by Holly McKibben
I began my yoga journey five years ago, taking classes at a local hot yoga studio. I went for the sweat, but something else brought me back, something bigger, something I did not yet understand. I came back to my mat, over and over again, and through asana (physical practice), I woke up to my true nature. That is the beauty of yoga; you do not have to understand it to reap its benefits. It works for everyone, every time, in whatever way they need it and in whatever capacity they can handle. Yoga atta anushasanum – in this auspicious moment, after prior preparation, we begin our practice of yoga.
Yoga took me down the path of my soul, a path I walk with respect and gratitude. First, I became aware that I was not living authentically; that I was hiding and avoiding something vis a vis substances, alcohol, parties, television, exercise. Anything to distract myself from myself. First we become aware. Two years ago, I began to remember, face, and process childhood sexual trauma that was holding me back from inhabiting my body. The precious, sacred beauty of yoga is the transformation that begins with the simple act of being present in your body. I began to see the ripple effects of the trauma, and the myriad of ways in which it impacted my relationships with others and with myself. I saw the young girl within myself crying out for safety everywhere she went. With awareness came change. As I stripped away the layers, I realized that my hypervigilance, anxiety, distrust of others, disassociation and disconnection were all a part of a perpetual survival mode. I began to look at my life choices with more clarity and discrimitation. The avoidance behaviors began to fall away. With newfound clarity, I was forced to face truths that I didn’t want to face, truths that shook and cracked the foundations of my life. I found courage, I found strength, I listened and I trusted the answers. Last year I made the difficult and painful decision to leave my marriage and 15 year partnership. I moved forward with reliance on asana and meditation to help process the changes and to look for clarity during what were the darkest times of my life.
I hit rock bottom three times after I left my ex-husband. The work was grueling, painful, so many layers, so much isolation, so much loss and grief. I kept practicing yoga. Life stayed hard. I kept practicing yoga. It felt like it was never going to get better. I kept practicing yoga. I suffered. I kept practicing yoga. My 200 hour training carried me through last winter. I became physically stronger and mentally hardier as I processed my life through the lens of yoga philosophy and with the support of the yoga community. COVID showed up about a month after I finished that training. I switched to night shift and was redeployed to work in a COVID intensive care unit for 6 weeks. I watched the world seem to stop, stand still, crumble, lift back up, grasp desperately, argue, split, sicken. I watched my family and friends struggle, I watched strangers die alone. I experienced intense anxiety and fear as I navigated this new pandemic world as a Nurse Practitioner, a yoga teacher and a young woman still processing her divorce.
Intuition, the mana of Maui, God and my dharma, brought me back to the Maui Yoga Shala for my 300 hour training in October 2020.
I was absolutely meant to be on the island. I was meant to travel to Maui on the first day the quarantine lifted, October 15th, 2020. I was meant to go through training during the pandemic. I was meant to meet Trenna & Sarah (& Dylan, Nataliae, & Leah). It was all for me and it all served me. I am filled with deep gratitude, love, respect, and awe for the Maui Yoga Shala community and the island of Maui. You welcomed me with open arms and became my family.
Three themes came to me during my training. Ahimsa (non-violence), Ishvara Pranidana (surrender to God/universe/Source) and Viaragya (non-attachment, sometimes taught as non-reactivity). Anxiety, which has been with me most of my life, has manifested as control, violence, and attachment in my life. Anxiety is the opposite of surrender. My relationship to my anxiety has been a form of violence, because I have spent so much time rejecting myself. Anxiety kept me in perpetual survival-mode, which is a world of attachment and reaction. My anxiety told me that, first and foremost, I am not safe. Secondly, I am not a good person. Last but not least, I am not worthy of happiness. These lies are the foundation of the self-limiting narratives of my life. They have led me to think small and play small. I have found professional and personal success and happiness despite how hard I am on myself, yet I spent most of my life believing that I was successful because I was hard on myself. I had a breakthrough during my time in Maui. I realized that I don’t have to keep running away from anxiety. I can sit with it, listen to it, and even befriend it. Anxiety is a piece of me that I can welcome with open arms and say, hello my dear, what do you need to tell me? I can practice ahimsa by unconditionally loving myself, anxiety included. I can practice surrender by allowing what comes instead of fighting to control. And I can let go of my attachment to what I think my life “should” look like. Ahimsa, Ishvara Pranidana, Viaragya.
What shaped me? Why was the experience so special? It was each of you. Your tender hearts, your desire to share yoga, your commitment to yourselves and your community. It was finding my voice with Madelyn Ryan the Moon Goddess, learning to fly and flow with Dawn, reclaiming my energy and finding safe space with Carine, soothing my nervous system and learning anatomy and breath with Jennifer, connecting with Nadia & absorbing her wisdom, focusing on alignment with Lee, deep conversations and jubilant laughter with my fellow trainees. It was melting my fascia and learning planes of movement with Michael on Wednesday mornings. It was Shakta’s grounding stability and presence and the way his devotion shines clearly and brightly. It was meeting Dawn and seeing a strong woman shining and thriving, as living breathing proof that there is light on the other side of divorce, on the other side of trauma, on the other side of The Dark Night of the Soul. It was the unique energy of the island as quarantine began to lift and visitors returned. It was the sun, the moon and the rainbows. It was the trade winds, Kona winds, the beach, the waves, the sand. It was the dense green forests. It was waking each morning with gratitude. It was nourishing my body with healthy delicious food. It was watching the sun rise and meditating on the beach. It was abstaining from alcohol. It was feeling lighter and happier. It was being lighter and happier. It was living the lifestyle of yoga in a beautiful place surrounded by love and community.
Yoga started me on the path of the soul, and Maui was an integral part of my personal evolution along that path. I am more grounded and rooted than when I left Columbus in October. I am approaching life decisions with a spirit of openness and curiosity rather than fear and anxiety. I am relying on my tools; asana, meditation, pranayama, therapy. I am relying on yoga philosophy to guide me; ahimsa, satya, asteya, bramicharya, aparigraha. I am following my intuition and building confidence in my ability to live life from the heart. Thanks to my time in Maui, I know how I want to feel. The details around my life are to be determined. The who, what, where of my life will likely be shifting as I continue down this path. I forge on with excitement, gratitude, and curiosity. You are my Ohana now. Mahalo and aloha.