It has been three years to the day that I had a liver transplant. This day will forever be imbued with meaning for me, and around this time of year there is always pause for celebration and reflection. The months before the surgery and the years after have shifted the focus of my life and my sense of physicality; for me, what it means to be human is forever changed.
Just a few months after my transplant I recommenced my yoga practice, as well as teaching yoga and working as a Rolfer. In retrospect I realize I was pushing myself to resume life as I knew it too quickly, for not all the right reasons. I pushed myself out of fear; I pushed myself not to ‘lose’ more time than I felt I already had. I was not honoring the organic process unfolding by forces larger than myself. Instead, I was trying to regain control after feeling like I had so little, for so long.
In reality, I had no idea of the time it would actually take me to find my new normal. Only now, three years after the fact, do I fully understand what the right balance is for myself in terms of work, yoga practice and life activities. I am sure this will continue to change, but for the first time in a long time I feel I have come to accept myself and my circumstances fully, and I am far more open to listening and adapting than ever before.
Consequently, I have also come to realize over the past couple of years, that there is an enormous disparity between what goes on in ‘mainstream’ yoga classes, and the world of yoga therapy and restorative yoga. For some survivors, yoga therapy and restorative yoga is appropriate and incredibly valuable. I remember a time when I was on the transplant waiting list when I went to a yoga class for cancer survivors, and did nothing but lie on bolsters for 90 minutes. That was what I could handle at that time, and the experience was hugely important. I felt I was doing something positive for myself, in whatever small way I could in that moment.
Yoga has indeed become a ubiquitous term in health and well being circles, something that far more people have access to as a tool for ‘healthy living’ than ever before. At the same time, however, far too few students and teachers alike are truly tapping into the potential healing power of yoga. Many classes tend to be overly fitness or gymnastic driven – with the sole purpose of achieving some physical goal, or inversely, geared only towards relaxation. For those on a recovery path that involves building up stamina and bringing more mobility or stability to tissue (including scar tissue and ‘tight’ or under/mis-used muscles) it can be a challenge to find a class that strikes a healthy balance between fostering a true physical and mental awareness while increasing strength and mobility. Adding to the challenge, often teachers are ill-equipped to be able to understand and be able to guide those who have been through a major physical and emotional trauma back to a place where they may trust, take responsibility for, and re-inhabit their body in a meaningful way.
For this reason, and for all of those people like myself, who are survivors of trauma, disease and injury, who are in the healing process of becoming re-embodied, adapted and strong, I have started the Survivors Club.
The Survivors Club’s goal is to provide a platform for self-awareness, self-care and vivacity through yoga-based movement and philosophy. We invite people who feel altered physically, emotionally, or both due to a traumatic experience who want to build, or rebuild a movement-based practice, but do not necessarily feel comfortable entering just any class. It could be that you feel intimidated by other students, by your own appearance, or perhaps you don’t trust that the teacher will know how to interact with you in a safe way due to your experience. Through mindful, deliberate movement, the breath is a catalyst for healing and the body becomes one of embodied potential rather than disconnected limitation.
You may need some guidance in finding the way that feels right for you to move in your body as it is now, because you are unique. You may have a hard time trusting that you know your body better than anyone else ever will, and you may benefit from connecting from someone who has been through something similar to you. We all have a right to belong, even when we feel we different. We are different, and there is no shame in that. The key is taking ownership and responsibility; to find a way to move that enables healing and wellness.
I have to admit, I am currently the only member of my club. In time, however, my goal is to have a club that can meet online and in person, to offer a Survivors Club clinics where people who would like to practice yoga more actively but have been limited by fear or physical restriction or pain may come to seek advice and gain confidence. I would even like to start Survivors Club classes for mindful movement that builds stamina and confidence in a safe and fun environment.
Everything starts somewhere, and for me this idea starts with you emailing to say, I’m in. I want to be a part of this. This idea is something I believe in and has helped me to heal and stay vibrant, despite my body’s limitation and continued challenges. Come join me, let’s build this together.