i’ve got (my) back

10351825_10152504996033746_8547168182269551440_nI hurt my back. In a gentle yoga class. During the first pose.

The irony continues…

I carved out the gift of this single yoga class from a busy week spent at The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.

The irony doesn’t end there…

I was at Kripalu to assist at a Let Your Yoga Dance teacher training program–where I danced day and night–without a problem. It was only when I stopped, sat down, and reclined, open-hearted, over a delicious set of cushions, that I was hurt.

This irony suggests an invitation more than an injury, doesn’t it?

But a month later, the invitation is still hurting.

Bending over backwards is the mind/body connection that comes to mind.

But wasn’t I bending for myself?

I made a special request to fit that yoga class into a tight schedule. I rushed to make it happen. I couldn’t wait to surrender to it.  And yet, even after I felt the alarming twinge in my lower back, I refused it.

“This posture is great,” I said to my back. “Come on! Enjoy it.”

And when my back continued to complain?

“What’s the point of taking the cushions out now? You’re already hurt.”

So maybe I wasn’t so much bending over backward–for myself–but bending over backward for… busyness?

Assisting at Kripalu had an alarmingly familiar tempo to previous life incarnations; ones that I consciously left behind: from managing a family of origin to managing a restaurant, to managing a classroom and then a succession of non-profits.

Ironically this new role held none of the responsibilities that once weighed me down, and it also included meditation, hugs and organic food.

So what was wrong with me? Hadn’t I made enough progression? Couldn’t I tolerate a few days of intense scheduling given the obvious benefits?

Apparently, No. I arrived to opening night with an impressive fever blister (my first), and shortly after developed a full-blown migraine.

The most outstanding irony in this entire drama is the fact that I didn’t have to be there; and I couldn’t even blame it on money… I was volunteering.

(Kelly. Kelly. Kelly.)

Once I returned home, that silly, gentle-yoga, first-pose, invitation continued, until I was forced to attend to it with a myriad of practitioners: from chiropractic, to massage, to naturopathic.

It only felt worse.

Finally, I succumbed to bringing it where it belonged: the psychotherapist.

With her guidance, I take myself back to the reclining pose on the soft cushions at Kripalu, and realize that I WANT EVEN MORE SPACE, more than this yoga class, more than this mat, more than this open-hearted pose.

This hunger for space has been a constant throughout my life–as the oldest of 8–parentified by alcoholism–orphaned by divorce–driven to exhaustion at work.

But the truth underneath my desperation for space is that I don’t want to give up on anything else to have it.  I want the joy of assisting, the gift of a family, and the delight of professional pursuits.

What I need to learn how to do is this: Occupy the space I need, ALL the space I need, in the midst of it all.

With this realization, the pain in my back grows louder and louder, until I want to crawl out of my skin and become spineless.

The familiar reclining chair in my therapist’s office becomes so uncomfortable that I am forced to move to the floor while she carefully guides my attention to the story behind the pain:

My grandmother appears. Not the one I adored. But the one I abhorred?  Because she was mean? And fat? (obese really.)

Energy moves from my right side to my left side, and then wraps around my belly where this grandmother’s dark and heavy pain is lodged inside of me.

This is where my doctor placed his hands last week to contrast the muscular differentiation between this and my thighs. “Your weaker abdominal muscles may be contributing to the vulnerability of your lower back,” he suggests.

But here’s what I heard:

“You hurt your back because you are fat and lazy and out of shape.”

(Yet another invitation masked as injury/as insult.)

“I don’t want to connect with the energy of this grandmother,” I say to my therapist; but even as I say the words, and realize how afraid I am of this journey, I know that it is my next frontier.

I pick myself up off the floor and climb back into the chair, reconnecting my heart to my lower back; surprised to find that my spine suddenly feels like a source of support again instead of agony.

10301211_10152601746673746_16322046353505728_nMy mind flashes back to Kripalu, to the ritualistic closing of each demanding or vulnerable or evocative Let Your Yoga Dance training session: We circle up, wrap our arms around the bodies touching ours, and take turns whispering into one another’s ear:

“I’ve got your back.”

I stand to say goodbye to my therapist, and I smile as I walk out her door, whispering to myself:

“I’ve got my back.”


The heart of devotion


My life purpose journey brought me here. Though it took me months to place it. To name it.

The sensation seemed to occur whenever a student expressed her appreciation for how our time together touched her, particularly as she revealed gifts that I couldn’t have imagined or planned, let alone take credit for.

In response, an excruciating tenderness welled up inside, doused with so much humility that I found it almost unbearable.

I was back at Kripalu–the yoga center in Lenox, Massachusetts–when an understanding of this profound sensation began to take shape. I was among a large group of Let Your Yoga Dance trainees as they were invited, one by one, to come into the center of a circle and speak their intentions for the week, allowing these to be expressed through their bodies as well.

