My shoulders have always been tight, but recently, they’ve gotten worse. Now they are really tight and seem to be crying out for my attention: “We’re carrying the weight of your world and we can’t take it any longer!”
I’m going through a divorce, and truthfully, it sucks. While the optimist in me has uncovered some positive consequences of being suddenly single, the reality is that I’ve found myself living a strange new normal, full of devastating heartbreak and paralyzing fear, resulting in sleepless nights and yes, tight shoulders. Thrust into a disturbing world of constant conflict and divorce lawyers, I’m scrambling to find a decent, affordable place to live, and grasping to find a way to pay my bills.
However, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself.” So, I’m creating a brand new life… a new business, a new support system, and eventually, a place in my heart for a new relationship. I know I will succeed. But in the interim, the vacuum of uncertainty has left mounds of additional stress, painful introspection, apprehension and worry, because here’s the brutal truth: Recreating yourself at 48 is hard work.
Restless nights have turned into yoga-less days that have rolled into yoga-less weeks. Lack of time and energy, numerous part-time jobs, and difficulty prioritizing (a myriad of legitimate excuses) have made a stranger of downward facing dog. What was once a sacred, enjoyable, non-negotiable part of my life has become nearly obsolete. My unexpected divorce, an erratic yoga practice and long hours on my laptop have left my body in pain and riddled with grief.
One recent Saturday morning I was determined to make it to a yoga class. The focus of the class turned out to be shoulder openers. “Excellent,” I said to myself as we eased into the first sun salutations. “My shoulders are so tight, this will feel great.” What it felt like was being hit by a tsunami! Within the first five minutes of class, I was fighting back the tears. Shoulder opener after shoulder opener caused a torrent of tears to rain onto my yoga mat. Too much had been held in for too long. Wave after wave of sorrow surged through my body as the tension and tightness that had been residing in my shoulders was set free. All I could think was, “Seriously? It’s been 18 months since my husband left me, why is this happening now?”
Apparently, my loyal 20 minutes on my meditation cushion had kept me from acting like a crazy lady, yet it was doing nothing for the grief that had stealthily hijacked my body.
At one point I was so near hysteria, I actually had to leave the room. I returned, somewhat composed, and mercifully, class was over. We sat in meditation. It felt so sweet. After all, the point of a physical yoga practice is not to give you sculpted triceps and a yoga butt (whatever that is), but to prepare the body and mind for meditation. Propped up on a blanket, legs crossed and eyes closed, I dropped in. It was blissful… for about thirty seconds. Then, another storm came, thankfully, no more hysterical sobbing, but just a slow steady downpour. Tears rolled down my face as I suddenly got it. How could I have been so stupid? I know better, I’m a yoga teacher.
For the past 18 months, I have been hiding from my grief, which in turn has been hiding in my shoulders. At this point in yoga class, however, during meditation, I actually experienced the presence of grief in my chest. I didn’t feel something wash over my heart center, as flowery yoga speak might describe, but I felt and saw a dense, three-dimensional, black mass spreading across my entire torso and I knew instantly what it was. Grief had become my chest; it actually occupied my entire thoracic region. I could sense every ounce of what felt and looked like three tons of sorrow. It was as if my pain and heartache walked right up, stuck out a hand and forced itself upon me like some sort of grief Grim Reaper, “Hello Lisa, I am your pain and your sorrow. You can run from me, but you no longer can hide.” I sat and I cried. After class, I hid in the bathroom and cried. I cried the rest of the day. I sat at a girlfriend’s kitchen table that night and cried into the glass of wine she humanely offered. I was crying when I woke the next morning, only to cry through my meditation practice. The gates had been opened.
Yoga is sometimes said to be the union of body and mind. All of the grief from the past 18 months: the abandonment, fear, heartbreak, anger, all of these dark emotions and more had set up shop in my body, because what we think with our heads and feel with our hearts gets absorbed by our physical being. When we practice yoga, we stretch and move and keep the energy, or prana flowing. It keeps us from getting stiff from physical activity and prevents emotions from settling in and manifesting themselves as bodily tension. Yoga helps us process life.
My meditation practice had enabled me to keep grief from overtaking my mind, but there it was, present and demanding to be accounted for, in my shoulders. What I learned that Saturday is that we can’t just tend to one part and turn a cheek to the rest. We are not dualistic creatures. We must care for both our bodies and our minds.
I’m still crying, but now I know why. It’s because even though I’m moving forward, I’m still scared and I’m still sad. But I know that if I make the time to roll out my mat and practice my yoga, it will help me look Mr. Grief in the eye and say, “Not these shoulders, buddy. ”
Photo courtesy of Glori Berkel, www.berkeldesignstudio.com