I just returned from a yoga retreat on the island Isla Mujeres in Mexico. We enjoyed daily practice from a second-story yoga platform overlooking the water. We rolled out our mats in the mornings before breakfast and in the evenings just before dinner. Sometimes, the winds ushered in scattered rains, yet we remained protected under the straw roof. Always, the birds sang to us.
I signed up for this trip shortly after my children returned to regular in-person school after more than a year of school interrupted in some form. It was also just more than a year after moving into this home and nearly a year and a half after my husband’s deployment to NYC I signed up to “get away.” But really, it was a homecoming, albeit on foreign soil.
Just before the March 2020 shutdown, I had enjoyed a regular yoga practice that balanced fiery flow classes with those focused on rest and restoration. I had regular powerful experiences of awareness and love. During the shutdown, I barely held on to online practice and when I did show up, I could hardly focus. Then, I signed up for a year-long yin yoga immersion class timed with the five seasons of Chinese Medicine. I got back in touch with the power of yoga to invite presence, a sense of wholeness, and an innate reception of unconditional love.
Recently, I explored the power of yoga for emotional and physical healing in a chapter I wrote for a to-be-published book on grief. I finished writing it on this retreat. At the same time, I discovered a deeper connection to yoga–and a sense of my own wholeness–by practicing outside.
Our yoga instructor invited us to:
Notice, everything around you is an invitation.
Notice how you are held by the earth.
Let your skin breathe in the salty air.
Feel the water in the air around you. Know that like the world around us, you are comprised mostly of water.
Smooth out the space around you with your hands (raising them up and down in front of us as we breathe) and let this calm space be an extension of the calmness you feel inside.
The invitation during these yoga classes wasn’t just to connect to the wholeness in ourselves, it was to connect to the wholeness around us.
Throughout the week, we explored nature as a metaphor in classes designed to focus on earth, water, wood, fire, and air.
For example, the instructor often reminded us “water is patient and eventually makes its way.” This reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s words, “Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing, in the end, can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” (The Penelopiad)
I have alluded before to my experience with therapy last year. The therapist reminded me to be gentle and patient with myself and to love myself as I offered rest and restoration to my mind and body. The therapy I received, combined with yin yoga immersion, helped me explore a deeper presence in the here-and-now moment. Like water, I eventually made my way.
This way of therapy was very yin compared to some of my more fiery styles of training. The fiery styles focus on changing now and in the moment, taking sole responsibility for ourselves, and getting out of our own ways. This style of therapy can also be healing and powerful. But, oh, the wisdom in knowing when to go for fiery, and when to take the time to truly, even if slowly, make your way to loving and accepting yourself.
Wisdom lies in knowing which style is needed at the moment. Last year, I didn’t need to label my actions as “sabotage,” and get out of my way to go on and work. Rather, I needed to lie down in the pool of whatever water I could find, to soak it up, and trust that it would eventually make its way through me to all the spots searching for life and love, and trust that I would find my way to that which matters.
Perhaps the greatest of metaphors that nature offers to us is this: It is always there, it never turns its back on us, no matter what we have done (or not done), we can approach nature’s extended hand. Then, eventually, we discover that hand is our own; that love and acceptance “out there” comprises our very core.
Affirmations found in nature:
- Air longs to become my breath.
- The earth holds me.
- Water wraps me.
- Fire strengthens me.
- Wood extends to me a bouquet of flowers.
- The sky beholds me.
- Nature will sit with me just as I am.
- I am a unique expression of the world.
- I am part of the universal consciousness.
- I have worth and value.
- I am enough.
- I am loved.
- I belong.
The gift of wholeness:
The gift of experiences of wholeness isn’t that we may be happy instead of sad, scared, or angry.
- Rather, it’s that we may feel whatever authentic feeling we have at that moment in such a way that we hold it and honor it. We draw nearer to it, listen to it, and heed its wisdom. We find happiness in this way of meaningfully being in the world–with all of our experiences, as well as with the experiences of others.
The gift of nature’s metaphor isn’t that we are whole and, therefore, unaffected by those around us.
- It’s that we are whole and know that we can hold our own experience and be present to the experience of others. In this way, we validate their stories even as nature validates ours.
Fortunately, one doesn’t need to travel abroad to connect to nature. During virtual school, I gathered moments of connection that I cultivated by stepping outside and breathing in the fresh air. (“Air longs to become my breath.”) Sometimes, I walked around the yard with bare feet (The earth holds me.), and other times, I looked up and stared into the sky (“The sky beholds me.”). I strung together these pearl-like moments into something I could hold on to when it seemed like everything around me was falling apart. I placed it around my neck.
The bottom line for me is that self-care doesn’t invite us into wholeness by inoculating us from negative experiences. It helps us move toward them so we can explore them from within our experience while maintaining a sense of connection to ourselves and others.
Let the desire to move away from and shut down negative experiences be an invitation to find connections in our lives and discover just how those threads hold us. And make us whole.