by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
It’s post-Bali yoga teacher training with the crew from Power Living and I am totally spaced out. I don’t know whether I’m coming or going.
One minute I was in conversation with Duncan & the PLAY crew poolside at Potatohead in Seminyak, then I was in a taxi and off to the airport, flying for eight hours overnight, arriving the next day in Auckland, driving 2.5 hours to Tauranga to pick up Samuel, sleeping some more, and driving four hours to Napier. It feels like one continuous experience.
Now here I am.
Getting my feet back on the ground and beginning to make sense of one of the most powerful and transformational experiences of my life.
It’s fitting though, the week long 500hr teacher training was called Allow the Giant to Emerge. We were told to expect transformation. I just didn’t anticipate how damn powerful it would be. After all, I’ve been doing serious personal work for a decade now and I’m used to breakdowns and breakthroughs. I’ve got this process dialled. What more could there be to break through?
Turns out, plenty
And it began before I even left.
Sunday, leaving my four year old in Tauranga with my Mum (thank you Mum!), I headed for Auckland Airport. I’m meant to be excited right? I mean, a week in Bali with no responsibilities doing yoga every day? Luxury! But I wasn’t.
All I could feel was fear, trepidation and nerves. Like I was about to get hit by a tsunami I couldn’t even see yet.
At the airport I made a couple of calls to steady my nerves and see if I could figure out what was going on. But deep conversation with a close friend and my sister didn’t help me understand why I was feeling what I was feeling. Instead, it was on to the plane for a ten hour flight, arriving at 2am NZ time (10pm Bali).
Usually I have no trouble sleeping on planes plus I was tired, but the best I could manage was an hour of Yoga Nidra, so I arrived in Bali tired and strung out. The day before leaving one of my yoga students, who used to live in Bali part-time, suggested I hire a guy to meet me at the plane and whisk me through Customs for $US20. He even gave me a guy’s cell number – just send a text to set it up. I couldn’t decide whether that was divine grace or dangerously dodgy.
Arriving at Denpasar Airport and seeing the massive line-up for Immigration, and the other people with their Balinese Fixers I realised it had been Divine Grace, but I was too scared to take a punt. Kicking myself, I stood in line with a few hundred other hot and tired travellers as we inched our way around the barricades towards the front counters.
Grateful I at least had arranged for an airport transfer I stumbled out of Customs at about 11.15pm. I scanned all the names of drivers lined up three-deep at the barricade. Scanned again. Walk back along the line against the flow of bodies to scan again.
No K-L Grant. Or anything similar. Fuck. It’s almost midnight. I’m in a foreign country for the first time in over a decade (the US doesn’t count). I’m mired in fear and trepidation for some unknown reason and my airport transfer is MIA.
Help desk. They page Ananada Cottages. No response. A driver cruising for a fare calls them on his cellphone for me. They’ve forgotten all about me and tell me to get a taxi. No big deal right? But I know I’m not operating at full capacity and it all seems over-whelming. I size up the driver in front of me, feeling into his energy. There’s a calmness and kindness about him I like, so I shrug and hand him my bag.
It’s 2am (6am NZ) by the time my head hits the pillow in my twin share villa overlooking the pool, and I have no idea what time we start the next day, or what the itinerary is. What a way to start the week.
I’m awake early though, 6:30am and my roommate Nikki, who I know from NZ, tells me meditation isn’t until 8:30am, following by Anatomy at 9am and a 2.5 hr yoga class at 11am. Already feeling scattered as all hell, I just want to get on my mat and flow. No practice until 9am ? Shit!
Instead I content myself with eating breakfast and drawing on reserves to be sociable and present for the folks I meet at breakfast. (Remember names, remember names!)
Meditation and Anatomy are mostly uneventful – I get on through a-ok.
Then the first class hits. I find myself yearning for Shiva Rea and Prana Flow which always brings me solidly into my body and into my heart.
I’m struggling with the power of the practice, despite having practiced Ashtanga solidly for the last six months. What’s wrong with me?
Duncan is leading and he appropriately takes us through a strong grounding practice. While it’s perfect for the 90 or so mostly Kiwis and Aussies who’ve arrived via air in the past few days… it’s bloody challenging for me.
I feel weak, and exhausted, and like I can’t do anything. And I hate it. My inner critic starts picking everything apart and wondering if I should even be there, or if the whole idea is mad and I would’ve been better off saving my money and doing more training with Shiva Rea.
