As I sit in my kitchen writing, it’s snowing outside. It’s a deep quiet snow, falling in rhythm, like a gentle steady pulse. I watch it fall through traditional double hung panned windows that encircle me. I notice my breath is slow and even. My body is not gripping. My lungs fill effortlessly. My belly is soft and subtle. I love the snow. I am grateful to be able to just sit here and enjoy this simple moment. The ability to pause and savor moments like these did not come naturally.
I was born 5 pounds at full term. No one knew anything about Adverse Childhood Experiences or that my asthma at birth was a result of toxic stress shared by both my mother and me in utero. I only knew having an asthma attack was the only way I could have my mother’s attention all to myself and when I had it- I could exhale. Growing up felt tight, rushed, and numb. To be safe meant to accommodate. At home, I spent most days figuring out how to be helpful or perfect. By age five I figured how to anticipate- everything. At school, I worked on being good. Actually, I settled on being invisible. Most days I spent being alone. My hair was ragged and stiff. My skin was dusty and brown. I was in the C group, which was next to the D group (nicknamed the Dummies) assigned to boys who looked like me- the same boys who tormented me. I was too scared to fight. I wasn’t sure I knew how. I knew nothing about fleeing. I never knew it was an option. I just stood there and took it.
In 2006 I took my first 90-minute Kripalu Yoga class at the Portland YMCA. People were moaning and sighing out loud. I snickered, thinking these white folks have surely lost their minds, and kept checking the clock to see when I could get out of there! Yet, each week I returned. I found myself mesmerized by the idea of being instructed to pay attention, stay curious, feel sensations, and simply be. I had survived by tuning out, not by tuning in. It was too dangerous to do so. I did not want to feel the beatings, notice the fear or the longings for something better.
Mindfulness was a luxury only afforded by wealthy and White people featured in vacation magazines meditating and doing yoga.
However, one day in yoga, I stood up and announced I was going to teach too. During my certification, I learned about trauma and discovered I had an ACE score of 10. Today the practice of slowing down is not only essential, it’s vital. I cannot afford to not slow down. Each breathe is now a gift, rather than a laborious commitment. And each exhale is a practice of surrender in God. In my opinion self-love and self-worth are radical acts of trust and resiliency in my daily practice of exhaling.