I used to see my pain as this tangible monster that needed to be run from. I thought that once I got far enough ahead of it, it’d be gone forever. I’d gain enough of a lead to catch a deep breath in peace. The sky would open for a moment, and I’d see not just the dark clouds that’d always clouded my lens, but also the sun and all that blue around them. Relief.

dawn people woman hand

Oftentimes I declared victory, convinced I’d lost my monster to dust once and for all. I assumed that the process of healing chronic pain was linear and finite. That’s the approach most doctors I saw took, at least – surely, they must know what was best for my body… right?

Wrong. That monster found me eventually, each and every time I ran away. Every time a doctor comes up with some miracle idea such as injections, muscle relaxers, physical therapy, etc. It found its way, always sprinting back up to me – until I found Mindfulness. That’s not to say I’m cured of all that hell, because I’m not, but I have found a state of continuous healing. I discovered through sacredness and self-compassion that the monster I always ran from was no monster at all. The monster was a culmination of all those internal parts of me that felt injured and left behind which I repressed so hard. Less monster vibes, more wounded inner-child that needs nurturing vibes.

Unluckily for me, my lived experience made me a prime candidate for neuroplastic pain. Hypersensitivity… check! Childhood trauma… check! Self-critical thoughts… check! Repeated injury… check! The list goes on – check, check, check, check, check.

Neuroplastic pain is pain that roots in the brain and is not a reaction from a musculoskeletal issue in the body. It can sometimes begin as a result of injury, but unlike acute pain (or what I like to call “primary pain”), it sticks around. It is “secondary pain”, the arrow that fires again and again as a result of learned pathways in the brain. It shoots until safe-response pathways are intentionally created to combat the painful pathways. Many people spend years and fortunes trying to determine what their pain is a symptom of, because that’s what doctors are taught to do. As it turns out though, in most cases of chronic pain, pain is the monster itself… Not just a symptom.

woman in gray tank top while sitting on bed

Unfortunately (yet very fortunately), the only way to heal pain that originates in the mind is to heal through the mind – most specifically, through the mind-body connection. Unfortunate in the sense that it requires your own undying effort and resilience, but fortunate in the sense that it’s very possible to heal, and it’s all within your own hands. Empowering, isn’t it? It’s not something you can simply pay someone else to rid of for you without much work on your part. It’s a call – a message from your body – to find your footing on the trail of self-compassion.

A few years ago, I found my first footing. I surrendered, decided to look my monster in the eyes, and listen. Tend and Befriend. Notice, Allow, and Accept. I learned how to breathe and still smile on the days when the entire sky is all dark clouds and birdless. I’m not pain-free, but my pain is far less life-sucking than before, and it doesn’t bother me as much anymore. When I feel it swelling up inside of me now, I know that I have a choice: to dive deep into the overwhelm, feel the weight of the past, the pain, and the future, and try my best to run away from the monster impossible to run from… OR …to instill messages of safety to my body and mind and remind myself that the sky does always clear those dark clouds away.

Despite all the work I’ve put into myself, I still sometimes go with the first choice. It’s the easy choice, and after years of dealing with all of this, I’m still not perfect. I only say this to express that it’s normal, right, and human to fall off the path here and there. But every time we forget and we fall is also an opportunity to remember and get back on. It’s in those moments of remembering – of choosing the path of Self in the face of pain again and again – that true transformation occurs.

This is not a call to cure, but a call to find your own footing. If you’re feeling that call, I urge you to respond by signing up for my Monday evening yoga class at The Body Mind Being Institute. One thing that’s always helped me is to have witnesses like those I’ve been incredibly lucky to have within those doors. During class you’ll be provided with that witness and plentiful modifications to allow you to take your mind off of strain and towards a comfortable presence. The tools I’ve gathered along the way as gifts from my mentors or as birthed by self-discovery will be passed down to you, too. Embodied movement, breathwork, meditation, and themes of transformation will assist you on your path and as you confront your own monster and choose self-compassion.

This path of healing chronic pain is not linear. It is not impersonal, and it looks different for everyone. Pain is a message from your body, urging you to lean into signs from the universe.

Will you allow this to be your sign?

I really hope to connect with and witness you Monday evening. Register and you might say you’ve found your footing.

Ally Schmidt

This blog post was originally posted on 2/14/2019 on the blog under our previous brand, Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. We hope you continue to find the insights offered here to be both fruitful and restorative.

Written by Jacqui Poehlman

I thought I had healed from all of my trauma.

