Life with Cancer / yoga

Breathing, Biorhythms & the Bija Mantra – How Yoga Heals us…

I don’t know about you, but in the process of wanting to be well I’ve discovered just how disconnected from my sense of self I have been in the past.  Noticing is always empowering, but it’s also frustrating.  When you notice something about yourself which doesn’t conform to the picture you’d like or had subscribed to, your world falls apart, maybe in a small way, maybe fundamentally, it really depends on how much life has been built on flawed foundations.  Take the example of me being a yoga teacher.  It might look and sound to the outside world as though I’m pretty peaceful, but in truth what’s led me to yoga is a lack of peace.  Yoga scooped me up when I was at my lowest, least peaceful stage of life to date.  After leaving a career to raise my children and then seeing both children off to school I felt hopeless and lacked purpose.  I couldn’t relax or find any value in the day to day living of my life.  Anxiety set in, and there in its deepest clutches I found yoga.  In finding yoga I found a shard of peace and clung to it by the skin of my teeth (that’s the amount of peace i knew at the time).  Thank God for strong teeth skin is all I can say.  I hung on until the shard of peace grew large enough to provide a platform, and eventually a stable place from which I could stand up with the most enormous sense of relief and look around at the absolute devastation and emotional disharmony which truly made me up.  Holy Shit.  I was not a pretty picture (despite Instagram images attempting to suggest otherwise) .  This picture coincides, pretty much, with the moment where I was brave enough to look during my colonoscopy and saw the most gnarly, angry looking stage 3 cancer tumour feeding on my sigmoid colon.  I momentarily averted my gaze, you know how it is when you see something really painful or gory.  Then I realised it was in me, and of me and looked really sore.  Emotionally speaking I passed out, the effort of getting to this point was so great that I had nothing left to give, so I let go.  I screamed that I was dying.  I said goodbye to my husband and the following hours and days are a blur, although I do remember the smell of my unwashed self.

At this point Yoga picked me up again, I can’t say it was me because I had no good judgement left.  But a greater force than me scooped up me and my stink and put me down in a yoga class.  People I knew hugged me regardless – those are really good people!  And I moved, remembering how strong the body I was in could be.  During that hour I moved and I breathed and I remembered what life felt like.  Despite total emotional annihilation the thought occurred to me that my body really wanted to be alive, my heart was beating pretty hard, my lungs drawing breath, my muscles engaging, stretching and twisting in a way that my healthy, stink free, non-cancerous yogi friends were aspiring to.  When the class ended, there, as plain as day was myself, sitting on my yoga mat with only the awareness of the huge disparity between my emotional and physical self.  The disconnection of mind and body.  How could I be in two such polar extremities of life at the same time?  This is where I understood the meaning of Yoga for the first time:

‘Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah’ sutra 1.2, which means Yoga is the union of our innate consciousness with our life’s purpose.

Which feels very much like a channelling of all effort and purpose towards a single point.  Whether the point is asana practice, pottery, knitting, motherhood, accounting or anything else we are engaged in.  What yoga feels like is all encompassing, engaging and purposeful to the point of soul nourishing.  And, if we’re lucky, to the degree that it nourishes and becomes of service to those around us by directing those around us towards their own sense of union and purpose.  At this point in my life, aside from being on the page where I suddenly understood what that meant, to all intents and purposes I was living way off the mark.

My epiphany moment was just that, a moment.  The power of knowledge turned in to the frustration of picking up and putting back together a very broken emotional life.  Years of trauma, neglect and abuse had taken their toll and taken a hold in the form of habit, and what felt familiar, what I’d built myself on I now recognised as being part of an unhealthy problem.  I’d built relationships on this stuff.  Holy Shit, how much of my actual life was fake?  Again, I could barely look at the car crash I was experiencing, but at the same time, if I wanted to live I had no choice.

My physical yoga practice at this point left me.  I couldn’t seem to move with any conviction or with any sense of purpose.  But what emerged in its place was something far more gritty.  Something which required much deeper and more fundamental strength, the kind of strength which leaves you feeling nauseous, weak, exhausted and broken through and through.  The kind which swells your face to twice its normal size leaving you with small slits for sore eyes to peer through.  The kind which ejects salty water spontaneously from the eyes, primal howls from the throat and snot from the nose at a rate of which 1 pint water per minute could not satiate, cuing a dull thudding headache which goes on for days.   The habits of practicing yoga that I’d formed led me to my mat, but what happened when I was there was something different.  Physically I was frozen.  Instead I began to look at myself on the inside.

