What would that be? Total blindness? Worse? As it happened, I’d been preparing my entire life for the carnival floor beneath me to fall away. By the time I was 2 years old, my parents had split and placed a continent between themselves. I’d grown up as one of those Gen-X kids of divorce, lobbed between two worlds at the convenience of the parents and the constraints of the courts. At 6, I became a frequent flier as an “unattended minor,” accompanied only by my beloved stuffed “Lamby,” and the panic of being trapped thousands of feet above ground with strangers. I became wildly superstitious (I had to touch both sides of the airplane’s door before boarding if I didn’t want it to crash).
The spaces between my long and lonely transcontinental treks felt equally uncertain. In Cleveland, I spent endless hours alone in my room covering the pages of my diary in invisible ink, a safeguard to keep from being punished for my forbidden pain. In L.A., it was the opposite: surrounded by family and friends, I always felt as if I were playing a tug of war with time, digging my heels into the sand.
My parents may have been doing the best they could do at the time, but their preoccupation with their own complicated lives left me feeling in charge of my own well-being. I began having migraines in the second grade. Every cell of my sympathetic nervous system was firing all of the time, the better part of my childhood spent in a perpetual state of fight or flight.
A few weeks after my visit with Dr. Arnold, a naturopathic doctor invited me to attend a kundalini yoga class. My head ached relentlessly, I was nauseated around the clock, and my partial vision was disorienting and discouraging. But I was desperate to get well and therefore open to any means of healing.
To begin, I was instructed to sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor of a dilapidated yoga studio before an older man with a long white beard and a turban to match. His presence lit up the entire room. After a series of gentle stretches, he guided the class in a breathing technique that felt very much akin to hyperventilation (I now know it as Kapala-bhati pranayama. or “breath of fire”), which made my eyes cross and my head reel. The floor could drop away now because I felt suspended, safe.
The breath work also had another unexpected effect: it eased my steely grip on a lifetime of heartache. I’d been holding on so tightly for so long,-nearly two decades, that when I finally let go — eyes shut, cheeks awash with tears — it felt euphoric.
I knew immediately that this was where I belonged, and not simply because the gentle movements of yoga were a welcome contrast to years of daily, self-punishing worko For the first time in my life, I was overcome with the sensation of wholeness, enough-ness. The belief that I was somehow bad or broken became like smoke, exiting my body with every exhale.
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