Yep, my time at Yoga Teacher Training was indeed transformative, and I am now a certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher - yay! Throughout the process was laid bare and vulnerable in ways beyond what thought was tolerable. Thanks to a skillful trainer and assistant, and some people outside of the Kripalu program I could reach out to who are part of my recovery community, I was able to walk through some triggering events, and now on the other side, feel confident I can teach the kind of yoga I want to teach: gentle, compassionate and meditative for anyBody, especially those who feel disqualified from yoga because not young, thin or bendy. This is what drew me to Kripalu Yoga in the first place. I realized this month that I also want to reach out to rehabs and detoxes to offer this type of yoga, since it can be very helpful for the difficult physical transitions of the body as it attempts to let go of drugs and alcohol, which is in my wheelhouse.
However, there were moments when I was not sure I would make it because this training makes you have to come into touch with the core of your being, including the traumatized bits. Not that anyone was traumatizing per se, but if you have been scared out of your body from a very young age, and then not only need to be in it to do yoga but then be in it enough to teach others to do the same While Others Are Watching You Do This...is another thing altogether.
In savasana (a meditative, restful time lying on floor at end of most yoga classes), I had a felt sense of how challenging this would be for me and began to cry. Afterwards, I went to talk about this to the trainer I had a feeling would get it and they did (NB: I am going to use 'they' as a gender neutral way of discussing people here, because I want this to be about principles rather than personalities, and if you know where I studied and with whom gender designations would give it away). Even though this person did not have a complete understanding, they did have the ability to understand there was something large going on and convey both an ability to hold space for that while also conveying faith in me that I would get through it. This was done not by using fake psychology, but simply reminders to breathe and stay in the present. Conveying both that I was seen and also—importantly—was not a broken toy who needed to be fixed or somehow pitied.
This is the key to accepting someone else's PTSD response.
What is a PTSD response, you might ask, and how would I know it?
Basically it's this: whatever form it takes, it does not track with what you can see in front of you as a person. If that person is generally confident and then is in a puddle of tears, definitely a good possibility they have been triggered. The reason this kind of seemingly atypical response is different than some kind of pathology is because PTSD is a manifestation of what is/was actually a Very Skillful response to what was an impossible situation that kept that person alive. So if someone dissociates or melts down in some obvious way, that is not a sign of a pathological breakdown but instead defense at what appears to be like the original trauma. Yes, it may seem out of line with the situation at hand, and YES, please for the love of all that is holy trust me on this, THE PERSON KNOWS THIS.
So, examples of less than skillful responses include telling a person who is crying after a disappointing-to-them practice teach in part due to the fact someone they have never met has been watching them while writing stuff down with what appeared like a grimace on their face, that they need to "deal with their negative self-talk."
Let's break this down as to all the reasons this is a bad idea.
1) As above, the person crying knows they are having a disproportionate response. This is not news. This person has been triggered, and if that person is trying to tell you that and all you say is "you have to deal with your negative self-talk" you know that (a) the person is not seeing you and (b) that person has decided that you Are a broken toy and worse—since clearly they do not have a clue what is happening—they can somehow Fix you.
2) Even if you were right and it was only an issue of "negative self-talk" to keep pointing that out is judgmental and therefore would make this syndrome worse.
3) If it is a PTSD response, this insistence amounts to blaming the victim and has the effect of not being useful information at all, but instead can have the effect of feeling humiliating.
What would be more useful in that scenario?
Something like the more skillful trainer did on numerous occasions:
1. Saw me for where I was and acknowledged it.
2. Made it clear that my vulnerability was not frightening to them, nor was it somehow off the charts or pathological in any way.
3. Reminded me of yogic principles (for instance Kripalu yoga has a wonderful system for "riding the wave" of seemingly overwhelming emotions: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow). When reminded of this, and assured by the presence of this person that I was Not a broken toy, I could then use these tools on my own and Find My Own Way Out of the PTSD Response. In other words, this is empowering. It is not either pathologizing or condescending, nor is it fixing, which is problematic because it makes the person feel they are incapable of finding their own way out.
Is this hard to pull off? You betcha. Have I met lots of people capable of this? No. But is it something that can be cultivated in oneself? Yes, I believe it is.
The key issue, however, is this: You Must Be OK with Your Own Vulnerability. If you are afraid of parts of yourself that are vulnerable or that perhaps you judge as "weak" or "unseemly", then you will not be able to hold space for someone who is truly melting down in front of you. Because the part of you that is scared of your own vulnerability will recoil and feel the need to label or pathologize or fix the person in front of you.
So, what I learned in my 26 days of Yoga Teacher Training is that I can survive my own worst meltdowns and fears. That I could find a way, after the first major one with the less than skillful mentor, to protect my own space and energy field (thanks to a friend who offered me a QiGong protection mudra with movement, and also remembering some of my own tools from my 32+ years of recovery). That I can distinguish between what is mine (aka baggage bringing to an interaction) and the less than ideal responses of some people. That when I feel humiliated in many cases this is because I have allowed someone to see a vulnerability in me they are not themselves prepared to cope with so feel the need to shut me down by labeling it or trying to fix me. That even so, that person or people are doing their best and that their vulnerability is manifesting as a fear of mine. So that in no case–and I want to emphasize this—do I think anyone was ever trying to hurt me in any way, and that at all times even these people who inadvertently hurt me did have my best interests at heart. However, there is this deep work one learns to do if having spent a long time in life recovering from trauma/s and various ways of coping with said trauma/s, and if one has not done this work or maybe even if one has not had to do this work, there is a certain lack of understanding brought to the spaces I ended up inhabiting at a few key phases during my training.