This inner landscape looks really beautiful, but as you look at the paradise beach in the distance, what dawns is the awareness that the only way to get there is to walk, across lava, through earthquakes, and into storms.  Climbing emotional mountains and encountering what feels like choking fog, deadly snakes and false ‘short cuts’ to the psyche.  It’s a case of ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’.  I couldn’t go back after all.

So here I am, 3 months post surgery and somewhere on the emotional journey towards my paradise beach which, for now, is pretty forgiving.  Like a meadow in Spring, but with the knowledge the this too will pass as life’s cycles promise.  I’m talking about my own biorhythms of course.  My own awareness of the ups and downs, round and rounds of my emotional landscape.  I have no idea if I’ll ever get to the beach, and, whilst it’s promise keeps me moving forward, the idea of arriving becomes less and less important.  Instead the moment I’m in is what I’m truly interested in.  I’m becoming a seasoned emotional explorer and adventurer even.  Becoming ever more familiar with my unique pace and rhythm of life.  And, whilst I have picked up a devoted physical practice, moving in a way which honours each moment with true love, and total admiration for a body which has endured and carried me this far, it continues to be my breathing and meditative inward focus which is most strengthening and enlightening.

Connecting with the breath & our own biorhythms through the Bija Mantra:

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It’s often the case that simple stressors disconnect us from our selves.  The expectation of a boss, hungry child, train timetables and work deadlines.  All accumulate in daily life and affect us more deeply than we are often aware of.  The breath can be shallow and quick, like a choppy ocean.  This is fine of course, providing that the ocean finds respite and the waves can subside.  Continual restlessness though can be damaging and here’s where our society needs a break, and where Yoga so often can provide respite.

The Bija Mantra offers us 7 sounds with which we can anchor our breath and awareness on.  Each sound resonates with 7 different points along the spine.  It’s along our spine that the nervous system is operating receiving and sending messages to and from our brains, cells, organs and limbs.  Connecting systematically, through sound and with awareness we can bring a sense of calm and relaxation – essentially easing ourselves back towards our natural, more peaceful biorhythms.  The science behind this links breathing ratios of 5.5-6 even breaths per minute with greater heart rate variability (HRV).

“Nearly a quarter-century of clinical research has shown that when HRV levels are high, a person experiences low levels of stress and greater resiliency. When HRV levels are low, this is an indication of greater stress and lower resiliency.”

“Breathing at a rate of 5.5 breaths per minute with equal inhalation-to-exhalation ratio increases heart rate variability” 

Using the Bija Mantra and it’s 7 sounds, we can successfully bring about this breathing ratio:

  1. Inhale for the count of 5, exhale the sound (either mentally or verbally) ‘LAM’ for 5.  This relates to the space at the base of the spine.
  2. Inhale for 5, exhale the sound ‘VAM’ for 5, relating to the space at the navel.
  3. Inhale for 5, exhale the sound ‘RAM’ for 5, relating to the space at the solar plexus.
  4. Inhale 5, Exhale YAM, relates to the space at the heart
  5. Inahle 5, Exhale HAM, relates to the hollow of the throat
  6. Inhale 5, Exhale OM, relates to the space between the eyebrows
  7. Inhale 5, Exhale OM again, relates to the space above the crown of the head

This practice will take just over a minute to complete and can be repeated over for as long as feels beneficial.  The link below to MC Yogi’s version gives you each of the sounds.

Coming to this mantra and practice for me usually brings about a transformative state, even if I think I’m pretty relaxed to start with.  I often experience my eyes tearing up, yawning, and a deep sense of connection.  I find it brings me a sense of slowing down, loosening up and a feeling of weight in my body, the reassuring connection of myself with the earth.  With that sense of connection to earth comes the reminder that I am here.  Connected to myself and not just the emotional journey in front of me, but the physical path too, whether that’s teaching a yoga class, writing a blog post or loading the dishwasher, I understand (and am still coming to learn) that these things are my work, my purpose and have equal importance in my life.  This is the purpose which is stoking and fuelling my inner fire and my passion for life.  These things fuel and sustain me and therefore each and every living moment should be cherished and honoured.  It’s true, Yoga Heals!

Namaste Yogis, Enjoy your rides…

Follow me on Instagram for real life Yoga (not just the headstand or splits – move over fake perfect life, here comes reality)

 

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