I had been to years of therapy and talked through my divorce, being sexually assaulted at a young age, and the emotional scars given to me from my family. I thought was done talking and processing. I felt like I was ready for action. At the start of last year, I left behind both a relationship and a job that were not serving me, and stepped out on my own.

I could not have been more wrong.

I started my own communications consultancy, and Grand Rapids Healing Yoga was one of my first clients. As a yogi for years, I was intrigued by their offerings of healing trauma, but I felt that their services were for things I had left in my past. I wasn’t interested in revisiting them. 

Through my work with Raechel and her team, however, I learned that trauma isn’t something you can necessarily just file away.

My trauma is everywhere, and it’s part of my every interaction. Most surprising to me was exactly which traumas continued to spill out of me. It wasn’t the life-altering painful events. It was then that I began to understand that trauma is something that can and does happen every day.

As I worked to create my business, I found myself unwrapping layers of trauma I had yet to understand or process. Fears of being not good enough, of screwing things up, of being a fraud all came up to the surface.

What I love so much about working with Raechel is that she provides a safe space for people, including me, to be honest and vulnerable about where we have been in our lives and the path we would like to unfold in our future. We have a wonderful working relationship because neither of us expects the other to have all the answers. We’re allowed to have and express feelings of unworthiness, frustration, and joy.

Raechel and the other therapists Grand Rapids Healing Yoga have also taught me to understand what it feels like to live in and love my body. A great deal of my own trauma stems from body image issues in my past.  

Raechel’s style of yoga is the first I’ve experienced where I am given choices about what to do in a pose to make it feel right for my body at that particular moment in time. Everyone in a trauma-sensitive yoga class is an individual with unique challenges, and we’re encouraged to truly listen to our body to give it what it needs.

I remember after my first class with Raechel, I found myself able to truly listen to my body for the first time, ask for what it needs, and be comfortable in providing for myself. Even if that need was to rest rather than work out, or to wear a larger size clothing that I had worn before.

Sometimes, my body and my mind need to sit with the fact that I’ve been impacted negatively by what has happened to me in my life. Not from a place of action or anger, but of acceptance, understanding, and compassion. I no longer feel shame for being triggered by something (even if it means lots of tears at inopportune times!). The work I’ve done this past year has helped me start to become more grounded, confident in mind and body, and starting to live the courageous life I’ve always dreamed about,

Yet I acknowledge there is and always will be more to do. My traumas are still there, and I know I will unravel new ones every day. But like my body, trauma is something that I have learned to love as a part of me, not something that defines or limits who I am.

About the author: Jacqui Poehlman is the founder of Communicate Your Joy, a Grand Rapids-based marketing consultancy for healers and  heart-centered entrepreneurs. Jacqui is also the co-founder of Mamas Making Waves, a podcast and online community dedicated to helping mompreneurs ditch the hustle and find the flow in life and business. Jacqui serves as a Board Member for the Body, Mind, Being Project, bringing trauma sensitive yoga and education in trauma to mental health professionals and unserved communities. When she’s not plotting world domination, Jacqui  enjoys good books, lakeshore sunsets, a strong cup of coffee, napping, and time spent with her two children.

This blog post was originally posted on 4/29/2019 on the blog under our previous brand, Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. We hope you continue to find the insights offered here to be both fruitful and restorative.

Written by Raechel Morrow

You are driven to fully LIVE your life and bring about real change in your world. BUT you are also growing a thriving business, working full-time, raising human beings,  going to school, running a not-for-profit, educating others, taking care of grandkids, serving on a board and much more! All so important to survival and living as a generative and responsible adult. Who has time for sacred? AND what is “the sacred” really anyways? 

I have entirely been in your shoes. I mean I literally walked in them. What I am about to tell you, you may not believe. I know I did not for a long time. BUT deep down inside you have an inner knowing, and you know this to be true. 
Play, Pleasure, Connection to the Divine, Eroticism (yes this too!), Mystery, Untamed Energy, Nature, all this is the sacred and you need it in abundance every day. A friend of mine  Jessica Roodvoets told me that pleasure was my birthright. It blew my mind. I thought “well, of course, it is,” not just for me but everyone.  It was a real game changer. 

The world gives us what we need.  However, within ourselves, there is a temptation to grasp and hold on the only survival. We look around and see poverty, the marginalized, and the underprivileged. We can all relate to trauma, scarcity, and alienation. What begins to shift this heaviness is when the human experience integrates the importance of the sacred.  The sacred moves our energy out of scarcity. Leaving scarcity brings our energy to a higher vibration. A higher vibration will allow for more connection that is free of attachment. Then we can genuinely hold those spaces for others.

