“How are you feeling,” my friend asks as she puts her hands on top of each of my shoulders, her green eyes staring back at mine.
“Like I want to get back in the car and drive away,” I reply as the tears well in my own green eyes.
“Would you like to pray, then, before we go inside?”
We place our heads together, wrap our arms around each other, and pray
My best friend had been inviting me to try the Yamuna body rolling class she attends for well over a year. For those unfamiliar—as I had been prior to my friend’s invitation—Yamuna body rolling was created in the late 1970’s, and the movements are based on the skeletal and muscular structure of the body and activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. In the simplest terms, you use various sizes of balls and the weight of your body to release tension in muscles and tendons; elongating muscle fibers, facilitating muscle relaxation, and increasing joint flexibility. Regardless, my brain kept screaming, “TOO FAT! You are too fat for this class. You’ll pop the balls, make a fool of yourself, and everyone will judge you. Not to mention how unsafe this entire endeavor is. A new place?! Are you kidding me? You can’t possibly keep yourself safe in a new place on the other side of town.”
When my friend presented me with the three-hour, leap day Yamuna body rolling workshop—which also included prayer, breath work, light Pilates, and journaling—I knew I had to fight back against my PTSD and leftover eating disorder voice by saying yes. That didn’t mean, however, that everything was settled down inside my mind.
Immediately after registering, my brain began asking me, “What have you done? You can’t go to this class. Don’t you know the danger inherent in new places with new people trying new things? It’s not safe! It isn’t too late to un-register. They’ll understand; you’re fat and not very athletic, they’ll welcome it. Besides, did you forget what I told you about popping the balls?! Or about it being completely unsafe?!” Those thoughts continued, unfortunately, up until the day of the workshop.
Fortunately–because my brain has been running on that same old hamster wheel of shame/anxiety/PTSD/ED for several decades–I felt, for once, that I actually knew what actions to take to calm it down a little. I am very familiar with this particular hamster wheel. I prayed, I completed a CPT worksheet, I engaged in some grounding activities, and talked to my friend about my concerns. The fear didn’t go away all the way, and it was much less than before.
We enter the beautiful yoga studio that the workshop had partnered with the house the event, and my shame is overwhelming. Not to be outdone, my PTSD joins the party; informing me that I need to sit “crisscross applesauce” with my arms across my chest as long as possible to keep my body small, safe, and unobtrusive. Fear unites with PTSD, and I find myself doing exactly what my brain told me to do. My friend—noticing my body language–gently touches my hand, reminds me that I’m safe, and reassured me that I can relax. I appreciate and am grateful for these reminders. I glance at the verse on the wall, “Be Still,” it reminds. I would get many more of these from my friend, the instructor, and God throughout the next three hours.
Rather than give a play-by-play of the entire three-hour workshop, I’ll hit the highlights.
The workshop tasked me with acknowledging my body and the tension it still holds from my trauma. Though my trauma happened in the past, my PTSD does an inordinately great job of rehashing the trauma and keeping me in a frequent state of fight/flight/freeze…which keeps the trauma’s tension tightly woven into my muscles. One of the Yamuna routines we practiced was placing the ball under our body around our collarbone, rolling it outwards towards our armpit, flipping over onto our back with the ball under our shoulder, and back again. While doing this routine, my hands began to go numb. Oh great, now I’ve paralyzed myself. I found out, after the fact, that the reason my hands went numb is because there was so much built up tension in my shoulder muscles that the ball wasn’t even enough to roll it out. It wasn’t until that moment that I began to recognize that my trauma is more than the PTSD “safety system” I created to protect me, more than my mental duress, and more than my fear…it’s my body, too. Not that my body, itself is trauma; rather, my body has internalized and held on to my trauma from sexual abuse and eating disorders in an effort to protect me. Though it did protect me at the time, my body’s ability to absorb the trauma feelings no longer serves me well. It is difficult to recognize the myriad ways in which trauma impacts us until we start healing. I, for example, had no idea my body was holding so much of my trauma until I began the Yamuna class.
One of the things that really stuck out to me about the class was when the instructor said that, in order to heal completely from our trauma—becoming holy and whole as God intended—we would need to integrate our bodies into our therapy (or whatever healing protocol we’ve created) and our relationship with God. My body is one thing I have always avoided; thinking I could hate, distrust, and ignore my body into submission. Bringing my body into the healing process, I felt, would only complicate things. Dissociating from my body—as had been my norm for the past thirty or so years—seemed as natural to me as breathing. As such, it became a logical aspect of myself to avoid when it came to healing. There’s a certain, indescribable feeling–because I was sexually victimized in this body and that this body was dominated by an eating disorder for over 20 years—that this body can’t be trusted; that bringing my body into the healing process would somehow ruin or mar the healing, and further damage what little self-esteem I’ve built. This workshop challenged me to integrate my body into the mental and spiritual healing work I’ve already started. It is scary, and I’m willing to try.
While working on breathing exercises, we were asked to sit in a silver, metal, folding chair that looks like it was taken straight out of an early 2000’s Britney Spears music video. Scooting back into the seat, my hips pressed firmly into the folding joints of the chair that dug deeply into my thighs; which were also hanging over the side of the seat. “You’re too fat. You’re going to break this chair because you’re too big for it,” a familiar voice rang out in my head. My feet dangled at the end of my legs; the ground a few inches away. “And you’re freakishly short, too,” it taunted. I moved forward in the chair until my feet touched the floor and the pressure from the metal structure of the chair was off my hips and thighs. As I sat there disparaging my body for its weight and height, I heard from God saying, “Rachel, I love you;” words I’ve longed to hear and needed to hear for a long time. I continued the breathing exercises and—at least in that moment—ceased loathing my body for what was done to it, what it’s experienced, what shape it is, and what it weighs
Laying on my back with my eyes closed on a purple yoga mat borrowed from my best friend, I come to land in my body for the first time in recent memory. I feel secure. Someone walks by outside the window of the studio talking loudly on their phone, and my head doesn’t snap up to investigate the source of the sound. I feel safe. I place my hands on my soft belly, and—for once—don’t feel shame at the curvature or size of my stomach and hips. I have the strong body of a woman. I allow myself to be present, wrapped in the love of the Father, determined to keep pursuing healing in my body, mind, and heart. I feel loved. I have a long way to go in my healing, and I can’t wait to keep going. Healing has been a long journey, and every moment—every mess, mistake, fear, failure, step, success, climb, and celebration—has been worth it
Then he said to me, “Speak a prophetic message to these bones and say, ‘Dry bones, listen to the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Look! I am going to put breath into you and make you live again! I will put flesh and muscles on you and cover you with skin. I will put breath into you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”