I first met Lisa when I took a job as the Program Director at All That Matters Yoga Center in Wakefield, RI. When things came up that I didn’t understand or I needed help with, everyone on staff would typically say, “Ask Lisa.” I quickly found out that she was THE RESOURCE for just about everything. And all it took was a phone call, and she was right there to help me with the task at hand.
Soon after I began working at All That Matters, I signed up for their Pranotthan Yoga Teacher Training program. Not because I wanted to be a yoga teacher, but because I didn’t know what I wanted to be at this new juncture in my life. The last of my three children had officially left the nest, which left me with an urge to fly into something new. I just didn’t know what.
So why not a program with the founder of Pranotthan Yoga, Devarshi Steven Hartman, that I had heard so much about?
I took the leap, with no idea where I’d land.
After the first weekend, it was clear to me that this was no ordinary YTT. I thought I was going to learn more about yoga to deepen my practice, but what I actually learned was more about Rebecca, and got deeper into discovering who I was outside of wife, mother, teacher, writer, and yogi. This 7-month program turned out to be one of the most challenging, exhilarating, transformational, and truly life changing journeys I had ever experienced.
Lisa was part of the teaching staff, although not in the forefront. She was there every weekend, swaying through the room in her flowy clothes like a butterfly, always on the lookout for someone who might need a gentle adjustment, or simply a hand to hold.
During one of the weekend sessions, Devarshi was leading the group through a powerful “kriya” breath practice. After a few rounds, I suddenly felt my inhale become tight, my exhale shortened, my stomach began to cramp, and my body tensed up from head to toe. A scene appeared in my mind’s eye from a traumatic event I had endured during my teen years. One that I thought I had dealt with through years of therapy, medication, self-help books, etc. I really thought it was behind me.
I started to panic. I closed my eyes tighter, wishing the scene to disappear. I clenched my fist, my jaw, and felt my shoulders sneaking their way up to my ears. I could feel my whole body tense up and I kept saying to myself, “Stop Rebecca. Don’t let this in. Just breathe, just breathe, just breathe.”
At one point as I was trying so hard to hold back tears, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder.
I turned around, opened my eyes, and there was Lisa, holding out her arms. I fell into her warm, loving embrace and began to cry.
“I don’t know where you went, Rebecca,” she said. “But you’re here now. And you’re safe. I’ve got your back.”
Slowly the scene in my head began to fade. And I came back into the room, with Lisa by my side.
There were other moments during the 7-month training when something would come up that would make my body or breath tight. I would glance over to where Lisa was standing against the wall or sitting on her mat with eyes wide open scanning the room. We would share a smile, a slight nod, and I felt her presence once again pull me back into a safe space.
I graduated from YTT on April 30, 2018, at the age of 56, the second oldest yoga teacher in our class. As I passed through the receiving line of our beautiful graduation ceremony, I hugged each one of my teachers: Devarshi, Mel, Kendall, Tara, Alice, Joan, and Lisa.
When I came to Lisa, my hug was a little tighter and lasted a bit longer. “I could not have done this without you,” I said. And I meant it wholeheartedly.
Lisa passed away last week at the age of 56. Cancer took hold of her body and wouldn’t let it go. On Saturday, exactly 5 years to the day of our YTT graduation, her beloved church held a Celebration of Life in her honor. Many of my YTT classmates and teachers were there, along with Lisa’s family, friends, students, and church community. We prayed and sang together for Lisa, and several people shared stories of the light she held in their lives.
I realized that I was not alone in my experience of Lisa. I heard over and over again of the gentle yet profound way she touched so many.
We all held a little piece of Lisa within us as we collectively lifted her to the heavens.
Fly, Lisa, fly.
We’ve got your back.
p.s. This photo is my PYTT graduation class of 2018. Lisa is in the back row with the pink peony in her gorgeous hair!
Writing begins with the breath.
The word “prana” in Sanskrit (the language of yoga) is translated to mean “breath” or “life force.” Pranotthan, derived from the word prana, means the awakening of prana and its intuitive intelligence.
One of the many things I learned during my Pranotthan yoga teacher training is when we awaken our prana through yogic practices, memories and stories that are held in our bodies are given the space to be revealed and released. That is what happened to me during the breathwork session described above.
Had I known then what I know now, I would have grabbed my journal and pen and written down the details of the scene and the story that was revealed to me on that day. It is through the release of these deeply held stories, especially those dealing with trauma, that we are truly able to heal.
It is easy to forget the importance of the body and the breath in the writing process. Because words and language are constructs of the mind, we often associate the writing process only with the intellect. Language comes from the mind but the stories that spring from the authentic voice come from within our bodies. Our cells have memories. Our bodies have stored all of our experiences, those expressed and unexpressed, even those forgotten. They are there waiting for us.
I have since incorporated breathwork along with other yogic practices into my writing practice – hence the name Yogic Writing!
Click here to download a breath practice and yogic writing exercise you can try today. You might be surprised at what gets revealed!