic training for about three and a half years. She was big on the weighted sandbags too, and I LOVE them. I even got someone to make me some for my home practice. My teacher used to put them on thighs during savasana, several of them (like 3 or 4). It helped my low back release in a way that I often couldn’t achieve myself.

    I also have a son with autism, and weights or blankets help him when he’s distressed. We realized this when he was a preteen. We would search around the house, “where are all the blankets?” And then we would find he had–no exaggeration–17 blankets on his bed. In the summer! The weight of them helped him calm down and relax to sleep but also he’d crawl in there when he felt overwhelmed. Turns out this is very common for people with sensory issues (Temple Grandin writes about this too).

    A lot of issues for people with autism are really similar to those without autism, just more intense. Probably a lot of people respond to that extra weight. (Maybe it’s like being held tightly in the womb? No idea, really.)

    This yoga session sounds fantastic. The teacher really, really gets it! I’m so glad you have this resource to support you.

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    • I had heard of the weight being comforting for individuals with autism – my favourite high school teacher has two autistic children and we have remained close after I graduated.

      I am definitely purchasing myself a weighted blanket to use when I feel overwhelmed. It feels like such an important tool. When I was lying there, and feeling everything, it felt secure like the emotions couldn’t escape where the blanket was… so it felt safer to explore them.

      I love her as a yoga teacher – she DOES really get it, doesn’t she. I am so glad she is a part of my team right now. I need her to counterbalance the intense exploration I do in therapy with A.

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  2. That’s awesome! Between this and yesterday with A, it sounds like a lot has happened. The weighted sandbag and blanket/boundary connection was interesting to me. As I was reading, I was trying to figure out why they’d be helpful, but I couldn’t come up with anything. But it makes so much sense! I’m glad you had this experience today, so glad.

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    • It DOES make sense doesn’t it?? It made
      Me so much more aware of my body and it’s existence and beginning and ending and limits… it was uncomfortable but in a really good way… and it was a tolerable way to explore those emotions. It didn’t overwhelm. I am also glad. I think yoga therapy will prove so helpful.

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  3. Yoga therapy and N sound really great PD, but also, you are great. You are able to work in this healing way – not everyone can.

    I never heard about weighted blankets in yoga….The whole post makes me also think about trying yoga therapy. There is a place here that offers this, though it’s not trauma specific. However, I bet they would be able to work with trauma.

    Too bad you have to go back to MO when you’re still processing the wedding. Take care.

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    • Hey Ellen! Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it. This is my sixth year of therapy out of 10 years of trying so I think I really actively show up as best I can.

      I didn’t expect the weighted blanket at all but when she suggested it decided to try… and it took some adjusting but really did feel like it mimicked this safe container to feel within, and helped me define boundaries around my body.

      N is a trauma specific yoga therapist who teaches and has a psych background – I know she abides by really strict ethics as well, even though it is fairly new and not regulated. The one on one is exceptionally helpful.

      I wish I didn’t have to go back, but I do. I will be trying everything I can to make it back in one piece.

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  4. Dear PD: Reading this is very moving. I wonder if I might ask you a favor. N sounds like just what I need. Would it be OK with her if you gave me her email address or phone so I could ask if she can recommend anyone in NYC. (affording it would be another issue for me, oh well.) You can reach me at per.ardua@mail.com. Thank you and soft hugs. TS

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