We can take time for sacred body regimes. Adorn in pleasures.  Pray deeply. Connect to your own inner mystic or connect to the mystery in your life.
Once we are in our own sacred sovereignty, we can then focus on moving from the “Me” to the “We.”  Boy did I do that backward! Your value is now not later. Not when you “become something” Now is the power!!!!!!! Now is the time for you to experience the sacred. Not “once you are healed,” not once you know the Self, not once you reach the goal, not when you have the vacation, not when you buy that next big house or cottage.  Not tomorrow because it is the weekend. NOW IS THE POWER!
Now let’s get to the magic. These are some ideas to get you started with bringing more sacred into your everyday survival. The doing-we-do needs to come from being. If the doing doesn’t emerge from a state of rest and connectedness, it will ultimately undo us. When we are connected to ourselves, and in a state of wholeness, all the doing-we-do will be open and meaningful.

I have come to feel that my body and mind cannot function on non-stop doing, doing, doing. I have tried it does not work. There needs to be stillness every day, or there is no space for sacred. It does not matter how busy. When my twins were babies, my silence was in the shower. I have come to accept that every Virgo such as myself, that works too hard and every parent out there, needs to create intentional stillness. As hard as it is for me to build new patterns, I have delight living in the moment. Every day I work hard and engage fully in the things that are sacred to me. Not just some days every day. Self-care GLORIOUS SELF-CARE – is what I am talking about. This is our mandate as women, mothers, parents, humans. 

***Mantra: “I have all I need” or “I have enough time.”
***Create a self-care ritual for yourself in the evenings. Perhaps nourishing your skin and body. It must have the quality of indulgence and self-soothing.
For me, every morning includes a sacred text or reading, candles, prayers, gratitude, breathwork, and mantra. To start a sacred morning ritual, reflect on what practices sets the tone for your day and allows you to move forward with conscious intention? What is special for you? What is spiritual to you?
***Either journaling, commune with nature, meditate, watch the sun come up, listen to the frog and birds speak.

As much as possible, and I know it cannot be accurate for everyone, shift from believing that your work and life are two separate entities. If you don’t, work will feel like “work.” When there is a seamlessness between your work and your life.You remain the same person. So, if you are in “life” you are the same – and when you are in “work” you are the same person. There is no division. When you are one with this reality, you no longer dread one over the other, and therefore your Universe becomes sacred. 
***Ask yourself:
“Is my whole self showing up at work?”
“Am I really offering what I am meant to in the world?”
What can you do to make the shift to begin “loving” your work more?
If your life doesn’t create love and joy, ask yourself, “what is missing for me?
Whose path are you on right now?
How will you be like a child and use your imagination every day? How will you laugh today? How can you find meaning in everyday things? Connect to the mystery that is your life. 
***Go play with your children and start to be more like them.
***Pay attention to your dreams
***Paint or write your own story*** Make a sacred place
Ego is our survival. It is necessary but powerful when directed by the sacred. Otherwise, it makes us grasp, dependant, and reactive. It is only when we are intimate with the workings of our ego that we will be able to catch ourselves from closing down or reacting unfavorably.  Only when we can pinpoint, “ah that is my ego talking,” will we be able to transcend it. The ego mostly shows up in the insecure ways of our “inner child.” When we are in touch with our inner child, we can stop reacting to her/him in unconscious ways. When we are not compassionate with our inner child, we act out in all sorts of ways, thinking we are oh-so-grown-up, but actually, we are just behaving like a child.
It is only now, after many, many years of working on myself that I can instantly spot the ego and because of this, I am quicker to reign it in. I am not always 100% efficient in doing this because, boy, the ego is sneaky and manipulative – it has developed all sorts of underhanded ways to get my needs met. Recognizing ourselves when we enter ego is the key to living an authentic life. 
***Do not do this alone. Find a sister circle or seek a guide. 
***Your ego takes you into your head, confuses. Are you in your intuition or head most of the time? ***Living in the present moment – is a practice that we need to cultivate daily. Doing so is imperative. When we do, we bear its fruits – fruits of joy, purpose and meaning away from the ego. Are you living this moment with your fullest presence and awareness?

This blog post was originally posted on 7/1/2019 on the blog under our previous brand, Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. We hope you continue to find the insights offered here to be both fruitful and restorative.

