(Image: Dr. Liz in full camel in 2010.)
Yoga is a practice of liberation. It is not a practice of reducing stress, easing pain, eating right, sleeping, or improving mental health. Yet, yoga does all these good things. They’re side effects of liberation.
I spent the beginning of my yoga career not caring about liberation. Initially, I practiced a very athletic, health-focused form of the 26 and 2 hot yoga series. I practiced two to three hot yoga classes a day, plus several hours of extra training. I often did this intense training while juice fasting. I had no other goal other than to touch my head to my butt (or to get very close to it). Athletic yoga practice made me feel physically and mentally incredible. The practice and fasting created so much energy in my system. My mind was calm and my body was strong. I wanted to live this way for the rest of my life, strong and clear-headed, if ignorant of the true power of yoga.
Then, fate intervened.
Just after a ten-day juice fast with intense yoga practice, I had a very physical spiritual awakening. During a yoga class, my body started to shake and kept shaking after class. The shaking continued in the days to come and worked its way through my whole body. I could no longer hold a willful yoga pose. I resisted the shaking with all my might. (I now know that had I been able to relax, the shaking would have been much gentler.) In addition to the shaking, I had digestive upset, and could not keep food down. I thought I was sick. I saw several doctors who found nothing wrong with me. My yoga teachers at the time thought maybe it could be kundalini, but knew nothing about this energy other than the name. They thought perhaps Yogi Amrit Desai could help.
I ended up flying to Florida to meet Yogi Desai. I sat with him, weeping. I told him my story, and how devastated I was. I missed my yoga practice, my job was in jeopardy, I could no longer hold willful postures due to the shaking. I was exhausted from resisting the shaking, losing weight from the constant digestive upset, and terrified.
Yogi Desai looked me in the eye and said, “that’s wonderful.” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but he was so at peace with my story. He seemed thrilled with the shaking and the energy that had awakened inside me. For that instant with him, my stress melted away, and I was liberated from all the suffering surrounding my awakening.
Yogi Desai’s healing presence shifted my perspective on the energy in my body from fear to acceptance. I experienced a moment of liberation with the help of a teacher’s healing presence. However, I had yet to practice liberation on my own. The first time I consciously practiced liberation was in my kitchen, talking to my husband. It had to do with another powerful energy: complaining.
I was irritated with my boss and complaining about them. Underneath the complaining was an important truth, but I was afraid to feel it. Instead of feeling, I was complaining. Suddenly, I remembered liberation. I felt an echo of the relaxation I’d felt in Yogi Desai’s presence. I stopped complaining and irritation started to flow out of me, rather than winding up inside of me. It was not exactly comfortable, but it was powerful. After a few days of relaxing every time I wanted to complain, my mind cleared. The truth I had been avoiding was revealed. I needed to leave my job. (Scary! the next opportunity for liberation.) Eventually, I went back to school to be a chiropractor, get a master’s in applied clinical nutrition, and do yoga research. But that’s a story for another day.
At the point of stress, when we are in the most fear and doubt, it can be very difficult to relax. I was afraid to leave my job and yoga community I loved. Fear kept me unconsciously complaining. Luckily, through yoga practice and a teacher’s healing presence, I remembered to liberate myself.
Dr. Elizabeth Olson is a chiropractor and yoga teacher. As a doctor, she’s worked in diverse clinical settings, consulted on yoga research with the University of Michigan, and was adjunct research faculty at Northeast College of Health Sciences. She founded her own clinic, Healing Arts Red Wing. As a teacher of yoga teachers, she taught for the Amrit Yoga Institute and other yoga teacher training programs worldwide. She also creates custom online yoga science curricula for yoga teacher training programs and holds a master’s of science in applied clinical nutrition. She founded Yoga Close to the Bone, which offers practical, affordable pain relief through science and yoga. Work with her live at yogaclosetothebone.com or take her online course, Empower the Healer Within (get all five sessions for $99).
Related Article: FROM CRISIS TO CONSCIOUSNESS. The greatest opportunity for transformation as individuals and as a planet comes in moments of crisis. While times of prosperity and stability promote only superficial shifts, crisis shakes the foundation of safety and comfort we are accustomed to, calling for profound paradigm shifts. Read more…