I had always been what some people call a "health nut." I ate right, exercised, drank lots of fluids, and got plenty of sleep. I was always filled with energy, and people described me as "cute" and "fun loving." And then I was in an accident.
I have always liked to ride a bicycle. I was riding on the far right of the street when I came to a red light at an intersection. I saw the light turn green and started to ride ahead. Unfortunately, the car that was in the lane next to me didn't see me. The man driving the car was talking on a cell phone, peering off into space. I saw him just before his car, turning right, broadsided me.
The next thing I remember was waking in the hospital. The doctors told me that if I hadn't been wearing a protective helmet I would have probably been dead. The same would have been true if the driver had been going faster, but he had slowed to make a turn. The hard white cast that covered me from my thighs to just below my chest was to help the major injury to my body heal: I had a broken pelvis. I was very lucky, as the break had not caused any damage to my internal organs. They told me that the strength of my muscles (not the size of them—I was fit, not a muscle-builder) had helped to protect me, too. They did warn me that the concussion that had knocked me unconscious might have residual effects in the future, but everything looked okay now.
I spent more than two months in the hospital. The food was, well, it was "hospital food." For the weeks I spent there, my diet was simply horrible. Then I practically had to learn how to walk, run, and bicycle again. Although it had been a relatively brief time, my muscles had weakened and, because I hadn't done any stretching, I was as stiff as a loaf of year-old French bread. Eight weeks after I regained consciousness the doctors finally said the x-rays showed I was "healed" and they removed the cast. I had two weeks of "rehab," and then I was discharged. It was several more weeks before my doctor said I could return to full activities and do anything I had done previously, but I knew that my real healing was just beginning.
I started working out at a gym. It took some time, but I finally got my muscles back to their former level of strength. But something was wrong. I felt listless and had little energy. I used to look forward to exercising, but now I had to really force myself to do it. I really wasn't "fun loving" any more. I was feeling frustrated and angry about this, but I didn't know what to do.
Surprisingly, the more I exercised, the less energy I had. Most people think that if you work out hard, you end up really tired. That's true when you start, but after a short time, you actually have more energy as a result of exercise. But it wasn't working for me. The only thing that might be causing this, I thought, was that I still was not as limber and "stretched out" as I had been before the accident. No matter how much stretching I did, I just couldn't get back to my previous shape. I decided I needed some help.
The classes at the gym, even though they were called "stretching classes," they seemed to focus on strength and muscle building, as well as cardio work, rather than stretching. I decided to try yoga. I didn't know much about yoga other than that you sit and stretch in some positions called asanas, and this sounded perfect to me.
There is a New Age bookstore not far from where I live. I went there and saw a lot of flyers for everything from offers to feng shui your house to Wiccan study groups. I ended up taking home a bunch of flyers for yoga studios. I called several that afternoon.
A young woman named Kala Durga ran the one that sounded most interesting to me. She taught her yoga school from a studio she had created in the large loft at her home.
On the phone she told me that she had initially trained with the people at a Sivananda center. (I learned later that Sivananda was a well-known Indian sage; over two hundred of his books have been published.) She was offering a free introductory class that weekend.
Kala Durga turned out to be a delightful woman of about 40. One of the first things I noticed was that she had a nose that was much larger than it should have been to match the size of her face. However, there was a glow about her and a joyfulness in her smile that made such appearances irrelevant. She moved with tremendous grace and would just slide into amazing yoga postures. "But," she told the ten of us in the class, "in the basic yoga class you will only be learning and practicing about a dozen postures." I signed up that night.
For the next two months, I learned some of the basic yoga postures and a short set of movements called the "Sun Salutation." I practiced daily at home. I felt much better as I quickly became far more limber than I had been just weeks earlier, but my energy had not returned. On the last day of class, Kala announced that she was starting an intermediate yoga class and we were all invited to become members. She continued with our instruction. I was in a position called the "Triangle Pose," and she moved me to adjust my posture. Once she was satisfied with what I was doing, she looked into my eyes. Her dark-brown eyes seemed to sparkle like pools of still water reflecting a moonless, starry night. "Elizabeth," she said, "you might look for a book on yoga with more poses. I think you might develop faster that way." I nodded slightly.
On the way home from the class I stopped off at a large bookstore. They had a small section of books on yoga, but they all looked like stuff for beginners. Besides, I felt rather offended at seeing a book implying that yoga was for "idiots." So I peddled (I had a new bicycle) to the New Age bookstore I had visited before. Their selection of books on yoga was about the same in number as the large bookstore, but they had a much wider variety of titles. Now I had a new problem: which one should I get?
