What’s Your Damage, Heather?

13 Mar

Heathers
Earlier this week, I was honored with a cool invitation: Living Yoga asked me to say a few words at the kick-off to their annual fundraising campaign. Living Yoga is the amazing organization that sends me to Washington County Correction Center twice a month to teach yoga to people incarcerated there. In thinking about what to say at the event, I started retracing my own steps with the organization, and with trauma.

Living Yoga teaches what they call “trauma-informed yoga,” and that’s what I learned when I did my training with them last fall. And while I‘m not sure quite what I was expecting from the training, I was surprised by how straightforward it was, and how it seemed like just a matter of common sense. Things like, you know, don’t touch people without their permission. Avoid words that could be triggering. Don’t make assumptions about any one person’s background. Avoid language that is divisive. All good suggestions, of course, for how to be supportive to people who have experienced some sort of trauma.

But which of us hasn’t experienced some sort of trauma? The people I see at the correctional center… their trauma is easy to see, easy to touch. It’s on the surface, and obvious by their presence there. They have drug addictions, they have criminal backgrounds, perhaps they have experienced homelessness and violence. Their trauma is big and obvious and real. It’s a given. But let’s not forget that we all have some sort of trauma in our lives. Maybe we haven’t been homeless, but maybe we’ve struggled with long-term poverty. Perhaps we haven’t developed a chemical addiction, but we have a parent or other relative who is an alcoholic or drug addict. Maybe we struggle with grief and pain and insecurities that are just as powerful but less obvious than my yoga students. And those types of trauma inform our lives just as much, albeit in a more subtle, sneaky sort of way.

It’s so important that we treat ourselves with just as much tenderness and care as I treat my yoga students. Because we all have hurt and fear, and how close to the surface it is can be just a matter of one assumption or one touch or one thoughtless comment. We deserve to honor the fact that we are all evolving beings, every day, and that all of that trauma, all of those challenges, create who we are just as much as all the support and love and success does.

And I think that’s why the trauma-informed yoga training sounded so simple to me: I already practice trauma-informed personal training. I just didn’t know it. But my entire business is based on believing that every one of my clients come to me in some state of vulnerability, with hopes and goals, and the big fat dose of courage it takes to ask for a bit of help reaching those goals. Working in a gym isn’t just a matter of figuring out how much weight a person can bench press; it’s also about figuring out how much work is encouraging, and how much is demoralizing. It’s finding the line between feeling like a badass and feeling like a failure. It’s realizing that on some days, it’s really there, and on some days, it’s just not – and that’s totally okay, because we’re different, every minute of every day, and it would be stupid to expect anything else.

But more than just expecting our respective damage to show up here and there, I think we should really welcome it, with open arms, as part of our own history. It’s like a road map or a stretch mark or a post card. It’s the emotional equivalent of an old photo in an album you never pull off the shelf anymore. Trauma is part of your history, it’s part of my history, it’s an absolute universal; nobody gets out of this life alive. Let’s choose to honor that trauma, as a building block to our strongest, most honorable, most badass selves. Let’s own it, work through it as much as we can, and then create something gorgeous on top of it. What’s that traditional Buddhist chant, about how lotus flowers grow from mud? Yeah, like that.

lotus

In other words, let’s all treat ourselves and each other just like we would all treat my yoga students: with compassion and love and with the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume we’re all worth that. Because we are.

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