Have you ever felt so angry your temples flash, your mind goes numb, and all you want to do is destroy, sabotage, break, dismantle?
We live in a culture of repression. “I would rather not feel or connect to my emotions — shame, fear, grief, anger, love, disgust — because it is wrong.”
Anger is a potent and transformative force that is often interpreted as offensive, and yet it is this righteous and necessary emotion that fueled the fires of the Third Precinct. During the COVID-19 crisis and the Minneapolis uprising, I experienced a newfound rage I did not know was possible.
As a healer and facilitator in healing justice, I recognize barriers to mental health and mindfulness. For decades, QTBIPOC (queer, trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color), and especially Black people, have experienced police brutality and systemic racism without resourcing from the white wellness community. In response, I have advocated for a paradigm shift from self-care to collective care.
The practice I teach is about embodiment and rest. Sthira sukham asanam is about cultivating steadiness and ease within self to navigate a constantly changing world. Ask yourself: What is being felt? What is the temperature of my body? How is my breath? My digestive tract? What is the taste in my mouth?
Moving slowly and tenderly in the face of my feelings is the first step toward self-preservation.
Rest is an act of power. When we step back and recognize how we feel, we are resourcing shakti, our innate power. The practice is not asking you to suppress how you feel, but to establish equanimity. Creating space to rest, digest, and heal are necessary to the revolution.
How do I nourish my body?
Everyday, I remember I am alive, and I am good.
In the morning, I do slow stretching of muscles, joints, and connective tissue. I drink warm water to open my kidneys and digestive tract. I drink a cup of warm herbal tea: Solomon’s Seal, goldenrod, oat straw, plantain tea, or kidney tea. Then I eat a light morning meal or cook organic fruit with non-dairy yogurt, sometimes with gluten-free oatmeal.
I take a warm bath or shower — a bath with flower remedies to heal emotional issues.
Why do I do all of this? With decades of muscle and joint disease combined with spinal damage, I find that the most generous thing I can give myself is myself. To help anyone or anything else in the world, I have to nurture me. When I do environmental work or artwork about nature, I remember that I am a part of that nature I am trying to protect.
“Me first” is not negative. It is the rallying cry of someone born into a situation where her body was hurt when she was young, who almost died. My healing process has involved letting go emotionally of the past, and knowing what I have to do to keep that healing process alive. Paint. Be with nature. Laugh. Be with friends. Eat healthy food. Support and help other people as best I can. Keep knowing that I am good and that I matter.
I practice a classical form of dance from southern India called Bharatanatyam, with origins that go back 2,000 years. Its backbone is spirituality and it calls for discipline, coordination, rhythm, facial expressions, and interpretation of song, lyrics, and poetry. It is yoga in movement.
Nothing has fulfilled me more than this practice. It reflects what is within us — deep emotions, thoughts, and feelings that involve the self, family, friends, and experiences that are internal. The ‘outer’ reflections represent community, country, city, and politics. Some of the poetry we choreograph is 5,000 years old. Using metaphors and symbols, a choreographer paints a story using her entire body, gestures, and facial expressions.
I was born a Hindu. Hinduism believes that god is in everything and everywhere. The freedom to see one’s god as friend, lover, child, and teacher gives ample opportunities for interpretation.
The beating of my feet in rhythm helps with osteoporosis, good posture, discipline, and imagination.
Since 1992, I have led the Ragamala Dance Company, now with my two daughters, Aparna and Ashwini. At 68, I still perform with them. This dance keeps me happy, joyful, healthy, and truly nourished.
There’s really no trail from Royal Hut to Stag Saddle in New Zealand. Instead, in typical Kiwi fashion, it is a pick-your- way between orange markers on soggy humps of grass, back and forth across a boulder-strewn stream, and straight up from one false summit to the next. The sun is hot in a bluebird sky.
The trail got the best of me. I sat down to rest and immediately started crying, ready to quit and go home. I put life on pause to walk this — a risk I am willing to take before my arthritic feet impede my “full-time pedestrian” status.
One would assume it is walking that nourishes my body and soul. That is only part of the story. My earliest memory is of looking down at my feet in wonder as they moved me up to the back door of our church where my father was the minister. I can still see the dappled light on the sidewalk, my arms swinging, propelling me along. That moment was the first time I felt in charge of my being, excited about the power of the simple act of moving myself forward with my legs.