One by one I picked up the books and looked at them. I was finally struck by the image on the cover of The Beauty of Yoga by Jacine Harrington. I thought the cover was probably a model, but as I started to look through the book, I saw they were photos of the author herself.
There was something unique about the cover of the book. Even after I put it back and looked at another book, something drew me to The Beauty of Yoga again. Finally, I realized what it was. I saw something in Harrington's eyes that reminded me of Kala Durga's eyes. I'm not sure what it was, but it made me decide to get this book.
At the time, all I wanted was the asanas, so I really didn't go through much of the explanatory material. From what Kala Durga had taught, I knew that all of our strength and energy comes from the stomach muscles, so I immediately went to the exercises for strengthening the abdominals. This included half sit-ups with bent knees, goddess pose sit-ups with the soles of the feet touching, extended leg sit-ups where you raise the legs to a vertical position rather than raising the chest, open "V" sit-ups where you extend your legs above you in a "V" position and lift your chest toward them, the bow pose where you lie on your stomach, grab your ankles, and lift your upper and lower body, and others. They were treated as a series, so I started adding them to my yoga practices sessions.
I started the intermediate classes with Kala Durga and told her that I was also using The Beauty of Yoga.
"Oh, really?" she asked, her eyes sparkling, head slightly tilted, and an enigmatic smile on her face. "Are you just doing some of the asanas or have you read the other parts in the book? I explained that I was just practicing the section on the abdomen because I wanted more energy. I asked if I needed to read the rest of the book. Her smile seemed to get bigger. "Maybe not yet." She turned and walked away from me, stopped, and looked back at me. "You'll know when," she said. I didn't know what she meant, but I let it drop.
I practiced the asanas from the class and from the abdominals section of the book. Weeks went by. I finally was strong enough to get a job to replace the one I had lost when I was out of work for so long. It was just waitressing, but with the money I received from the settlement for the accident, it was enough for me to get by. Besides, I didn't have a lot of needs or expenses.
Being a waitress is a hard job. You are on your feet for hours, everybody wants you RIGHT NOW! and you come home smelling like all the different foods that had been cooked in the restaurant. At first, it was difficult for me to make it through my shift, but finally I was only tired instead of totally drained. I figured I owed this to my yoga practices.
One morning, before I went to work, something strange and totally unexpected started to happen while I was doing the goddess pose sit-up. Here are the instructions for the pose that I followed, taken from page 168 of the book:
- Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Place the soles of your feet together, allowing your knees to drop to the sides. Inhale and lift your upper body, using your abdominal muscles...Relax your neck and shoulders, consciously not engaging these body parts. Hold for five breaths.
- Exhale and lower your upper body down. Bring your knees into your chest and press them into your chest for a few breaths to release your lower back.
- Repeat two more times.
It was while I was in my third repetition of that first step that everything happened. My body began to tremble. Then it began to shake uncontrollably. I almost felt like something was inside of me, shaking my body. It was like a scene from the movie The Exorcist.
I became terrified. Was I having a seizure? As I shook, I remembered the warning that even though it had been my lower body that had been damaged in the accident, there could have been other results of the collision, including epilepsy and its associated seizures as a result of the concussion. Finally, I felt my hands ball into fists and my body shook from side to side, my hands pounding the floor like an angry child having a tantrum. Then as quickly as it started, it was over.
It seemed like every muscle, organ, and bone of my body ached from the thrashing. Suddenly I felt nauseous. I ran to the bathroom and was violently sick. I wanted to just stay prone next to the toilet, but I couldn't. I had to struggle and get up because I felt an urgent need to use it another way. I had diarrhea that seemed to last for hours. I was now totally exhausted. I struggled to the phone and called my work to tell them I was sick. That took all my strength, but I didn't want to lose my new job.
Drained, exhausted, and aching, I sobbed once and just gave up. I lay on the floor in my living room and started to cry. Soon the tears turned to weeping, as I moaned and felt sorry for myself. Then, the emotions changed—I was no longer feeling sorry for myself, I was angry. I was so filled with rage I didn't believe it! I had never been like this. I was angry with the guy who hit me with his car. I was angry at the way I was treated in the hospital. I was angry with my parents for all of the little things they did and all of the things they didn't do, things that I still remembered and that still hurt. And I remembered the three boyfriends I had been with and how when we broke up I felt betrayed and abandoned—even with the one I was glad to get rid of! And then I was angry with my parents for dying and abandoning me. I pounded the floor with my fists, only this time it was totally under my control. With each punch I felt myself striking the ghosts that had haunted me. I punched and I punched, giving them everything I felt they deserved. I punched the floor until my hands felt numb. Then I cried some more, eventually falling asleep.
