Wisdom How Yoga Healed My Heart May you always remember that beneath your loss there is an abundance of beautiful things waiting. There is always growth, and there is always healing. By Zuzu Perkal Photo via iStock Yoga in essence is freedom from suﬀering. Yoga will mend the heart, free the mind, and can help alleviate physical and emotional pain. Yoga’s healing properties are infinite. Although my mermaid soul wishes everything was pixies and rainbows, suﬀering and pain does occur along the path of life. If it wasn’t this way life would be too easy. Without the rough patches we can’t truly appreciate the good times. Life throws lemons at us and we learn to adapt. And they can come in copious shapes and sizes, like messy breakups, natural disasters, physical injuries, stress, disease, financial struggles, death, and all the other sour lemons in between. But we have a choice of what to do with these lemons. Although my mermaid soul wishes everything was pixies and rainbows, suﬀering and pain does occur along the path of life. May you always remember that beneath your loss, broken hearts, and bruised egos there is always an abundance of beautiful things waiting. There is always growth, and there is always healing. Life’s Lemons I would say, “yoga saved me” but, to be honest, it saves me all the time. I’ve found that yoga and meditation are what soothes my soul when I’m sad, stressed, angry, overwhelmed, or lost. My practice guides me back to the breath, a positive state of mind, an open heart, and inner balance. Life tossed a lemon at me two years ago when my Dad was diagnosed with brain cancer and was given a short timeline of how long he was expected to live. My inner light immediately began to dim and I didn’t know what to do. Watching someone you love battle for their life will make you question life itself. Things that were once important seemed trivial, and I could feel the balance between the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual parts of myself shift all over the place. My perspective on life felt skewed, and it was a sack of lemons that was not prepared to deal with. Situations like these will encourage you to step back and evaluate your own life. Life’s lemons will pose questions and demand your attention. You may start to think about things like: Am I really living/following my wildest dreams? Why do I not spend every moment celebrating my fleeting time on this Earth? Why don’t I tell the people I care about that I love and value them? Am I happy with my big life decisions? What can I do better? Is this permanent? Why me? I would say, “yoga saved me” but, to be honest, it saves me all the time. It’s OK to question life and it’s OK to question yourself sometimes—it’s all part of the journey. I said my final goodbye to my Dad one year ago and have spent the last year reinventing myself from the inside out. It’s a work in progress and it’s the most difficult situation I’ve ever dealt with, but I’ve learned valuable lessons along the way. At the center of my healing journey is yoga and meditation. Within these practices I have found self- discovery and transcendence from my sadness and loss. They have led me to the onto the path of restoration and lit the passage to mind, body, and soul cleansing. Step One: Acknowledge the Feelings + Feel During my deepest sadness I became aware of the tightness in my hips that eventually became unbearable. I noticed my shoulders were constantly scrunched up near my ears and my tummy was always in knots. I experienced night terrors, sleepless nights, and uncontrollable headaches. The worst part was the crying spells that seemed to never end and erupted out of nowhere. Outside of my physical body showing me signs of suﬀering, I had tremendous guilt, shame, and grief that I had ever experienced before. It took a lot to even acknowledge these things, but that’s step one… Acknowledge your feelings. Part of the healing process is granting ourselves the gift of feeling. This is much harder than it sounds for some of us. Our negative feelings and emotions are sneaky. They like to hide and wait for us to hunt them down. The extra-long, juicy holds in half pigeon pose led me to the awareness of the sadness and stress I was holding in my hips. It’s also where I was holding my guilt and shame. With lots of breathing, practice, and conscious release, I began to learn about the feelings I’d buried deep inside. I found stillness, and in stillness I found peace. I could physically feel a lift of weight oﬀ my hips when I began to explore these feelings. The moments of stillness provide the quiet space where we can feel, rather than think about how we feel. Within my experience I’ve found that stillness is where we find the most connection, and the breath is where we find freedom. The moments of stillness provide the quiet space where we can feel, rather than think about how we feel. Take a moment to notice the space between the inhale and the exhale as you breathe. That slight pause of breath in between the two there