That feeling has sustained me through my life. I have walked in fields, forests, and mountains, using ambulation as a way to work out problems, manage my emotions, and spark creativity.
I kick up loose scree on a slope toward the summit of Beuzenberg Peak, rock shards underfoot. Plants like spiky hedgehogs cling close to the ground. The stunning aquamarine of Lake Tekapo comes into view below a glistening Mount Cook, wisps of clouds stuffed in its valleys.
I am glad I did not quit when the going got tough. I relish the long walk that got me here, a journey of discovering what is around me as well as what is inside me. I am reminded that every step — cruisey or challenging, confident or uncertain, happy or sad — nourishes my body and soul.
I met Jane Clare (pictured above) in an Ancient Greek Archeology class. Later, I learned she has Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. “To put it simply,” she told me, “the blood doesn’t flow where it is supposed to, when it is supposed to. The most common symptom is fainting, because the heart rate goes up when the blood pressure drops.”
Standing for long periods of time can lead to fainting. This caused problems as an undergraduate, when she was required to make presentations on her feet, even though she advised teachers that she loses oxygen when standing, which affects her voice and her ability to focus.
Jane has to regularly advocate for herself because people tend not to understand that not all disabilities are visible. There is bias in favor of able-bodied people. We also mistrust and belittle the voice of people asking for what they need.
Some professors, for example, did not want to accommodate her requests for notes when she was unable to attend class, even though she had a letter signed by the Disability Services Office. On the other hand, after COVID-19 required a shift to online learning, changes were swift. She says she is bitter about how quickly people can spring into action when access affects the abled-bodied, compared to when it is disabled people.
I share Jane’s story, with her permission, because I gain my own courage from her example, in facing down discrimination and the uncertainties caused by the pandemic. I am learning to live better in my own body by keeping in mind her words to me: “My disability has taught me the importance of living my life despite fear and uncertainty. Getting better isn’t the point. I am happy. I am not broken. I am whole.”
Greek mythology says the thread of life is controlled by three sisters collectively called Fates. First, Clotho spins the thread of life. Lachesis measures the length of the thread apportioning each life. Finally, Atropos chooses the manner of death cutting the thread with her large shears.
It seems our lives consist of a beginning, middle and end — all controlled by the feminine. The middle is where all the good stuff happens but where all the uncertainty lies. So fine is the line between life and death sometimes, the thread is a wisp of hair. According to the myth, even if we knew when the Fates were coming, we could not prevent their arrival. Presuming they are not looking for me is my emotional survival.
The first time the Fates whispered in my ear I was 16. Even though I had complete kidney failure and by all accounts should have died, no one mentioned this to me, so I never thought about it after my kidney transplant.
The second time Lachesis took out her measuring rod, I was in my 30s with severe stomach pain. I spent eight hours in the emergency room without attention.
After hours with no food, my stomach quieted down and I was sent home with a diagnosis of “stomach cramps.” When the Vicodin ran out two days later, I returned to the ER where doctors discovered a perforated ulcer filling my stomach with the air. I looked like I swallowed a basketball. Surgeons repaired it, handed me a cane and sent me home with a ten-inch incision. I had eluded the Fates.
I was again struck down 15 years later, An ambulance driver put me into the back and flipped on the siren.
Riding backwards in a vehicle is strange because you are seeing the world speed away from you and disappear at the horizon. It’s like you are running from something, but you can’t see where you are going, so you are never sure if you will arrive. I could almost hear the Fates chuckle as they rode shotgun to the hospital.
At the hospital, an endoscopy showed a vessel bleeding into my stomach, which the doctor dubbed a “fluke” likely to never happen again. I don’t linger on the prospect of death; what good would it do? I think, If I keep moving, I won’t be held down. It’s like the paradox that walking is less tiring than standing still.
In a COVID-19 world, my suppressed immune system watches at the window for the Fates to roll up to the curb. The rest of me carries on as I have since my transplant in 1982, keenly aware of how little time there is and how much of the world I want to see. Each moment is an opportunity to be seized. I am not running away from death, I am chasing life.