“But it is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives them understanding. … The Spirit of God has made me, And the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” —Job 32:8 & 33:4
“Be anxious for nothing.” —Philippians 4:6
“Perfect love casteth out fear. He who fears has not been made perfect in love” (KJV) —1 John 4:18
If I know one thing for sure, it’s that I’m not perfect in love. But I am learning, and the biggest part of that is learning how to really pray. 2018 was a year of growth and growing pains, of walking through fear and doubt toward a greater sense of mission, community and a lot less worry. You’d think with the growth of responsibilities that worry would scale up, too. Instead, we’ve grown into areas we didn’t even consider this time last year, exponentially expanding our unknowns, and learning to worry less, pray more and do the work that’s right in front of us.
As a paramedic for most of two decades before taking my yoga teaching full time, I really thought I had come to terms with the fleeting impermanence of all we hold dear. Death and I had looked each other in the face more than a few times, and death had a better track record than any one else I knew—it always wins in the end, in the physical sense.
I had learned through this career to do all that was in front of me, make three sets of alternative plans for every move, and that sometimes everything isn’t enough. When people lived, I knew that was no more my doing than when they died, given we had done our jobs. Every week people lived who could easily have not, and others died despite a massive team doing everything in our power to prevent it. This uncertainty I accepted. The uncertainty of circumstance and the depths to which human beings can sink, I had not accepted, nor had I accepted how much I was not in charge of… and what a good thing that is.
During this time I would have said I prayed, but really it was more of a fight. While it was the struggle I needed to experience in order to end up where I am now, it was difficult, sometimes loud and rarely led to peace or understanding. It was more of a stalemate: me realizing my powerlessness over others’ choices and fates but pretty mad at God for the suffering I could not relieve. I felt it in my neck and shoulders, a tightness in my chest and when the week had been really long, a feeling almost like acid under my skin that only a good cry could clear out.
But in September of 2016, about a year after transitioning to full time business owner and yoga teacher, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My face-off with death went from abstract to very concrete and personal: the fragility of my love and life filled my mind and breath and gut. I was not so much afraid of my end, which I’ve always been curious about, but shattered at the idea of letting my husband and loved ones down, which is what it felt like to me.
In this, my own pride was revealed, my own overblown sense of importance and power that had always kept me from full faith and bound in anxiety over what I could not control. I was forced to realize that not only could I not avoid the inevitable, but I could also not foresee it.
I had to accept that my husband, who I was so terrified of letting down, has something so much greater than me loving him, so much more strength and power available to him, and would be held in grace and find joy without me, if that was how this went.
It wasn’t, at least not now. The cancer I had was not very aggressive, and we were very lucky to have the resources to create a stellar team of mainstream and alternative practitioners around us to not only remove the cancer and radiate the nearby cells, but also to discern the probable, deeper causative factors and begin the process of healing from the ground up.
From. The. Ground. We felt dismantled and fractured in so many ways, and so we began praying. Not that we hadn’t before—we’d been through so many miscarriages, failed fertility treatments, and even a failed adoption. We’d prayed, we’d cried, we’d grieved and we’d healed. But during this time, we began praying, out loud, together, right as we were waking up, holding one another. And we focused on how much gratitude we felt, how much uncertainty we faced and asked for basic things: wisdom, patience, humility, strength.
And then we’d come back to patience, humility and wisdom, knowing that someday, time and healing—at least physical strength—would run out. This time, I faced death not as an adversary, but as an experience, one that could bring me and mine closer to love. I talked to God, not to understand the despicableness of humanity, but to understand my own frailty, need, and the beauty of it all. To let go of being the only one who could ever take care of my husband, because really it never is just me.
It’s God all along.
During all this time, a friend and colleague, in fact the woman who owned the practice where I sublet the tiny room for our Healing Yoga Practice Community, was also diagnosed with cancer, hers of the lung. We had prayed together, for one another, and I had witnessed her more demanding struggle with treatment for a cancer that seemed so unlikely in someone with such lifelong healthy habits. Her practice as a Doctor of Oriental Medicine serves mainly Veterans, many dealing with pain, and she is a tremendous blessing to her patients. Her waiting room, which had become my yoga room in 2012, was the perfect place for me to grow my business debt free, while affording her a little extra income when she needed extra time to heal.
I had known for a long time that my classes really needed more space, that our community had new directions to grow and untapped depth. But every time I would look at space, and even a few times when I’d begun to negotiate on leases, a sense of unease was unshakable and things just wouldn’t line up. The principles I had committed myself to early on in growing this business, when it was a sideline alongside my career as a paramedic, were the guard rails: if I couldn’t do it with cash on hand leaving a buffer and with a sense of increasing freedom, it wasn’t the right choice.
So many times I questioned these guard rails: maybe I just needed to “go for it,” as people say. Throw caution to the wind. Maybe I just needed to “push through” the unease, “buckle down,” “grin and bear it.” But I had written the principles down: cash, buffer, makes me breathe deeper. Nothing lined up with all that—it might make me smile, but take all my buffer. It might be doable in the budget, but it made my breath catch. The quality of my breathing was my surest indicator: if I was breathing shallowly, or worse yet, holding my breath, something wasn’t lining up.
