Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Preserving Style: Therapy on a Mat

Phoenix Rising yoga therapy isn't for sissies. Keep in mind that the phoenix is a bird that sets itself fire to be reborn. This is why practitioner and teacher Bev Johnson, director of Cultivate Harmony Yoga, occasionally refers her clients to therapists.

"Sometimes what happens is that because we bring the body into an intention of change and exploration of ourselves," she says, "it allows people to tap into a level that a person is able to handle on their own and sometimes it gets to a point where tremendous transformation and change can happen. Sometimes it goes deep into a place that needs additional talk therapy to process it.

It's difficult to describe my session with Johnson and what happened without sounding like a tree-hugging, crystal clutching, new-age wayfarer--which I definitely used to be. But now I like nail polish, candy, and sometimes cigarettes. But owning this mash-up of who I was, who I am and who I'd like to be is exactly the point of Phoenix Rising Yoga. It's a road trip through your body, perhaps revealing truths about yourself that might be at odds with the stories you weave in your head.

Johnson has practiced yoga for 13 years, teaching Iyengar style hatha yoga since 2003. She was certified in Phoenix Rising yoga in 2010 and is being mentored by Michael Lee, who founded this relatively new form of yoga in 1986.

Physically, the yoha is very gentle and practitioner facilitated. I sort of lie on the mat with my eyes closed while Johnson moves my body into yoga postures and asks me to talk about the emotions, sensations, images or memories that surface while we work. And surface they do. I'm in a trance, awake inside of my body in a way that's unfamiliar and exhilarating. She has me focus first on the left side of my body, and then the right. I'm surprised to find that one side feel fluid and strong, and the other like stone. In my mind's eye, I see the two halves as a sun and a moon, and as they cross I feel a surge of power in my spine. The power is like a secret I've been keeping from myself. It pleases me and frightens me.

My heart, however, is another story. It feels like a wild thing that never gets enough and wants more than its rightful share of absolutely everything. The energy rises and clogs in my throat and I cry and start talking about novel I'm working on and how scared I am of writing this crazy ball of truth about all the things I find unacceptable in myself. I decline to state publicly what I talk about when she gets to my hips.

'Johnson guides me every step with her powerful, gentle hands and voice. "Coming onto the mat," she says, "and being given a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental space to tap into what you have worked so hard to contain, often gives you the opportunity to really be yourself and learn from what you notice."

After her experience with Phoenix Rising yoga, Johnson gradually left behind a 25-year corporate career to create her own yoga center, "It's like a metamorphosis," she explains. "You come into your own. You are less pulled out of your center by everything happening on the outside.That's been my experience. And it's also what I see in my clients."

At the end of the session, she guides me to integrate my experience. I see a tree, strong and straight, branches quivering in the wind, vulnerable to lightning and storms but standing as the season pass, leaves turning, falling and coming back again.

Adapted from Belle Magazine, Therapy on a Mat by Julie Geen, November 2012. Information at cultivateharmony.com

Learn more about Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy

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