Photographer: Shelby Eaton

Photographer: Shelby Eaton

I am motivated by the desire to help people figure out how to use this amazing practice to support them through life's ups and downs and in a way that balances, nourishes and heals.  

My practice is the gift I give myself each day to feel whole, at peace and at home inside of my own skin. This in turn frees me up to interact with the world around me in a meaningful, engaged and richly satisfying way.

But it has taken significant periods of trial and error and a deep quality of listening to figure out how to practice in a way that best supports me - not just my body, but my whole being. I have had to adapt my practice along the way in response to changes in my body and in the circumstances of my life and as a result my practice is constantly evolving. Although I still like to practice an hour or two everyday, the practice I do today is very different from the practice I did one year ago which was in turn very different from the practice I was doing the year before that.  

I have no wish to impose my process, pace or priorities on anybody else. Our biologies and our biographies make each and every one of us completely unique. Being able to figure out a way to practice that best supports our unique rhythms and needs can go a long way in terms of helping us to sustain a consistent practice over a long period of time and nurturing a sense of inner harmony and well-being.  

The more intimately acquainted I become with my own being through my practice, the more two things become astonishingly clear: 1) I am ruled by my nervous system 2) the breath is everything. Fortunately yoga helps tremendously with both.

I, like many others I know, am someone who has put my nervous system through the ringer. From the time I was 13 until the time I was 34, I had severe enough depression and panic to land me in the hospital no less than 10 times. By 26, this had developed into full-blown drug addiction. I have spent the equivalent of two full years of my life living in various hospitals and rehabilitation centers around the country receiving treatment and care.

Back then my on/off switch was entirely OUTSIDE OF MY BODY. I dissolved amphetamines under my tongue before getting out of bed in the morning, followed by coffee. Together this combination would then kick in more than I wanted it to, my heart would start racing and so I'd try to come down with a sleeping pill and some alcohol. This would then kick in more than I wanted it to, I would feel drowsy and so I would take more amphetamines. All of this by mid-morning. And on and on and on. Around the clock.  Seven days a week.  For close to seven years. When a person takes uppers and downers at the same time, it is possible to work up to the most incredible volume in an extremely short period of time. There is no need to get into where all of this eventually led me. Suffice it to say that I took massive risks, I hurt the people I love the most, I put myself in extremely dangerous situations with dangerous people, and it is a miracle many times over that I am alive today.  

I don't believe you can go through an experience like this and come out completely unscathed. I have a sensitive nervous system and I have to be careful not to overdo it. Self-care is not just a priority but a necessity.  

Scientists talk about fight, flight, freeze…. and now they are sometimes adding in sleep. I have experienced all of these along the way but the long-term adaptive response to acute stress that my body seems to have settled on is sleep. I am not talking about a mild drowsiness. This is the kind of sleepiness that hits like a mac truck. When it first comes on, it is a cloak of exhaustion so heavy and stupefying that it makes lifting my arms overhead to wash my hair a major victory and turns my brain to soup. In these times, I can easily sleep for 16+ hours per day. I have trouble keeping my eyes open unless I am standing up or moving around and talking to someone right in front of me. I am assuming this is a chemical reaction happening inside of my body in response to a perceived threat. Kind of like a possum. 

When I am in Caroline possum mode, practicing vinyasa yoga is very difficult! I roll out my mat, step to the top for sun salutations and within fifteen minutes I end up lying down and falling asleep. And at first this upsets me because I love vinyasa yoga! I get scared and I don’t understand what is happening. I start to judge myself for being lazy or not being more disciplined. But things are cyclic and I have slowly learned to recognize and to trust in these rhythms. Most importantly, I have learned how to be kind, patient and forgiving of myself, and accepting of my own unique make-up. For the last few months I have been practicing a combination of yin, pranayama, meditation, restorative, and gentle hatha. Because this is what works right now. By backing off considerably, my vital strength is (very slowly) starting to come back. Yoga is helping me to bring the on/off switch back INSIDE MY BODY.

I will never have the same kind of body that many “advanced” yoga practitioners have and I may never have the robust nervous system I dream of. I was nowhere close to being able to do a splits when I was a little girl and I have no expectation of being able to do them as an adult. I have no desire to touch my ankles in a backbend and nor could I. I don't handle stress well and so I pace myself carefully and I make sure I have a lot of quiet time by myself to recharge.  

Yoga has helped me to become conscious of my unconscious patterns of reacting to things. It has made positive change possible. I marvel at the new spaces that are constantly opening up inside and the incredible universe within me. Through yoga, I am slowly awakening the deeper, more instrinsic muscles of my body that have for so long been dormant in my awareness. I am feeling new things and reveling in the subtle changes!

I am fascinated by the fact that the changes that we are able to effect in our bodies through yoga at a cellular level are mirrored by mental, emotional and spiritual changes. For example, the gentle, sustained stress we apply to our joints in a yin practice encourages little fibroblasts to come in and lay down collagen and fibrous tissue. As a result, our tendons and ligaments become stronger, more pliable and resilient. Similarly, the gentle sustained stress (in the positive sense) we apply to our minds through the simple act of being deeply present and paying attention to its contents encourages our minds to become stronger, more pliable and resilient as well.

It is my hope as a teacher to expose people to the many different dimensions of yoga.  It is my hope as a teacher to create a space in which you feel the safety and freedom to cultivate a practice that can support you through times of injury, loss, fatigue, sickness and stress as well as through times of great gladness and joy.  Thank-you for sharing your practice with me.