This week's installment of the Yoga Living Project comes from Jenn Sewell, 2021 Cambio YTT graduate and new teacher, sharing how some of her yoga on the mat made profound impacts off the mat and in her day to day experience. She highlights a process of how to shape your own reality and use the tools of yoga to make specific changes you want to see in your life.
Catch Jenn's Vinyasa, Saturday 7a at Cambio Pikes Peak, and subbing throughout the week!
Flipping my Fear Up-side Down
By Jenn Sewell
I was never good at sports in school. Or dancing. Or coordination in general, though I did try. I once broke my ankle warming up for volleyball practice- and I only had about a 5” vertical jump. I think that’s why I enjoyed yoga so much when I first started with a VHS waaaay back. The style of movements at my own pace helped me feel connected to and good in my body. A few years ago, my practice changed with the start of my sobriety journey. I was getting on my mat almost daily and I realized my thoughts were changing. I felt like I was learning life lessons with Warrior II and Crow and Revolved Triangle and Savasana. The learning fascinated me. So, fast-forward a bit to early Spring 2021. We were preparing to move from Hawaii, where we were established with a great, alternative-style school for the kids, familiar surroundings, and a safe feeling area. But now everything would change. What would schools be like? Would my kids really struggle? Would our soon-to-be-college freshman be able to handle the additional challenges? Would we find friends? Would my mom still be happy living with us? All normal questions that come with a big change in location, right? But my mind didn’t stop there. Oh no, I’m a catastrophizer of extraordinary skill. Would my youngest be kidnapped walking to school? Would my oldest be tricked into sex-trafficking? Would my mom experience some catastrophic injury or wreck in a strange place, and I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye? You get the idea. I was experiencing panic attacks and struggling to breathe when one of my kiddos or my mom was out of my sight or didn’t answer texts quickly. I knew I didn’t want to stay in that state of mind. It was miserable. I was still practicing yoga nearly every day and a thought occurred to me. On my 39th birthday I decided it would be the year to start my handstand journey. Like I said earlier, I’ve never been very athletic, so gymnastics and flips and all those things have always really scared me. Would I fall like a tree, break my neck or back, and ruin my family’s lives forever? But I was determined to change what was happening in my head and heart and yoga had taught me the value of connecting physical movement to my thoughts. I started pretty cluelessly and was thrilled just to get my feet above my head and braced against the wall that first day. I spent a lot of time asking questions, watching tutorials, practicing, watching more tutorials, asking more questions, and practicing, practicing, practicing. A couple weeks away from 40 now, I have been able to hold a handstand for a few seconds at a time. Sometimes those feel like delightful strokes of luck, and other times like victories. I still can’t predictably hold that handstand, but I HAVE learned a ton along the way, about handstands, but more importantly about how to face fear.
- It’s perfectly fine to give yourself smaller pieces to work through. I learned wrist and core exercises. I practiced holding my body weight on my hands without trying to balance. I practiced frog hops. I worked to just get my body upside down. And I watched my kids take small steps towards more independence – my college kid separating to meet a friend at a daytime festival, all the kids would walk the neighborhood together, staying home while my mom took the van to go exploring.
- Having a spotter you trust is a wonderful thing. My husband worked with me once I started finding the edge for balance. I’d kick up knowing he could catch me. With my family, it helped to have back up plans in place, in case something didn’t work out. When our oldest was trying the bus system here in Colorado Springs we would have check-ins along the route. There were times a bus drove right past them, and they needed a pickup. Before we moved, our youngest went surfing with a friend, certified as a lifeguard, and her kiddos, several also certified as lifeguards, and all very experienced with the ocean. I was struggling to breathe not hearing from my friend for a while. I kept remembering that they were in safe care. At the end of that evening, hearing the excitement from my kiddo taught me that the struggle to press through the panic and keep trusting had been the right choice.
- Stop and take a break when you need to. Determination is good, but so is time to rest and absorb what you’re learning. Fatigue, physical and emotional, won’t get you to your goal any faster. There were times I over-worked my wrists and hands and shoulders. So, I stopped practicing every day. There were days with my family when I felt very fragile and didn’t have the energy to face the stress of certain situations. I didn’t say “yes” to every situation that would challenge my fear.
- Try things differently. I played with hand placement, Drishti, and ways to enter a handstand. I watched videos and read articles. I played with friends after yoga classes. Instead of going into every store with my kids, I would send them in, sometimes together, to find what they were needing or wanting. I asked my kids for their suggestions of what to do or where to go, how they wanted to plan outings.
- Accept that falls will happen. I started using cartwheels to help me learn to move my hands on the ground and adjust as I fell out of vertical. (Remember the “falling tree” fear? Mmm, Catastrophe with a capital C.) As our oldest boldly entered the dating scene, I breathed through my worries and talked with them. We talked about potential dangers and how to stand firm in personal boundaries. We talked after. We validated all emotions and struggles. It’s been more “ugh” than “yay” if you’re keeping score of successful dates. But this kid has learned how to make friends and stand up for themselves! (By the way, they’re also on the Autism spectrum which added all sorts of fears to my already considerable list that was part of raising a teenager/young adult.) While they may not have found Love yet, they’ve learned a lot about themselves. If I’d listened to my fear, they’d still be locked in a tower.
- Have some fun with it all. This started happening after I realized I could catch or redirect myself when I toppled. I practiced outside in the park, before yoga classes with friends, and in the house waiting for pasta water to boil. Same thing with seeing my kids and mom handle struggles. I said “yes”, or just didn’t say “no”, to so many experiences. Most have been a lot of fun, like rock climbing, seeing my oldest go to a ball with a college friend, seeing the middle kiddo hunt/gather donuts for the family from the shop a few blocks away.
- Celebrate progress! I posted short videos to FB and friends cheered me on. I’d gleefully demonstrate my progress for my husband when he came home from work. I probably bored my kids showing them after school. But I was excited for any little progress – especially as I realized I wasn’t so afraid of dying! I would smile and laugh at the adventures my family was experiencing. I’d congratulate my kiddos on figuring out a problem or navigating a challenge in their own way. I could look forward to what my family was looking forward to as they explored and wandered and tried new things.
To sum it all up, I don’t feel trapped against the wall anymore. I can step out into the middle of the room, plant my hands, and give it a go. I can laugh when I topple, or squeal (some of you may have heard that in the studio). I can jump up and down, and squeal, when I find a few moments of balance. It really has been a powerful way to understand my fears and anxieties. I see my family with a wonderful sense of freedom now. The lightness inside my head and heart… y’all, it feels miraculous when I remember what things used to be like. I’m not sure what the next learning process will be. I’m not in a rush to find it. I’m letting these lessons sink in. I’m letting the joy grow. I’m watching my family live. I wouldn’t have chosen to have such a deep relationship with fear and anxiety but the choices I DID make were good ones. I’m beyond grateful for the journey.