The Magical Healing Power of Yoga

We carry pain with us from life's disappointments and tragedies – not just "emotional" pain, actual physical trauma. Yoga has the power to restore our bodies and souls.

The author has practiced yoga

The author, Claudia Altucher, has practiced yoga for over a decade.

On March 31, 1986, my mother jumped out of the 7th floor window of her bedroom. On her way down she crashed into a glass table in the backyard. She died that day. She was depressed and desperate.

It felt like I had been shot twice, a bullet to the head and a cannonball to the stomach.

I am not writing to tell you that story though. This is about how healing a daily yoga practice can be.

In 2000, during my first yoga class I realized that there was a connection between what I felt in my stomach and the pain of what had happened when I was 18.

Eight years later I learned I had a muscle called the “psoas,” when I started doing drop backs onto the floor — from standing, dropping backwards onto the wheel pose.

I could never do it. Still can’t.

Since it was so hard for me, I analyzed the mechanics of the ‘dropping back’ very well. I studied it from every angle, consulted every teacher. But still nothing.

Last June, I visited Paul Dallaghan at his yoga center in Thailand.

I told him: “I need help, I’ve been working on the physical part of dropping back for six years. I’ve consulted dozens of teachers and I still cannot do it. Why?”

“Let’s look at it,” Paul said, as he walked me to the wall.

So I dropped back with my hands on the wall, and as I came up I did the thing I always do:

I got dizzy, took a frantic inhale (as if I had been drowning) and then bent over, hands on knees, trying to catch my breath, waiting for the blur in my vision to dissipate until eventually I could see Paul again.

He was looking at me intently, his full attention on my every move.

“This last part” he said “that desperate inhale at the end… That is drama, because the physical part is ready.”

And just like that, with one sentence, I had the biggest “AHA!” moment of my life.

That “desperate inhale” is exactly what I had felt when I saw my mother being carried out on a stretcher, covered with a white blanket, face and all, dead, to the ambulance that would take her to the morgue, to the nightmare.

The “desperate inhale” was still with me, right there in my psoas, in my inner organs, in my breathing, the lodged cannonball become flesh.

“The physical part is ready,” Paul said.

The emotional body, however, had an extra layer on top of my muscles, and this layer still had a strong hold on me. It was stopping me from breathing.

That is how powerful a daily yoga practice can be. We store strong emotional trauma both in the physical and the emotional body. When we heal the physical, then the emotional pain can be released. It can float away — off it goes like a cucumber detaching from the vine.

After that conversation with Paul, my drop backs have gotten much deeper, and I don’t inhale desperately anymore when I come up. Now I just breathe and smile.

And no, I still don’t go all the way down, but I am no longer scared, so I know the pose will come — in time, no rush.

Back in NYC in September, I related the experience to a very wise friend. He asked me just one question. He warned me before asking that this particular question would be weird.

“Go ahead and ask me,” I said.

“How much do you think you get out of holding on to this story about your mother?”

KABOOM. Another “Aha!” moment.

See, the physical body was ready to let go, and even the emotional body was beginning to let go but I was still going around talking about it.

Why?

Because there is a pay-off to holding on to drama.

When you read that first paragraph, it probably evokes an emotion in you. You may feel sympathy, relate, feel sadness, think of something that happened to you, want to say “I’m sorry” to me.

We are good people at heart, and we are all compassionate at the core, so we feel for the pain of others.

And… right there, that is how I get a “pay-off.” I tell the story and I get the “poor me”…I get attention, I get to reinforce my wound.

Even though I would not say the wounds of that experience have completely “healed,” at least now when I think of my mother, I can come from a place of love and not be so caught up in emotional turmoil.

I am “un-frozen.” I can write about it.

A month ago, a friend told me she remembered the day of my mother’s suicide:

“I was starting my last year of Secondary, the Catholic priest gave us the news in class, said that it was an accident, that your mom was cleaning the window and fell down, and they asked us to pray. I knew it was not an accident and I would have liked to hablaramos in class about depression and other serious problems that lead to someone to put an end to their life. Talk about the death of loved ones helps us to heal, it allows us to put life in perspective and to understand who we are.”

All these years, I did not know they had announced her death at school, and that they had said it was an accident. Yes, it would have been good to have had a conversation about it, to ventilate thoughts, and begin healing. But I understand. Everyone was confudidos and scared, myself included.

This is just my experience. I am not saying this is how it would happen for anyone else. That is the thing with yoga, it’s an individual process.

And for me, it’s working. It is helping me release. Another friend told me, “I’m thinking you just penetrated the Manomaya Kosha. Bravo mija! Keep going towards Anandamaya Kosha.”

For example, I no longer think that people who take their own lives will be punished or have to pay for it.

Now, I see they were in pain, desperate. They did not know what else to do, they could not see any other options. They did the best they could.

And wherever my mother may be now, with all the love for her that lives within me, I wish her a wonderful new start.

Te quiero mucho mamá.

Claudia Azula Altucher is a writer, podcaster, and teacher of yoga. She is the co-author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book The Power Of No. Visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.