Blog by Jole Kelley (Yoga Teacher, Tom Petty Fan, Vinyl Collector, Live Music Addict, and Button Maker)
For over 2 years now I’ve closed my yoga classes with the following statement: “Bring your hands to your heart in gratitude. Grateful for the body you’ve been given, the body you have today, for each moment, each breath. Namaste.”
I don’t know how those words found me but they fell out of my mouth one day and I’ve been saying them ever since. Maybe it is because I watched a neurological disorder physically take my mother. First her speech, then her mobility, then her ability to breathe, leaving her mind perfectly intact and trapped. Maybe it is because like most women, I struggle with body dysmorphic disorder and had an eating disorder in my 20’s. If there is any person in my class carrying that same burden I want them to know the body, in any shape or form, is beautiful and a gift.
But perhaps my connections to the words was a foreshadowing to prepare me for what was on the horizon. Last Fall I was diagnosed with fibroid tumors so significant that the only way they could be removed was through a hysterectomy. The “lady” parts that had tortured me my entire life were going to leave me and I was not ready.
My initial reaction was that “God” was taking something away from me. And while I felt blessed to keep my ovaries, postponing menopause, my uterus had to go. A uterus that I always thought, well, maybe someday I might use. My mother was 46 when I was born. I always thought there would be time. Now there wasn’t. I’d never know what it would be like to have my own child. I didn’t know if I was truly regretful or just feeling nostalgic. It didn’t matter which it was, it hurt like hell and I was feeling all of it.
On top of that sadness was the fear of being weak. Fear of someone having to take care of me, even for just 24 hours. I’ve been lucky. I’ve prided myself on being as strong as a man. If you’re a Kelley woman, you stack hay and wood. You dig gardens and holes for fence posts. You know how to shingle a house. I’ve seen my mother do all of these things as well as my beautiful and freakishly strong sisters. Even the smallest one with chronic asthma worked as a roofer for a time. Now she would be taking care of me. GULP.
Then there was the fear of losing this life.
As with everything I contemplate, I turned to yoga. I recalled my teachings. That we are all so more than our physical bodies. I remembered the words of one of my favorite teachers, Kathryn Budig, who said your body is just a temporary meat suit you get to wear while on Earth. The practice of yoga class is a reflection of the cycle of life. As in life, you begin with the breath and then you start to move. The transition from pose to pose is a reflection of your journey through life. It ends with Corpse Pose, Savasana. If you can allow yourself to let go, you are transformed. I knew all this but I never believed it in my heart. In fact, I hated Savasana. That’s right, a yoga teacher said “hate.” To be told to rest, to relax, to let go…just those words made me want to sit upright and scream. I spent my time in Savasana thinking about food and music. Staying active. I knew I was in trouble.
For those of you who know me, I am a huge fan of George Harrison. So I of course thought about him. He wanted to die a “good” death. He spiritually prepared, partially through chanting, for years before his own cancer diagnosis. He wanted to be wholly prepared for the transition. Fully prepared and without fear. How it haunted him that John Lennon was not given the opportunity. I was not spiritually prepared. Not even close.
But sometimes your life has to be turned upside down in order to find your way. For you to transform. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
So I chanted. I stopped trying to rationalize and just chanted. I didn’t even know what I was saying. I chanted even more. And it worked. I was able to turn off my brain and feel the words, their vibrations, the breath it took to make them real. It graciously consumed me. There was no space left for fear. I was able to be at peace with whatever was about to happen. As the anesthesia took hold I was mid “Jai Shri Radhe Krishna Krishna.” Even if death was going to take me I was completely at peace. I trusted whatever was about to happen.
Before the surgery I remember dramatically telling people I was not allowed to practice even the gentlest of yoga for at least six-weeks. SIX WEEKS!!!! The shock and horror in my face was reflected right back at me. But in fact I would be practicing yoga the entire time. I awoke in that recovery room smiling and ready for my 6-week or more pending doctor approval Savasana.
The idea of being physically broken almost broke me. I had kept myself so busy for so long, working since I was 15, usually 2 jobs, school, etc., that I never stopped to actually feel and see what was in my heart. What my soul needed. I’d been running for so long that once I stopped and REALLY rested I discovered what truly makes me happy and what I need for the next chapters of this life. I do not believe I could have found this without the time I spent resting. I know now that Savasana isn’t finite at all. It’s a Ctrl+Alt+Delete for your life. It’s a reset so that you begin again wiser. Be that in this life or the next. Starting over with an open heart and an open mind. Namaste.