We hit the floor postures and in Supta Virasana I feel my legs surrender and an energetic connectedness I haven’t felt there before. It’s like blockages or weaknesses in particular nadis have suddenly shifting. In that shifting I start to sob. And sob. And sob some more.
And that sums up my experience for the next five yoga classes over thre days – three intensely physical 2.5 hour morning classes and two chilled hourlong evening yin practices – I sob my way through every single one of them.
At least on the Monday practice the tears didn’t start until we hit the floor, maybe after 1.5 hours or so. The yin class that afternoon they start within five minutes, ditto Tuesday morning’s class.
Now I’ve got a Masters in Emotional Breakthroughs on the Yoga Mat, but this is even pushing it for me. I stagger out of classes, focused on mostly holding it together for the social aspects of dining.
I refuse to hide away, and attempt to be as clear and honest as I can about what I’m experiencing without dumping or venting on anyone.
I know this is the process.
I know this is what I’m here for.
I know every time my mind starts finding flaws and faults and questioning the retreat and the teachers that this is resistance and fear.
On the third class (Tuesday morning Power led by Keenan) I experience waves of intense shame washing through my body and I’m wracked with sobs over not being strong enough to cope with life when I crashed into psychosis.
This is the first inkling I’ve had about what’s going on in a concrete sense, but I also know that the shame must originate from earlier in my life. I was 29 when I had two episodes of psychosis and the reactions I had to that, even if they’re only surfacing now, would have come from childhood and early embedded beliefs.
During this practice, when I’m obviously and openly sobbing even as I do as many postures as I can, I also start to wonder why no one is checking in on me, and why none of the teacher assistants are bringing me tissues. I have to ask for them, and then continue to find my own and I soak tissue after tissue with snot and tears.
After the intense shame, and the sense that I wasn’t strong enough to handle my life, I also experience a burning desire for a hug – specifically from a man – a strong man. Someone able to envelope and hold me in my vulnerability.
This desire to be held by the masculine burns in me for at least twenty minutes.
Out of that arises compassion for myself and the relationship choice I made post-psychosis after my fiance had dumped me. I choose an old high school friend who was strong with a heart of gold. Someone who would hold me and love me…. but someone I would never fall in love with so therefore risk heartbreak with. Obviously I still feel some guilt at the heartache I caused him…
That morning (Tuesday) I’d woken up knowing I was going to be filmed teaching that day. And I was right. After spending 2.5 hours crying on the mat in Keenan’s class, I found out in our afternoon session I was to teach in front of Keenan and be evaluated, all on video. I had one minute to compose myself and start a half hour class.
The moment Keenan called my name, any semblance of presence I’d been holding onto totally dissipated. I was gone, out of my body, floating high and far away. I desperately wanted to lead a practice that would allow me to demonstrate postures and therefore energetically move me back into my body at the same time, but that style of practice and teaching was so different from what we’d been doing, I didn’t dare.
Instead I taught a sequence similar to Power Living but with the Mandala Surya Namaskar I use in classes, using breath-directed cues and body vinyasas to emphasize the flow of prana in the body. As expected, one of the first things Keenan remarked on was how ungrounded I was.
No shit Sherlock, hours of sobbing will do that to a woman! Fortunately, the act of tuning in and listening to Keenan’s feedback helped me get back in my body and I was able to take on board some of his suggestions for round two of my teaching.
By now, I’d figured out that Power Living was serious about Emerging the Giant, and they did so by pushing us hard in classes to reveal our breaking points and asking us to bring awareness to whatever we were experiencing.
They also provided plenty of opportunities for us to share in group sessions what we were experiencing.
These sessions, in anything from 40 to 90 people were a key element of the week.
Someone would stand and share what they were finding difficult and how it was making them feel. Whoever was leading the session, usually Keenan, and sometimes Kristi would ask the person questions. (Duncan was always there holding space, watching and listening, but content to stay out of the way unless he had something further to add). These questions were designed to identify the core limiting belief that was driving the difficult experience of the person.
Wednesday morning before class, after four classes of tears, I had to get to my feet and say something. Anything. I knew I’d be sobbing in front of 90 people in doing so, but I was beyond caring. No one had checked in on me or asked how I was doing and I just needed to reach out. Through sheets of tears I got out some words. And then it was back into practice #5.
And yes, more tears.
