culture & community health relationships & love

Cure for Pain

by JoAnna — April 3, 2012

I’m in quite the mood and I can’t tell you why. I chalk it up to being one of those days. The type where nothing cataclysmic has occurred, but a few choice encounters have soured the afternoon and the sky feels like it’s tumbling down nonetheless. This is where I’ve been at for the last couple of weeks actually, a place where my moods fluctuate at the drop of hat, I feel mentally tired and emotionally overwhelmed, and something just isn’t quite right. There’s a strange vibe in the air that’s laced with aggression, anger and gloom, and it’s contagious. My insides feel slick and viscous, like they’re part of a soup that’s frothing in this bodily cauldron. The brew is churning and bubbling and threatens to boil over. Wait, it already did. Of course it did.

As with all things crazy and beautiful that have occurred lately, this bubbling over took place on my yoga mat. I’ve recently learned how to drop back into a backbend from standing position, which is an ever evolving process. It’s said that backbends have the potential to activate the heart and throat chakras (wait, bear with me for a second) and stir up all sorts of shit locked deep inside that empathic cavity. Shit you’ve experienced. Shit you’ve seen or heard. Shit that’s around you. Shit you’ve dealt with. Shit you haven’t. For some reason, pushing your heart open has the potential to be deeply healing, cleansing and can bring you to your knees, if you stick with it long enough. The other day I was minding my business as I drew my prayer-positioned hands over my head, pushed my hips forward and lifted my chest towards the ceiling. I gently bowed backwards, head lolling, eyes scanning the back of the room, while my brain rapidly (and rightly) informed my body of my absurd decision to invert myself so my hands could make peace with the floor.

First carve is the skin. The second is the muscle.

My palms and feet pushed into the mat and with each breath I became increasingly steady. I began to gently rock back and forth in preparation to spring up to standing. My lower back hinged gracefully and I straightened my arms, encouraging my rib cage to expand. This should have been a wildly liberating moment, but instead of feeling awesomeness and power flooding through my body, an unusual feeling of panic and sorrow swiftly rose up from the cavernous depths of my chest to knock on the door of my heaving ribs.

*breathe*…rock back…*breathe*…rock forward…*breathe*

My teacher came over to support my hips, but I didn’t want any of it. Instead an uncontrollable urge to plunk myself in the corner of the room, curl up in the foetal position and have a good cry washed over me. To distract myself I continued to rock and breathe deeply into my – now tired – posture. As I swayed forward on my last breath my chest moved shockingly close to the wall; opening wider than I thought it ever could. I could feel the ribs expanding as every fibrous muscle and ligament in my upper torso hung on for dear life. In that moment there was a tension so strong I felt like someone was reaching through the bony gates of my ribs into that spongy cavity and was preparing to rip me in two.


There’s a crack of the bone. And he’s at your heart.

It’s an audible sound that originates around my sternum. It doesn’t hurt (it’s actually accompanied by a wave of relief), but it is followed by that persistent feeling of panic and sadness. As I sit on my mat and fold into a deep forward bend the cauldron starts to bubble over. No one can see me, but I feel embarrassed nonetheless as I squish my face between my knees and a few salty wet ones slip quietly onto my pants. I rub my face against my legs to remove all signs of ‘weakness’ and sigh inwardly. My breaking point had arrived.

Since that self-inflicted open heart surgery, I’ve thought about what was at the crux of my moody-meltdown, and why it lingers. Various things come to mind, but nothing sticks because there isn’t a single catalyst for my sternum-popping, bleeding heart moment. My conclusion is that life simply decided to sit squarely on my chest with all its brute force, causing my ribs to snap wide open, which left a gaping hole for all sorts of stuff to rush in – and out. My stuff. Your stuff. Old stuff. New stuff. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Ugly stuff. Stuff that comes and goes. Stuff that feels like crap, that aches. The kind of stuff that leads me to despair about the state of the world (North Korean boy born into a gulag), the kind of stuff that makes me sick with rage (‘You know what men are like’: Indonesia to ban mini-skirts over links to rape or Ethiopian maid publicly abused in Lebanon takes her own life or Woman thrown into Egypt’s Nile over divorce) and just plain-old day-to-day human interaction stuff that leaves me despondent and shaking my head thinking “What in God/Allah/Jesus/Buddha/Vishnu/the Universe’s name is WRONG WITH PEOPLE?”

So what to do? Life gets stupid and maddening, sometimes for no good reason, and lately things are insistent on remaining out of sync, which nudge me to the edge of a precipice where I’m tempted to kneel prostrate and give into the panic and despair. Thankfully, I realize that going down that rabbit hole would be a pointless exercise which doesn’t make anything better. Indeed, allowing my heart to constantly weep crimson all over my desk is not only terribly unproductive, but it’s extremely unsightly. There’s a big, bad-ass world out there to face up to – like it or not. So instead of dwelling on the magnanimous, metaphysical, and painfully hideous things I can’t control I’ve changed tactics and challenged myself to seek out the goodness currently on offer in bustling, schizophrenic Cairo. Spring is around the corner and it’s time to get started on cleaning up this sopping, palpitating mess and setting things back in place so they have time to mend.

It’s not the cure-all by a long shot, but for today…it’s a start.

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