Written by Raechel Morrow

It is time for you to remember your body’s innate freedom and wisdom. This may be a  way-out-there thought, and if you do not believe it, don’t worry. You are not alone. We do not believe it to be true because we have not experienced it to be so. We do not know how to access this deep knowing. I believe we can use our bodies as teachers to access this innate knowing. Are you choosing to find answers from your body? I am here to remind you that your body holds the answer you seek. It is instructing you to open your heart and open the flood gates to your breath. The guide you are longing to meet resides in your body. Start there, and later, you will be able to follow the same process without a body and a spirit. Your body is the container to your soul. Try using your body as the doorway to your soul. Here are some easy tools to add to your spiritual practices to get you started. 

Deep Feeling -3 minutes exercise

Take three deep breaths and let your breath fall out of your mouth. Sitting, notice how you are sitting. Do not change or judge your sitting unless you would like to. Place your hands on your legs and feel the sensation of your own legs. Set a timer for 3 minutes. Simply feel your whole body sitting for three minutes. What sensations did you feel? What sensations did you not feel? How may those sensations inform my day today?

 Body Scan – 20 minutes

This blog post was originally posted on 10/10/2019 on the blog under our previous brand, Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. We hope you continue to find the insights offered here to be both fruitful and restorative.

Written by Raechel Morrow

In 1996, I was fifteen years old. On the second day of school, my mother was killed tragically during her morning jog. Feelings of profound sorrow, fear, and heartache were present. I remained by pressing on, dissociating from my emotions and body. Back then, we understood very little about trauma and PTSD. After her death, I experienced dread that I could not be in my body. I now realize I was experiencing traumatic symptoms that my entire being could not process. By sixteen, I had learned to cope and escape the trauma symptoms through an eating disorder. For twelve years, every time the fear came back, so did the eating disorder and the shame associated with the behaviors of disconnection. 

Telling my story is difficult. However, it allows for the expanded opportunity for connection. The shame of disconnection held me back for many years. I could never move back. At a time, I locked my shame so far away, so no one could see. I did not know myself, let alone have a relationship with myself. I now recognize the influence of sharing stories. In this bite-sized world of social media, we share only specific features from our life to share. Our Instagram feeds and Facebook walls show all the beautiful features and achievements. However, our resumes and deliberately staged selfies only express half of the story. 

Here is my whole story. In my early twenties, I developed into a social worker. I felt a deep tenderness for people in hardship and wanted to eradicate it for them and me. The paradox is I had the license for tending for the emotional and mental health well-being of others with-out any practice on how to take care of myself. I had limited awareness of my internal experience and patterns. I craved so desperately to support. I did not know how to go near my pain and fear. Therefore, I could not be present for anybody else. 

Deep below the artificial layers lived a dense armor of shame. I would let no one in. I had one failed marriage at twenty-two, and then I worked harder at distracting myself by trying to fix pain for others. My efforts served as a selfish distraction that served my ego. I experienced a pattern of burn-out or compassion fatigue every few years. I did not recognize my value nor feel my right to care and pleasure.  

However minor, change was developing with each burn-out. I would understand a little better about what I needed to do to care for myself. Self-care is entirely unique for each individual. For me, flowing from a strict running regime into a yoga practice my body started coming alive. Yoga opened the inquiry about the disconnection I experienced living in my body. Through yoga, I received hope in my body. It is a practice of care. What I appreciate now is that some yoga can contribute to your mind into a neutral state. Therefore, I had awareness instead of the usual shame. This helped me process what I was feeling and carrying in my subconscious. I could interact with my body lovingly and compassionately if the instructor invited us to do so.

I sought professional help many times during those early years for my eating disorder. I would leave groups, treatment, and therapy feeling broken, hopeless, and full of shame. Not at all, how I felt about myself. The talk was always about the symptoms and behaviors. Since we experience the world and our emotions through our bodies, no one could teach me how to regulate, express, and process feelings in my body. Because of this, it intertwined my body image with shame. Self-hatred and self-loathing were lodged in my body. Yoga and my work were ways I could move the energy out in a healthy direction with awareness. Group and private therapy made me feel broken and less capable.  

We dislike talking about our shame. It is hard. It is uncomfortable. More than anything, it is painful. As a result, it is natural to shy away from vulnerability and openness about our shame. However, that is what we must do. I began seeking education and experiences that allowed me to experience more awareness about my disconnection and shame. When I touched those places and healed them within myself, there was never any question that I would do any other professional work after that. I was no longer a social worker, a wellness professional, or a yoga instructor. I would hold space for reclaiming and transformation. A conduit for the inner knowing. 

