So as some of you know from my classes, I recently got into a tussle with my car door, and ended up with stitches in my left pointer finger. (If anyone can help me understand how one slams their own finger in a door, please do–I still have literally no idea how this occurred!) Even though I knew pretty quickly that I was going to be fine, the whole affair was very bloody, and very shocking, and pretty vulnerable. And what happened in the next, oh, 24 to 48 hours was pretty powerful: the event would come to mind, and my entire body re-lived the experience in a flash. My lips pursed, my eyes squeezed shut, my heart raced, my whole body tightened, and I would often hear myself make some sound, like a little groan, or that “mm-mm!” sound that means “no!” Snapshots of the trauma–the sound of the door, the blood, the dizziness, the digital block given in the ER–returned again and again without warning, as my brain seemed to try to figure things out, and make sense of it all.
Now, because I’m a yogi, I found myself doing something I know I wouldn’t have done 15 years ago before my regular practice began: as soon as I noticed the constriction and realized what was happening, I tried to soften into it. I allowed the images and sensations to be there and play out, as I simply brought breath deep into the body, until I felt relaxed–or somewhat relaxed–again. The replay button faded after a couple of days, and now, weeks later, I can remember the incident without anguish. I don’t know that, before yoga, I would’ve even noticed the bodily changes that accompanied the flashbacks, much less known how to deal with them. So again, another little situation that makes it so clear to me that yoga will have powerful, positive effects all throughout my life, for as long as I choose to practice it. It’s about making every-day life better, about finding more comfort in this world, and about letting experiences be what they are as we move through them, rather than hold, stuff, repel, or harden.
The experience also helped me remember my empathy for trauma–this was one little finger, one very small event in the grand scheme of things, and yet significant ripples waved through the next few days, in my body and in my mind. What on earth could it be like, then, to suffer a more serious injury, to be the victim of an attack, to witness war… Yoga teaches us that if we pay attention, we do all know various shades of suffering, and can therefore empathize, even if just a little bit, with the experiences of our brothers and sisters on earth. While we may not have walked in others’ shoes, we can fully explore our own experiences and then imagine what those experiences would be like two-fold, ten-fold, in another country, or with a different set of circumstances. Of course I’m not saying a finger injury is in any way equal to a war experience. I am saying that feeling deeply–as difficult as it is–has many benefits, and that increased empathy is one of them.
How has yoga helped you soften? How has it helped you empathize?
Namaste as always,