Having said that, there was the skilled trainer and also an assistant who had an instinctive understanding of what was happening and offered useful tools at key times. And the trainer was able to help me process some of the more difficult interactions.
But the main thing I want to convey here is this: even if you find yourself as someone in a situation with someone having a PTSD episode and you don't understand it: (a) hold space as much as possible, (b) listen to what the person is saying, (c) affirm their strength for being there in that moment, even if in a somewhat disheveled or perhaps dissociated state, and tell them both verbally and non-verbally, that you have confidence they can endure whatever they are going through at the moment and encourage them back to the present moment where—assuming you have done all of the above—it is safe. Also, and this is key, do not assume you know why or what has triggered this or what their background is or is not. If they want you to know, they will tell you. If you talk to them, however seemingly compassionately about their "rough life" when you don't even know what it was, again the person will feel singled out and pitied. If they want you to know the details, you will find out.
You can Always say: wow, I don't have this experience and am not sure what to do, how to offer help, and ASK the person is there something I can do? And then believe their answer. Finally, if nothing helps, consider reaching out to someone else you know who you think may be better suited to the task. In other words: be humble, don't assume you have to know how to deal with it, but be ready to find out you do not, and admit to where you are. Then you, too, are showing vulnerability, and become safer.
I hope this is useful information. Finally, if you have a friend or loved one who deals with PTSD on the regular (or you yourself do), I cannot recommend The Body Keeps the Score highly enough. This will give you the information you need to understand what that person is dealing with on a physiological level, even aside from the obvious emotional distress. When I read this book a couple years ago, it marked the first time I did not in my heart of hearts feel broken or beyond repair. I saw what made up the symptoms in my brain and body, and had a compassion for myself and others who similarly suffer. I saw we were not beyond redemption, we were skillful survivors of impossible situations, either in childhood or as adults or both, domestic or in war or both, and that given this knowledge and self-awareness we can find how to navigate the world in a way which is less fractured. Perfect? No. At times triggered? You bet. But with compassion.
"The highest form of spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment" said Swami Kripalu.
Welcome to my blog..
"We struggle with dream figures and our blows fall on living faces." Maurice Merleau-Ponty
When I started this blog in 2011, I was in a time of transition in my life between many identities - that of Artistic Director of a company (Apocryphal Theatre) to independent writer/director/artist/teacher and also between family identity, as I discover a new family that my grandfather's name change at the request of his boss in WWII hid from view - a huge Hungarian-Slovak contingent I met in 2011. Please note in light of this the irony of the name of my recently-disbanded theatre company. This particular transition probably began in the one month period (Dec. 9, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010) in which I received a PhD, my 20 year old cat died on my father's birthday and then my father, who I barely knew, died too. I was with him when he died and nothing has been the same since. This blog is tracing the more conscious elements of this journey and attempt to fill in the blanks. I'm also writing a book about my grandmothers that features too. I'd be delighted if you joined me. (Please note if you are joining mid-route, that I assume knowledge of earlier posts in later posts, so it may be better to start at the beginning for the all singing, all dancing fun-fair ride.) In October 2011, I moved back NYC after living in London for 8 years and separated from my now ex-husband, which means unless you want your life upended entirely don't start a blog called Somewhere in Transition. In November 2011, I adopted a rescue cat named Ugo. He is lovely. As of January 2012, I began teaching an acting class at Hunter College, which is where one of my grandmothers received a scholarship to study acting, but her parents would not let her go. All things come round…I began to think it may be time to stop thinking of my life in transition when in June 2012 my stepfather Tom suddenly died. Now back in the U.S. for a bit, I notice, too, my writing is more overtly political, no longer concerned about being an expat opining about a country not my own. I moved to my own apartment in August 2012 and am a very happy resident of Inwood on the top tip of Manhattan where the skunks and the egrets roam in the last old growth forest on the island.
I am now transitioning into being married again with a new surname (Barclay-Morton). John is transitioning from Canada to NYC and as of June 2014 has a green card. So transition continues, but now from sad to happy, from loss to love...from a sense of alienation to a sense of being at home in the world.
As of September 2013 I started teaching writing as an adjunct professor at Fordham University, which I have discovered I love with an almost irrational passion. While was blessed for the opportunity, after four years of being an adjunct, the lack of pay combined with heavy work load stopped working, so have transferred this teaching passion to private workshops in NYC and working with writers one on one, which I adore. I will die a happy person if I never have to grade an assignment ever again. As of 2018, I also started leading writing retreats to my beloved Orkney Islands. If you ever want two weeks that will restore your soul and give you time and space to write, get in touch. I am leading two retreats this year in July and September.
I worked full time on the book thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign in May 2014 and completed it at two residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Wisdom House in summer 2015. I have done some revisions and am shopping it around to agents and publishers now, along with a new book recently completed.
I now work full-time as a freelance writer, writing workshop leader, coach, editor and writing retreat leader. Contact me if you are interested in any of these services.
Not sure when transition ends, if it ever does. As the saying goes, the only difference between a sad ending and a happy ending is where you stop rolling the film.
For professional information, publications, etc., go to my linked in profile and website for Barclay Morton Editorial & Design. My Twitter account is @wilhelminapitfa. You can find me on Facebook under my full name Julia Lee Barclay-Morton. More about my grandmothers' book: The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick & Jani
In 2017, I launched a website Our Grandmothers, Our Selves, which has stories about many people's grandmothers. Please check it out. You can also contact me through that site.
I am now directing again, my newest play, On the edge of/a cure, and have finally updated my publications list, which you can find on the sidebar. Someday, I will have a website, but for now, you can find a lot about me on here. Thanks for stopping by...