***Trigger warning: In these pieces, I write freely. There will be things that can be triggering to someone who has similar trauma. Please read with caution.
I’ve been practicing yoga for about six years. When I first began, I took one on one lessons because if someone would have said “crow pose” I would have begun flapping my arms like wings and doing my best crow imitation (but like a peaceful, enlightened crow). I’ve come a long way.
A few years ago, I was in Vietnam and found a wonderful hot yoga studio in Hanoi. Multiple times a week I would gather my travel mat and my courage and make my way on foot through the roaring traffic of Hanoi to embrace the heated studio and the fast, hot hour of poses.
This studio gave me a different sense of community from others. While I was the only male, white person, and beginner, I felt like I belonged because the teacher helped each of us push our potential. Their guidance left no room for doubt about our capabilities, or sense of belonging in the space.
Most studios I have visited have been welcoming and kind. No matter where I am going to practice, I look for the back corner to make sure I feel somewhat hidden. Here’s the thing for me when it comes to physical performance of any kind in front of others: I have a little boy inside of me who learned around 5-6 years old that he was not the son his father wanted. My father’s world was centered around football, baseball, and his other son who loved those things. My world was centered on gaining my father’s approval or hiding when I couldn’t. He often made suggestions about me being like my brother, and if I knew how I would have. Not because I wanted to be like my brother, but because I wanted to be liked by my dad. I had a lifetime of future debt to my dad because I was never able to navigate his approval. He made me pay for that.
I learned to hide early.
Multiple times a week I enter a yoga studio and grab my back corner (safe) spot. I often hear the teachers insist that we listen to our bodies and know when rest is needed. If you practice yoga, you know one part is having a comfortable pose to connect to, if ever something feels too intense. They also suggest lying still during the entire class if that’s what your body says.
Now, as much as I love listening to my body, I am extremely productive and walking to yoga to lay on their floor trips up my inner productivity manager. I have envied others who choose to lay still, but I have never considered that invitation would exist for me… until last week.
I am moving out of the country this summer. I get sidetracked with the amount of stuff I must get done, and at this session, when we started on our backs my body reminded me that I lacked sleep due to travel planning and begged me to take the invitation to just lay still and rest.
The critic in me judged the purpose of walking to the studio to lay on the floor. My mind called me lazy. My body begged me to stay still. I listened to my body.
There was intense angst in the beginning. I was paranoid of what others must think of me, why I am not participating, and how they will judge me when the poses turn to the back of the room where my safe corner would be exposed, and my whole self seen. I felt that attention would center how often I feel like I do not fit in, and how in a moment’s notice someone’s response affirms that thought.
As I laid there, I put one hand on my stomach and one hand on my chest and was mindful that it was not just my body that was tired.
During that hour, I began doing some breathing exercises that have become part of a routine for me. I also scanned my body and mind and asked what needed to be seen. I was quickly taken to that little boy I mentioned earlier. The one who learned to shrink and disappear when he could, with the hopes he would not feel like a burden to those around him.
I did what I try to do for others daily. I saw innocence, hurt, neglect, shame, and I welcomed those feelings from that little boy and envisioned him bringing that to me and me showing him that taking a rest on the floor was for him.
I can hear the teacher’s voice fade in and out. I see flashes of shadows as the others in the class move their bodies, but I lay still and see myself holding that boy and again and again saying “I will pause.”
What I saw most is how afraid he is to be seen. What the world feels like to a little boy who knows he is not wanted and the ways he has adapted to blend in so that his presence never provokes that reaction again.
But that is hiding. That is me being fearful that there was truth in my father’s lack of vision to see that while I was not what he wanted, I was what he had, and it was his job to bend enough to help me learn who I am. When we don’t have this experience, we make our way through the world assuming others will name us as a burden again and again.
I return to this boy. I see his old wounds and see how afraid he is and I tell him that I am glad he is here, and I am glad I see he needs comfort. With my eyes closed, I envision the picture of a five-year-old me that sits on my desk, and feel my heart break a little bit, because to any stranger that picture says “This kid is hurting.”
I am still. Emotion comes to my eyes, and release and relief come as I express to that little boy that how he is made is what makes my life feel whole now. I tell him I will never stop holding him, remembering him or being available to walk him back to me.
Oh, the release when we love our most hurt parts. Of course, we do not want to remember. There is so much pain there. But tied to that pain are beliefs that kids cannot navigate, and it is my job to tell that young boy he is not a burden. I can tell him that if others felt he was a burden it was because there was so little available, but it was never because he needed too much.
No kid is a burden.
Thank you for being here and for making room for part of my story.
By the way, if you ever visit Vietnam, you will find a culture of people willing at all costs to make sure you have what you need. The depths of generosity in them are an experience that will never be appreciated enough by those who visit there.