WRITTEN BY LAWANDA THOMAS | PUBLISHED APRIL 24, 2020
My path to spiritual growth was triggered by the pain of losing my father. His death brought a wave of grief so overwhelming that it released every sadness, hurt, disappointment, betrayal, or heartbreak that I’d ever swallowed, buried, tucked away, denied or otherwise suppressed. I wasn’t raised in a way that allowed free expression of emotion, and it was only in dealing with my grief that I realized that my strict religious upbringing had the effect of denying me access to certain emotions.
At that time, I had the language to fully express what I was feeling but I did not have a fully adequate way to cope with them; all I knew was that I was drowning in a sea of pain and I was seeking anything or anyone that could help stymie the rush of emotion and racing thoughts that accompanied my crushing grief. I can’t recall what exactly led me there, but when therapy, bible study and self-help books failed to provide complete mental and emotional healing, I walked into a hot yoga studio and found the solace I’d been searching for through breath powered movement on the mat.
To the uninitiated, yoga may simply seem like a combination of postures designed to increase flexibility and muscle strength. While there is an undeniable physical benefit to yoga, the real power of the practice lies in its ability to transform you from the inside out. The more I practiced the more I noticed its correlation to my life. How I reacted to the postures often mirrored how I reacted to certain situations and circumstances in life. The inability to hold balance in postures typically pointed to some imbalance in my life. The process of learning to move through the asanas with grace and poise served as a deeply personal metaphor. The insight I gained about myself in learning to bend and balance allowed me to solve some of my most pressing problems. Alignment on the mat correlated to alignment in all aspects of my life.
Learning to breathe properly throughout the practice was the game changer. It was the pranayama practice that gave me the tools to calm myself and move energy through my body in a way that released grief, tension, anger, guilt, shame, and worry. I held these negative emotions in my body long enough to make me physically and mentally ill. On the mat, I learned to surrender it all. The beauty of this journey is that the deepest part of my soul knew how to heal and used my grief as a catalyst to bring me to the practice.
Life is never perfect and not one of us is without flaws but there is endless beauty in the flow. The pitfalls that bring us to our knees are bound together with the triumphs that allow us to stand as tall and as erect as mountains. The bigger picture reveals that all of the messiness in between is simply a process for spiritual growth and evolution. From the mat we see life as it really is - breath is the constant and the yoga is the process that frees us from suffering through it.
LaWanda Thomas is a writer, seeker and educator. She is the founder of Honor and Obligation, a non-profit organization that seeks to restore sacred African traditions through educational programming on all fronts. Honor and Obligation hosts the Cultural Imperative Program, a Saturday Academy that teaches pre-slavery African history to area high school students. For more information, please visit www.cipdfw.org. Her weekly blog, #IWRITEWEDNESDAYS, shares excerpts from screenplays, short stories, editorials, and journal entries and can be found on IG @wandaringoutloud.
Some of the photos were taken by Chinook Wusdhu and Jackie Glenn at the Enso Apothecary Yoga Studio.