You are a good friend of mine. Quite possibly you have saved my life many times. How can I
repay you for your kindness?
I was 19 and just starting to be rebellious. Definitely one of those Rod Stewart songs applied to
me, the one about Catholic girls. The evening I broke my back and ankle my parents were
states away visiting family. I did something illegal, well a couple things. And then I fell 20 feet or
so onto cement and it changed my life forever. At the time and for many many years after I grew
in guilt and shame over what happened. The first time I rebelled and this happened! I found
yoga 5 years after these injuries. What it did for me was help peel away physical and emotional
layers that had built up. As every layer of anger, sadness, shame, guilt was surfacing I was
taught about the of the part of me that could actually observe my reactions. At first this was
challenging as I held a yoga pose that created so much sensation in my body it was like a
megaphone screaming in my ear “LOOK WHAT YOU DID TO YOURSELF!” But with practice I
could start to really see and accept the totality of my experience. This included the part of me
that could hear the screaming but still observe another part that was continually and had always
been there connected to my highest and true self. This was not the screaming or the shame.
That blew my mind and created an immense amount of freedom from suffering for me.
My yoga practice has given me context to accept myself for who I am completely. I have
practiced through tears, stood steady during times I couldn’t even stand myself, and on
occasion found a place of deeply compassionate confidence. Yoga has helped me understand
that physical well being and emotional stability are not sprints but a mountainous long distance
journey. It has showed me that our body and mind are connected like our arm is connected to
our shoulder. When we have a physical injury or illness it effects our mind and emotions.
When we have emotional injuries it affects our physical body as well. The physical body
affecting emotions and emotions affecting the physical feels like that age old question, what
came first the chicken or the egg? Ultimately I don’t think it matters so much when something
originated it is more about validating how you feel. How you feel is not wrong.
I was 13. In one year I saw one man shot and dying in a convenient store parking lot, my sister
was raped, we had a bomb threat on our house, and a gang fight that was broken up by a gun
being fired in the air. Honestly, my teenage years growing up in Flint was riddled with things like
this until I left at 19 years old, right after my injury. I have flashes of memory that still come up
from time to time. Kevin Clark, a man I never met, rolling around on the ground that summer
day. I wanted desperately to run out to him. Opening the bathroom door to my sister laying in a
puddle of her own blood that trailed from her bedroom. She looked up at me in fear as she laid
there not knowing what was going to happen to her and said, “don’t worry Amber everything is
going to be ok.” Countless encounters with family, random men, and teachers doing and saying
inappropriate things. Then in my 20’s, right before I found yoga I started to have severe panic
attacks that I attribute to post traumatic stress.
I don’t think my experiences are uncommon. From conversations I have had with multiple
students and friends over the years I know they aren’t. What yoga has taught me is to look at
my shadow, the darker sides of my psychology, my emotions, my mind, and my physical being,
instead of looking away from it. To sit with what is arising at any given moment. We are intuitive
beings. Time has taught me that we are given what we can handle. This includes navigating the
dark. If we push something away or down into hiding it is still there.
In Yoga we learn to breathe. To take longer, slower, smoother breaths. When we do this it has a
positive affect on our nervous system. It is calming. When we are calm we can observe more
clearly how we are doing. How we are REALLY doing. How are you doing?
Our ability to sit with an uncomfortable posture makes us able to handle the uncomfortable
situations or relationships in our life with more perseverance and compassion. This practice
increases our compassion for those around us in physical or emotional discomfort. We start to
understand more clearly that we are more alike than we are not. We can see others in ourself
and ourself in others. Remembering that we are all connected.
Amber creates a safe environment for students to discover their bodies physically and emotionally through yoga. She mindfully guides students through intelligent physical alignment and breath awareness in strong vinyasa and hatha classes. For more information on Amber, visit www.ambercookyoga.com