It was my first time assisting a training, but I took a turn too, and stepped inside, without knowing what would come…


My head bowed. My spine bent like a flower kissing the earth; and a word came forth that surprised me:


What did this mean?

To whom was I to be devoted?

To what?

I pondered this through that week. I had a sense that serving at Kripalu had something to do with the understanding.

When I arrived back home, my exploration of devotion was buried by life, until I prepared to return again several weeks later to assist the second half of the training.

This time, I was relieved to hold none of the angst or anxiety that accompanied the first assist, and yet my body didn’t seem to agree.

In the days leading up to my departure, blisters swelled at the corner of my mouth and at the end of the first evening back at Kripalu, I developed a full blown migraine, and it was still there when I woke before dawn the next morning, and was later accompanied by a large pimple on my chin and a red welt on my cheek.

Days later, I hurt my back in a simple restorative yoga posture.

SOMETHING was going on…

10308250_461359630662896_569786176148467051_nBut by the end of our week, my mind relaxed, as I was swept up in a current of sensation that music and movement and meditation brings.

The staff gathered together on the night before graduation and one by one we shared our appreciations for each other.

When it was my turn to acknowledge the instructor, I found myself without words or thoughts.

How was it possible that I had nothing to offer this woman whose work I had so long admired?

Megha Nancy Buttenheim, Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance
Megha Nancy Buttenheim,
Founder: Let Your Yoga Dance

I searched my mind and caught a glimpse of her earlier that day, sitting across from a student, in rapt attention, while the rest of us dashed off to lunch after a full morning of dance.

Megha looked like a child in that moment, and I recognized what I witnessed, and spoke this word in appreciation of her:


The next morning, I stood beside a rose-petaled path that she had created on her hands and knees for the graduates.

While she ushered them across the threshold of the room one last time, the other assistants and I silently greeted them along the way, our hands in prayer.

Tears typically held inside, flowed freely down my face, in grace, so honored was I to help steward of each one of these new teachers who paused to acknowledge me on the path.

When we took our seats, and I watched as the diplomas were bestowed, my delight was so great that I tasted pure joy.

As the ceremony ended, the graduates asked the staff to sit before them at the front of the room, and I was unprepared for what came next…

10309510_10152520651623746_3264191283948952743_n 2Music began to play and the women formed a semi-circle in front of us, while a small group left the room and re-entered in a procession down the winding rose-petaled path, each bearing a basket in front of her heart.

One basket was placed into my lap, with a student bowing at my feet, as others called out appreciations in stereophonic bliss.

My hands remained at my heart, unable to move, as tears of recognition washed my face.

the apology

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Musuem

Today, I had to craft a paragraph about Hiroshima for an international meeting that will be held in Japan this spring. Though it will be my first time in this country, I’ve long felt a kinship for its people.

As I researched the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, I felt myself swallowing hard, despite the fact that I’d already apologized. Once. To a young woman named Seiko.

In the spring of 2007, Seiko and I were among 25 students preparing for our Let Your Yoga Dance instructor certification in the Berkshires of Massachusetts.

One steamy June afternoon, she and I strolled down the access road to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, beneath its canopy of foliage, each taking a turn talking and then listening.

On our way back, Seiko and I chose to pause at a resting spot beside a thickly-trunked tree. We took a seat on the bench there, and Seiko turned toward me, saying, shyly:

“Kelly, can I ask you a favor?”

“What is it, Seiko?” I said.

“Will you sing for me?”

I laughed and looked quizzically at my new friend, and she quickly explained that she wanted to practice her dance prayer but hadn’t been able to find a recording of the song she selected.

“Here?” I said, looking at the grass and the tree.

Seiko nodded, hopefully, her eyes shining.

I wanted to decline, to say that I’d help her find it online, but how could I turn down this soul, so earnest and kind.

Before I could meet Seiko’s request, however, I felt something bubbling up inside. Something raw and painful and necessary.

“I need to say something to you, first,” I said.

“What is it, Kelly?” Seiko asked.

My voice was trembling when I spoke.

“I want to apologize for dropping the atomic bomb…  on your country.”

“What?” Seiko said. “I don’t understand, Kelly.”

Tears filled my eyes as I repeated those horrible words, and then Seiko took my hands in hers.

“Kelly. You don’t have to apologize for that. You and I weren’t even born.”

“I needed to speak those words to someone from your country,” I explained.

Seiko’s response was whispered through her own tears.

“No one has ever apologized to me for this before,” she said. “Thank you, Kelly.”

And there, under the arms of that magnificent tree in the soft grass of early June, I began to sing…

Somewhere Over the Rainbow…

and Seiko danced for me.