A few weeks after my husband died, I learned of a local yoga retreat scheduled for the first weekend in April. My friend, Jessie, agreed to go with me so I signed us both up. Leba, my friend/yoga teacher, knew that her friend/teacher from her studio was teaching at the retreat, and asked her thoughts about me attending in my current state. Michelle thought it would be okay and offered to look out for me. Leba made sure to introduce us before the retreat. Michelle radiated a calm, loving presence and put me right at ease. (I could not have imagined that two years later, Michelle would become one of my yoga teacher trainers. It has been a joy and a blessing to train and practice with her).
When Jessie and I arrived at the retreat site, a bumper sticker jumped out at us that exclaimed, “Will work for poop!” We side eyed each other in contemplation, giggled and wondered aloud what that could possibly mean. It took a little of the edge off of walking into an unknown situation in the depths of my torment.
I was not at all psyched about sleeping in bunk beds in a room full of strangers, but I was very invested in experiencing the retreat. My plan was to not say much, and I didn’t. I found myself wishing it was a silent retreat so I would not have to utter a word. I planned then to look into silent retreats, and though I still have not done the research, the idea of a mute gathering still beckons to me.
I remember glancing at people thinking, they have NO idea about my suffering, and I, in turn, have no clue about their inner worlds. Kenny’s death was my bizarre, terrible initiation into a stark reality of the world: People are living with unseeable, untold, unfathomable pain. They always have been, I was just blissfully unaware of the existence of this particular human resonance. Now, tuned into the reverberation, everything felt dissonant and disturbed.
I took the classes, meditated, journaled, picked at the food and spent time in the woods. I released many tears and made no attempts to connect with anyone. I felt totally incapable of making a new friend or even an acquaintance. Michelle did check in with me, which I very much appreciated, and I enjoyed taking her class.
At one point, Jessie nudged her head toward one of the teachers and said, “It is definitely her car.” I can’t remember her name, her face or her class, but I do know this was declared as a compliment as we both dug her vibe and style. I nodded and grinned in agreement.
During the last session on Saturday evening, the cabins lost all power. We stood in the dark for a few minutes, and then it hit me: I live fifteen minutes from here. I could go home and sleep in my own bed. Why didn’t I do this last night?! My friend smiled at my slow revelation and said she was surprised, knowing me well, that this hadn’t been my plan all along. My brain was tied up and blurry from shock and pain, so I was not at all surprised I had missed the obvious. We promised each other we would wake up early (though I would be the one to sleep in or bail, not her) and ensure we were back for the first class, an early morning meditation. I kept my word and we arrived, well rested, early Sunday morning before the first session began.
The weekend wrapped up with a final yoga class. We practiced in front of the windows facing the woods, our mats illuminated in the late morning sun. I gazed at the birds skittering around like the thoughts of Kenny ricocheting in my mind. As I settled in for savasana, a powerful feeling washed over me. It was a knowing, and a presence I recognized as Kenny. I swear I knew before the first note . . . our song was about to play. I heard the guitar chords, and a wall of anguish flooded over from deep inside of me, a rapid surge of countless, complex emotions. Relief that he was there; despair that he also very much was not and never would be again. I let it all come, allowed it to pummel me, made no attempt to quell the crushing wave. It is worth noting that I had never before heard any Ben Harper song play during savasana, let alone our song: Forever.
Jessie gently placed her hand on me as I wept in savasana. The music stopped, the class ended and I eventually peeled myself up from the torrent of grief. I couldn’t speak, there were no words, as we made our way outside and across the parking lot. Sure enough, that teacher was getting into that car. It felt impossible to hear my own laughter arise after that cataclysmic wave, but there I stood, chuckling anyway.
I thought of a shirt for sale at my yoga studio that stated “i heart savasana.” I drove straight to the Yoga Lounge that afternoon just to buy it. It would serve as my reminder of that brutiful moment and connection with Kenny in savasana. I had felt him whisper through our song that he was proud of me for going to the retreat, for finding ways to survive the seemingly unsurvivable. I still have the shirt and let it bring me back to that moment, to the heart-wrenching reminder of our forever changed forever.
“Just here for the savasana” became my motivation. I continued to return to my mat because of the sweet, gentle encouragement and support from Leba. I felt safe only in her studio and it is very unlikely I would have gone to practice anywhere else. She gave me a reason to leave my house, a safe destination, a peaceful space to move and breathe and bawl on the floor, a way to exercise some control over my experience. I arrived, hugged her, practiced in class, kept my head low on my way in and out. I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to perform small talk, I was there in pursuit of my survival alone.
What I learned on my mat stayed with me in my grief and my life–I can do hard things. When it feels too difficult, I just have to remember to pause and breathe. Let it be difficult. Breathe with it. Feel it in my body. Surrender. Let it shake me and strengthen me. When I want to give up, focus on taking a deep breath. And then another. And then another. Time, somehow, passes this way and so do emotions.
Then, at the end of each practice, the glorious moment would unfold before me. After the effort comes the ease. Savasana. My release. My chance to let out all I had churned up with my mindful movement and breath. Stagnant fragments of trauma loosened and flowed out of me through my exhales, sweat and tears. This was the core reason I kept showing up on my mat, and why I still do. It wasn’t just a clever saying on my clothes, I really was there for the savasana, to create and experience the healing power of the release that comes in the stillness after the strenuous sequence of a well-taught class.