The first and second installments of my story cataloged my personal journey with breath and yoga. Now, as a practicing Yoga Tune Up® teacher, my journey was about to take me to another YTU immersion, Breath and Bliss.
I had never been to LA before, but I was determined to attend Breath and Bliss in Tarzana, California with Jill Miller after she came back from her precious maternity leave with her second child, a beautiful little boy named Asher.
This training could not have been more different from the Level 1 certification training. Instead of tuning up our bodies, we were tuning up our breath and our vagus nerve – that transatlantic cable of a nerve that opens a door onto our parasympathetic nervous system.
Could I be moved out of my habitual fight and flight stress? I wondered this as I gripped the steering wheel of the tiny Fiat I had rented and navigated those famous LA highways. I worried that it would probably take the whole weekend just to recover from my highway adventure from LAX to my hotel room near the Tarzana YogaWorks.
I loved every minute of Breath and Bliss. Can you imagine starting a Yoga Tune Up® class that starts with savasana and continues that way for several hours? Each participant, on his or her mat, experienced something different as we all learned about the vagus nerve and how we could access it. Each of us, though, had a different inner-stress story that needed release.
One of our many inner searches, invited us to lay with our neck and heads turned to the side on the Coregeous® ball. We breathed and gently pressed our heads into the ball. I felt a whoosh – that’s the only way I can describe it – as tension stuck in my neck left my body. I felt a wash of relief. As a result of my life-long habitual headaches, I had developed the very unhelpful habit of cocking my neck in one direction and then another as a way to shake out the tension. With this habit, I was treating my body like a bicycle – just shift a gear.
But my breath, the feeling of deep oneness within me, and the cushion of the ball did just the opposite of my typically rough treatment of myself. As I melted into the softness of the ball, I became unstuck. I now use this process for myself and share it in my classes because many of my students also experience stuckness in their necks and tension that creates headaches.
After several months, I found a story that helped me to understand what kind of work was being done during those amazing three days at the Breath and Bliss immersion.
I had been reading Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want ( Simon & Schuster, 2012). Beck uses the “technology” of traveling inward into what she calls the mystical skills of Wordlessness and Oneness, which bear some similarity to meditation and spirituality (but much more fun!). I was fascinated by Beck’s own personal story and her advice to others seeking their true purpose.
Much of Beck’s book is built on her deep connections with the oneness created when we connect deeply with animals. She told the story of how her dear friend Koelle, renowned as a horse whisperer, taught her to communicate and interact with a horse. Oneness, for a horse whisperer, is when you feel an animal “join up” with you. In Beck’s words, you’ll feel, “the soft footsteps coming closer, of the palomino’s soul touching yours, of the sweet velvet noses against your back” (p.68).
Back in Tarzana, as we felt our mats beneath us, we learned to breathe in new ways. We learned to roll our balls in specific ways to contact the vagus nerve. We hugged ourselves and moved in undulating patterns. We softened our hard shells. And we created space for each of us to engage in a deep, deep practice of yoga and breath. We welcomed our souls and felt ourselves “join up” and enter ways of being with ourselves that felt like a new self that that welcomed an old self to shift, to melt, to respond.
In all of this, we called on each of ourselves to join up with those parts of ourselves that had been cut off or distanced. In this deep practice, we were becoming self-soul whisperers.