Sick of it yet?
I sure was.
After class #5, I’d asked Keenan to go clarify the feedback he’d given me on my teaching, as I’d been so ungrounded it was difficult to remember it. After we spent some time doing that, he asked me how I was doing and if I wanted to go through a process.
Hell yes. Anything to get to the core of this and let it all go!
The process is simple.
Identify what’s happening now – what’s difficult, if there’s any emotion in it, where in the body you might be feeling it, and what reaction you’re having to it. once that’s established, see if there’s any relevant childhood memory that arises where you may have felt the same way.
Identify the core belief that’s lying underneath it all (I’m worthless because I’m unlovable – that type of thing), reflect on the gifts you’ve developed as a result of coping with that negative core belief, and then choose a positive core belief that will help you stay in your power when you hit situations that would ordinarily trigger you.
But despite that, despite having done oodles of this work over the last ten years (see this article on co-dependency, this article on being wrong and this article on wound-relating in relationships) and despite Keenan’s talent at working with people, we still couldn’t nail what was happening for me.
Keenan was patient, and persistent, which I appreciated because this work was outside the set session and eating into his lunch time. We went through a few childhood incidents and attempted to define what I was experiencing as a negative core belief, and played around with some positive beliefs. None of it felt quite right.
But the session wasn’t wasted.
Something Keenan said triggered a huge insight.
As I said, I’m been crying on the mat for 15 years, and I’d always attributed it to held emotion that needed to be released. that meant when the tears started to come up, I would go right into them and let them totally express.
Keenan however suggested that while some tears might be stored emotion it sounded like I was being triggered on the mat and going to a powerless place due to some limiting core belief, and all I needed to do was step back into my power.
I realised I’d been operating from an error in logic. Being triggered is totally different from hitting stored emotion. Both of these things could be happening and I had to learn to discern which was showing up in any moment to have a correct response.
Practice #5. Thursday morning. Keenan again. I resolve as I step up to my mat to forget about being strong, to forget about wanting to be more flexible, and instead to just accept myself as I was and give myself what I needed on the mat. Even if it meant doing more prana flow than was being taught, or being more in Child than in Downward Dog.
Co-incidentally, or not, Keenan’s class was all about love and acceptance. By now, I’d caught on to the rhythm of the retreat.
Break them down. Let them stew in their stuff until they step forward and share and then offer support where needed. Now, on the second last day, they were building us back up again and introducing more fun and experiences to do with connection and love.
This was the first practice I didn’t end up in a puddle of tears. Oh the tears still threatening, but remembering the insight from the day before, I changed my response.
Instead of indulging them with the idea they would wash through me, I choose to step into my power immediately and allow myself to be as I was.
I was helped in this process by Duncan’s astuteness in one of our anatomy sessions ealier that day (or the day before?). We’d been looking at the movement of the shoulder in various postures, and I’d been modelling Garudasana, Eagle Pose. All through the week, Duncan had been hammering home the idea that postures don’t matter and anatomical variation counts enormously for posture experience. He proved it by getting up when I was in Eagle and showing us his Eagle Pose.
I was able to comfortably wrap both arms and legs, sitting deep into a squat, toes hooked around my calf muscle. Duncan struggled to wrap either arms or legs and there was no way his toes could hook anywhere near his calf muscle. Not because I was more flexible or because he was a less dedicated yogi, but because of the difference in our anatomy.
He’s muscular and strong with less internal hip rotation. I’m long-limbed and lithe with effortless internal rotation. Duncan knows I struggle with my perceived flexibility and it was a generous and kind reminder that we all have our strengths and our challenges. So what if my backbends and forward bends are limited? It only matters if I make it matter.
Duncan’s insight combined with my determination to be where I was and shift state into power if necessary worked. I did my first yoga practice of the week with next to no tears.
Thank f**king god. I swear. Four days of being back in suffering, mind, ego self and I was over it.
Unfortunately, it was only a momentary surfacing. I wasn’t out of the woods yet. I still hadn’t worked out what my limiting core belief was, despite Keenan’s expert assistance on the Wednesday.
Thursday night, in a long, tiring session of Core Belief work listening to student after student get up and go through the process with Keenan, an old memory from childhood flashed up and something unlocked.
I got it.
And when I got it, a number of key events that I’ve never understood suddenly made sense. My entire life made sense!
But you’ll have to wait until the next article to find out what I got…