Friday, April 25, 2014

From Darkness To Light

Hillary Bryant

The first yoga class I ever took was in an inpatient treatment program in New Jersey about ten years ago. I was intrigued, but it definitely wasn’t love at first pose.  From age thirteen to nineteen I was severely depressed. 

Including outpatient, inpatient and residential – I was treated a total of thirteen times. My inner angst first manifested as an eating disorder, followed by self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse and finally suicidal thoughts and actions. I spent more time in hospitals and the offices of health care professionals than I did in high school or college.

When I had a free moment away from my rigorous treatment schedule, my dad and I would attend yoga classes at a studio nearby. I was envious of yoga students who radiated peace and tranquility. No matter what I did to prevent it, a dark cloud followed me onto the mat.

I often left classes prematurely because I couldn’t stop obsessing and worrying. I’d close my eyes and look away so no one could see that I was fighting back tears. The negative voices in my head were always louder than the instructor’s. I gave up on trying to quiet the voices, on trying to be in the present.

The idea of treating my body like a temple was laughable when it seemed like the only thing I knew how to do was abuse it. By the time I ended high school and prepared to go off to college my life was spiraling downward towards irreparable misery.

After five suicide attempts I found myself in a series of different treatment programs for about six months. When I finally returned home I knew that something inside me was beginning to change. My undeniable lust for death had subsided and my days were getting a little easier. I was learning that I’d rather live than die. I learned that I could not run from my demons, only face them head on.

I returned to my mat in hopes of healing myself from all of the pain and suffering I’d known for so long. Yet, I had no idea how much it would change my life when I was finally able to let it in. Yoga has reunited my mind and my body, formerly two separate entities, each miserable in their own right. More importantly, it made my body a place where I could stand to be.

I have left behind all of my self-mutilating habits since returning to yoga. I can now look in the mirror and see myself, see my scars, and accept all of it with a greater sense of understanding, and a little bit of love. I believe that time healed my external wounds, but it was yoga that healed me internally.

Energetically, yoga classes made me feel lighter. All of a sudden the weight of my burdens didn’t seem so impossible to bear. No matter how bad of a day I had, I knew I could walk into a class and leave feeling better. It was hard to believe that there was a place out there where I could go that was guaranteed to make me feel better about myself and my situation. This was unlike anything I’d experienced before.

Yoga opened my eyes to the fact that things didn’t always have to be so dark. If you attend yoga classes at studios, you’ll commonly see the teachers and the students end the class by taking their hands to their hearts and bowing to one another. “Namaste,” they’ll say. Roughly translated this means, “the light in me honors the light within you”. Each time I practice, it becomes easier to accept the darkness within me, as well as the light.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Emotionally Charged Boston Marathon

Linda Lentini

Running holds enormous healing power for me.  I build my day around my run.  In the winter months I pray for a day above twenty degrees so I can run outdoors.  The refreshing feeling of running outside and freeing my mind brings me peace. Mindful running allows me to prepare for being present in my day.  Fifteen years ago, when I started running, I smoked cigarettes, was forty pounds heavier, and in really poor health. Making the choice to run instead of smoke was a life changing event that I will always cherish.   Running has brought physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits to my life.

In 2012 I ran a Boston Marathon qualifier and beat my qualifying time by 9 minutes to qualify for the 2014 Boston Marathon.  My family and I decided to make this a family event and we were all excited to plan the trip.  On April 15, 2013 we watched the race on TV and tried to scout out places my family could wait to watch me finish the following year.  What we saw as we watched people cross the finish line will forever stay in my mind and heart.  

The extent to which runners push themselves to cross the finish line in a marathon – is a product of immense sacrifice and dedication of time and effort in the months or years leading up to the race.  A profound and almost palpable sense of satisfaction and accomplishment occurs when one crosses the finish line.  All of the hours of training have led to this sense of accomplishment you feel when seeing and crossing the beautiful finish line.  This wonderful moment was stolen from many who ran the Boston Marathon in 2013 and for many who watched in horror.  

Our safety was compromised, our lives were changed, and our world appeared scary.  As a runner it hurt me in another way.  The bombing at the Boston Marathon threatens the one place in the world where I consistently feel free and safe.  Based on my times, if I had been running in the 2013 race, I most likely would have been crossing the finish line at the time of the explosions – with my family standing nearby to catch a glimpse of me.  It is a huge deal to question whether or not I can ever again feel completely safe and free while running a race.

Would the experience of participating in races be infiltrated by an air of dangerousness?  Would registering for races involve thinking about the possibility of losing my life?  My peaceful world of running was ruined?  I cried with my family as we watched so many lives changed in a matter of minutes.

I have witnessed increased Police protection, new policies for bag checks, and new guidelines for spectators.  Some races have prohibited spectators from congregating in the finish line area.  People cheering me on during the race and especially at the end make my day.  They give me strength.  I have run several races since the Boston Marathon bombing and have gained healing strength after each one.  As a community we have spent the last year rebuilding our safe place. 
The healing power of running for me is so precious that I will always fight to keep its gifts in my life.  Some days my run is a chore because of family, work or training requirements.  On those days I try to remain grateful that I am still able to run.  People lost that gift last year.  Our lives are filled with choices about how we focus our energy.  It is sometimes easy to take quick fixes.  Even when quick fixes and easy options are there, it is important to make a choice to heal with time and purpose.  My process of healing through running will be with me for a long time so I will invest the time and energy to keep it safe.  

It is April 17th and the Boston Marathon is less than four days away.  I will be running in the race.  I am running the race to heal and get my free place back, for all of the people and families that lost lives, for all the people that can no longer run because of last year, and for the running community.  It will be a gift to meet people who are running, cheering us on and families that support all of the people around the race.  It is an honor for me to be able to run this year and I feel stronger than ever before.