is stillness. Perhaps you feel a sense of calm, even in these brief moments. Other poses like bridge pose and camel pose, which are deep heart openers, taught me how to find the beauty of vulnerability and exposed some of my deepest emotions. They opened space so my feelings could rise to the surface. Child’s pose and Savasana are gentle poses that served as the cherry on top. Moments of surrender and softness among the stillness are the places where I found a true sense of awareness. These poses led to discoveries that deepened my connection to my practice and initiated my healing journey. Step Two: Learn to Let Go + Cleanse The postures listed above, along with many others, provided sacred space for my emotional and physical release while simultaneously clearing energetic blockages, and calming the fluctuations of my mind. I learned to appreciate these emotional breakdowns during my practice. By “breakdown,” I mean anything that makes you feel alive during your practice. This can be a deep, audible sigh, an overwhelming sense of inner anger, a hysterical cry, a releasing a physical hold, etc. I think the occasional breakdown in yoga class is beautiful. Call me crazy, but it’s true. It’s cleansing and it’s healing. My breakdowns were a mixture of anger and sadness. They were moments of emotional overload and showed themselves in waves of tears. At first I didn’t enjoy these moments. They came out of nowhere and I would beat myself up about it in the beginning. I felt weak for letting my sadness interrupt my practice and embarrassed about crying in public. Then, after one of my favorite classes at Sukha Austin, it became apparent that these emotional episodes were making me feel better. I spent time thinking of my yoga studies and my purpose for practicing yoga. I realized these breakdowns and the sense of healing afterwards is what yoga is all about. These breakdowns are yoga. These breakdowns are healing. And these breakdowns are OK. I think the occasional breakdown in yoga class is beautiful. Call me crazy, but it’s true. It’s cleansing and it’s healing. The tears, the sweat, and the swell of feelings are all a part of cleansing ourselves and letting go. I encourage my students and yogi friends to let their hearts open. Be vulnerable and let the emotions go wild. Feel. Acknowledge. Let go. This is the path to healing. Step Three: Forgiveness + Closure This may be the most time-consuming and difficult phase of healing. Some painful memories and experiences dig themselves into deep, dark places and they don’t want to come out for you to see them. Forgiving ourselves for mistakes and regrets, and relinquishing blame take time. Each of our paths are different, but all end with complete forgiveness and a sense of closure. Only then can we move forward. Within all pain and suﬀering there is room for forgiveness. Maybe you need to forgive someone outside of yourself. Perhaps you are working towards forgiving yourself. I’m still in search of complete forgiveness and closure in regards to the loss of my father, and I may be here for a while longer. Like I said, these things takes time. True healing isn’t as easy as one, two, three. Like everything, it’s a multilayered process. Find the beauty and growth within the process. And be proud of the progress you’ve made thus far. Find yourself on this road of healing and self-love. Life is too short to hold onto things that aren’t serving your greatest good. Certain elements of life need closure so that its energy can be reborn into something more useful and more positive. Yoga is magic. Use it. If someone is holding you back, let them go. If your job doesn’t make you happy, get a new one. If you’re battling an old injury, try something new. If you feel guilt and shame, I promise you this, it’s not helping you find your true self. Forgive yourself and let go of the extra “life weight” that’s slowing you down. Close one door and five more will open. Yoga is magic. Use it. Grant yourself time and patience. Yoga and meditation will guide you, all you have to do is show up, stay focused, and keep an open mind and heart. Find your inner strength as you sort through painful experiences, explore and expose your deepest layers, and as you learn to release negative holds. This will lead to forgiveness, and ultimately, closure. Then, all you have left to do is fill your life with happy, wonderful, genuine moments, memories, and people. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade—then share it with your tribe, and revel in all the wonderful parts of life. The healing starts now. — Zuzu Perkal is an artist, photographer, yoga instructor, blogger, and pizza lover. Born in San Diego and currently living in Austin, Texas, she lives for creativity and connection. In 2010, after studying Creative Advertising at the University of Texas (one of the nation’s top rated portfolio schools), she chose the path of travel, exploration, art, and inspiration; wild and free. Fall down the rabbit hole… ihavepinkhair.com and @zuzubee.