I awoke hours later to the ringing of the phone. My body was sore all over. It was Kala Durga. "Something told me to call you," she said. "What's going on?" I told her the story of what happened. Her response to all of this: "What a wonderful experience!"
"Wonderful?" I shouted in shock. "It was the most terrifying experience I've ever had; worse that the accident. At least I was unconscious after that car hit me. How can you say it was wonderful?"
"First, you didn't 'give up' to what happened. You surrendered to the experience. That allowed you to free yourself of all the anger and rage you had been holding in for years. Your body expressed it—that's why you needed to forcefully vomit and move your bowels. You were getting rid of everything that was still inside holding the hate, rage, anger, and so on that you have been repressing.
"Elizabeth, I suggest that you go to your doctor and have a full check up, just to satisfy yourself that nothing else is wrong with you. And while you're in the doctor's office, take The Beauty of Yoga with you. Now is the time for you to read some more. But for the remainder of the day, get some rest."
I thanked her and called the doctor's office. When I told them what had happened, they wanted me to come in immediately. However, I was so totally sore and tired, there was no way I could do it. I told them I felt fine and made a work-me-in appointment for the next day. They said if I had any other problems I should call the paramedics and get immediate help. When I got off the phone I made myself some miso soup, drank about half of it, and went to bed.
I slept for fourteen hours. During that time I had several dreams. In my dreams were my parents, relatives, friends, lovers, and the driver of the car that put me into the hospital. In my dream, I came up to each one, wanting to strike them. "Why?" they would ask.
"For all you did to me and for all the things you should have done and didn't do," I replied.
But their eyes told me a story that I hadn't realized before. It was as if I could read their minds as they said things to me like: "I'm sorry. I didn't know any better. If I had known how I hurt you, I would not have done those things to you. I would not have ignored you. I would not have left you."
I wanted to punch them. Sometimes, I felt like I wanted to kill them, but how could I? I forgave and hugged each one of them. As I did, it felt like an enormous weight that I had been carrying dissolved and vanished. Soon, forgiving them became easy and a pleasure.
When I awoke the next day my body was still sore, but I was different. I was absolutely filled with energy. I never realized I could have so much energy!
In the doctor's office, I started to read some more information from The Beauty of Yoga. On page 165 it says, "Your emotional body is directly linked to your physical body. When you are weak on a physical level you are weak in your corresponding emotional body, and vice versa.
"This is especially true in your Solar Plexus, your emotional and power center, where you store your energy, your power, and your emotions.
"Weakened abdominal muscles translate to a weakened emotional body..."
The book had more information about this area, which it related to the third chakra, on pages 163 and 164: "This is where you house the powerful energy of your emotions and feelings, and where you act on those feelings. Your third energy center has to do with the use of your personal power and it is here you experience the action of breaking away from societal beliefs, where you let go of attachments and feel comfortable with yourself for doing so. This energy is strong and positive, connecting you to the world around you."
"As you enter this energy center, center yourself and ask that you release any emotional element that no longer serves your purpose and affirm: 'I feel my feelings.'"
I don't think I had to "ask." It just happened.
The doctor (her office is at the hospital) had a variety of tests run on me. If I had experienced a true seizure, it should have shown up. It didn't. She asked me how I was feeling at the moment. "I feel really good," I told her. She made the same comment as the nurse on the phone, telling me that I should get help immediately if it happened again. I told her I would, but an inner feeling told me that it wasn't going to happen again.
With Kala Durga's help, I have been going through the rest of The Beauty of Yoga . I had not known that yoga and the chakra system (about which I knew little) were so tightly integrated and related. It seems like every day I have new and fresh insights into myself.
I have so much energy now I almost don't know what to do with it all. I breeze through my shift as a waitress. My mood is almost always good—even my tips have increased! Kala has become more than my teacher, she is also my friend. Sometimes I help her with the beginning classes. We also discuss the impact of each of the chakras. For example, the fifth chakra, at the throat, helps you with communication, both with yourself and with others. Asanas to stimulate this chakra include neck lifts, the camel, the rabbit, shoulder stands, the plough, and others. Beside the yoga postures, there is a large section in the book explaining the details of the chakra system.
I imagine that it is going to take me several years to go through all of the information in this book as well as practicing and mastering all of the techniques. As I write, I've almost finished Kala's advanced course, and she is encouraging me to get training from the Sivananda people, too. She says if I do, she will let me teach classes rather than just help her.
I think I'd like that.