I kept coming back to the simple fact that it wasn’t time. Our yoga practice community was definitely outgrowing its home, but we were safe, sheltered, had beautiful—if cozy—surroundings, and my prayers began including, “Please show me the way. Please help me see the best way to grow, to support my colleagues and take care of this community. Please help me see.” Accompanying this phase was a feeling just to the right of my heart, a tightness, a place that didn’t so much feel constricted as it felt ready to burst—almost. It was a feeling I’d never had before and had no name for.
I began to realize that when I looked at real estate that would entail compromises of the principles I’d written down, spiritual principles of planning, laying in stores, moving toward grace, this feeling would become more uncomfortable. When I’d focus on the bounty of what we had, on the community of healers I was honored to be a part of, on planning and saving and contributing, this feeling would ease into something like love: a little tingly, not entirely comfortable, a little wriggly and warm, like a promise, like joy.
And then one day, January 12th, 2018, I believe, my friend and colleague called us together to say she was scaling down her practice. Our merry band of healing women came together to help one another find new rooms for our practices in different places, to move and to say farewell, stay in touch. I’m happy to say, Dr. Susan, as my friend is known, is doing better, growing in health and her practice is bringing her more ease.
I’m less happy to say that this began a short phase of tremendous doubt and fear for me: maybe it was time for me to close, too. Maybe this is the end of this dream. Maybe I just go teach for other studios, or go back to school. I was spitting distance from finishing my Ph.D. in Ancient Greek Philosophy before I became a paramedic. Maybe I finish that, maybe I go teach EMTs and Paramedics—I’d become incredibly attached to being home at night and having regular meals and bathroom breaks, which you don’t get as a street medic. Maybe I head to PT school – many of my clients come to me after physical therapy has ended with out full recovery. Maybe I should join that branch of the medical system and learn to fit in. Maybe I just take a break and finish recovering from radiation. Maybe. Maybe…
Maybe I write down the impossible thing I want and go look for it: $600/month, 600 square feet, street frontage, incredible light. On my easel in my study in colors with stamps and stars around it. And not a few prayers: show me, guide me, keep my heart open, help me see.
And then I began writing more down: a free yoga clinic.
A Healing Yoga class.
An online studio.
An apprenticeship program.
Writing it all down, acknowledging the dream with so much uncertainty felt tenuous, but made me breath easier, deeper and more freely. The questions came fast and furious, but would clear with a breath: which should come first? How was I going to do this, what was the means? The place?
The answer was that “I” wasn’t going to do all this: I was going to ask the questions, stay in the uncertainty, breathe and attend the projects and people right in front of me. Answers would come in the flow of the breath.
One day, I was looking at a room near where Dr. Susan was considering re-locating, giving her feedback, considering our new home. That place was not a winner, but it got me to drive by a place I never went, even though it was a block and a half from our prior location. I was actively praying for insight when I saw the “For Lease” sign over sweet little stone faced, bright and sunny, east facing storefront.
I turned the steering wheel so abruptly my wheels screeched, I pulled up and peered in. Dusty. Needed a lot of cleaning. How had I not seen this before?
I called the number.
“Oh, yes, are you standing out front? I can see you!” I turned and waved to no one before the landlord stepped out of the insurance agency, a tall older man who walked like a cowboy. He opened it up, started asking me about my business.
The second I walked in, I knew.
I could see the walls painted light blue with a chalk board strip painted down the north wall. I could see the picture of the Bohdisattva from my childhood framed and watching to door through the odd circular cut out between the 600 sq. ft. studio and the small office. I could see the twinkle lights all around the perimeter of the ceiling and the laminate wood floors gleaming and warm after a good scrub. I could see the fountain in the northwest corner I’d gotten for $12 at a yard sale the previous summer for the studio I didn’t yet own. I could see the kitchen warm with tea mugs.
I’d found our new home.
How did I know?
That place in my chest, to the right of my heart, felt like it had enough space for the first time in a couple of years. My breath was deep and free as my shoulders dropped and my smile was irrepressible—even when I tried so the landlord wouldn’t know how deeply I wanted it. The price wasn’t quite as low as I’d written down, but it started there for three months and then went up to going price, which was still very affordable and almost twice the space I’d written down.
I asked God, “Is this it?” and the feeling I got was as if a grownup ruffled your hair as a kid and asked, “What do you think?” with a smirk.
I brought my husband in, who had the same feeling, his breath eased standing there and we went over the numbers with a fine tooth comb. We projected budgets. We took the weekend to sleep on it. But I never not knew.
It has been a crazy, wild year, and while I didn’t get that book fully written or the online course fully complete, we’ve opened a new studio, started an apprentice program, done our first free yoga clinic with another coming up soon and taught the Foundations of Healing Yoga Online for the first time. Giving two sold out retreats in one year would have stretched me beyond what I thought I could do before, but this year we’ve done that and so very much more. We’ve received back stories of healing and peace found through yoga practice and anxiety reduced through connecting to the breath, the sensations of embodiment and through them to the present moment, the place where God always shows up.
I’m Christine, owner of Badlands Yoga, LLC., and I share the most effective tools I’ve found for focus, balance, strength and stress reduction in classes designed to give you the tools you need to act from your most authentic, healthy self, even in the most stressful situations.
I am trained in Yin, Restorative, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Raja and am Core Strength Vinyasa and Yoga Shred influenced and inspired—all styles of Hatha Yoga. These “flavors” influence my personal practice and the practice that I share with you. My previous life as a paramedic allows an intimate understanding of the anatomy and physiology that guides every class, pose, technique that I share with you.
You don’t have to be flexible – or anything else – to do yoga: yoga helps you become those things.