 I cannot change my past; I missed out on many opportunities. I cannot make painful situations go away. I could not cut off painful parts of myself and replace them with something else. What I could and would do is the inner work required to reduce the impact and expand my capacity for resilience in the face of painful life experiences. Year after year, I used my body compassionately as a tool to connect to my heart. I embodied compassion and strength, a way of being in my world. When there is an embodiment, it is in everything and therefore became my career. For all my struggle with burn-out and authenticity in my twenties and early thirties, now my work flowed naturally. 

 ​I know from my own direct experience, healing requires going deeper, beyond the symptoms, to our inner world, where we must become acquainted with ourselves. I was never interested in modalities that compartmentalize and superficially treated a person. I encountered enough of that myself. The transformation process is an inquiry of Self and discovery, taking into account the unique nature of the individual.

My work allows for a conversation with the body. The heart of healing shame and disconnection for me is turning inward toward pain and nurturing our capacity to relate to ourselves with a sense of inquiry, kindness, and care. I now use my body as a source of wisdom and hold space for the same with others.

My life has been an exploration, which I am a student. All parts of me get to be present in my life. I make movements toward wholeness—which must include the light and beauty and the dark and imperfect. 

This is why I do what I do. This is the other half of my story. We can take our trauma to make it a part of who you have come to be. Moving towards and forging meaning in our lives makes our traumas not right but sacred. My trauma teaches me love, compassion, and a knowing of deep contentment. It is my greatest wound and my most significant achievement. Today, I feel genuinely called to create space for others to discover their own stories.

Now it’s your turn, tell me your story.

This blog post was originally posted on 11/4/2019 on the blog under our previous brand, Grand Rapids Healing Yoga. We hope you continue to find the insights offered here to be both fruitful and restorative.

My story is not linear. In fact, it began by playing itself backward, because in middle school, I recovered repressed memories of being repeatedly molested as a very young girl. Over the years, bits and pieces have come back to me, and for a very long time, I couldn’t tell if the events were something my head made up or if they had actually occurred. Once my memories started tumbling back, I didn’t feel them. It felt like there was something wrong with me because the abuse didn’t make me angry. I was able to feel through writing. I started to write poems about my assaults in high school, and this is when birds started showing up in my life. My abuser would make me choose an animal to pretend to be, and once I became old enough to process the events for what they were, I pretended I could go back in time and choose a bird. I wanted the innocent girl of my past to fly away from it all. I’d imagine my four-year-old self doing so, and it still brings me deep healing.

As time went on, I started to face mental and physical repercussions as I began to desperately crave the reciprocation of men. Once I started college, I became addicted to exercise and slipped into episodes of anorexia to become physically appealing. I dated men that were controlling and forceful in bed, even though sex still scared me. I drank a lot to numb my mind. I woke up naked in the bed of an ex-lover one morning with bruises and bite marks on my back. I didn’t remember seeing him the night before, and he didn’t offer me a ride home that day, despite me having lost one of my shoes and my keys. I tried telling others what happened – the things he used to do and say. Word got back to him, and the consensus was that I was just crazy. I believed it. I thought it was only my fault for not being careful. One thing that continued to strengthen the walls of the safe-haven within me was writing. Poems began turning into songs.

After college, I began having flashbacks of my childhood assaults during intimate moments. I rarely told any man to stop during a freeze-up. I didn’t know how to say no. You can be taught to say it, but when you’ve locked into the flight mode of the “fight or flight” dilemma, you have no idea how to take control over your own body. During the years 2017-2018, my body started to really push back. I had six surgeries on my left knee and one emergency laparoscopy, all separate accidental occurrences. I was living alone in a new city and threw myself around on crutches best I could. When I became “better”, things just got worse. My body would tense up with every step I took, scared my leg would be swooped out from beneath me again. I started feeling immense pain all over my body. Some days I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit or stand still without my whole body throbbing. Craters of pain down my back. I was so scared something bad would happen again to my body that I’d lie awake focusing on every little twitch my body made, worried I’d need an ambulance. An inflamed rash would form on my face from cheek to cheek over the bridge of my nose – loud, hot, and angry. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong, so they tacked me with “fibromyalgia”. At least they started to believe me, I thought. Visually, I was going through a lot. But there was a deeper pain. I could not get my assaults out of my mind.

Later, I began my Yoga Teaching Certification with Grand Rapids Healing Yoga; I didn’t know why I was there, or what it would do for me. That group of women became an extension of the haven I had initially created only within myself. I could speak and be supported. I learned how to send the pained parts of me compassion. I learned I needed to slow down. I learned that anxiety affected my health. I learned I had dissociated my leg from the rest of my body, and traumatic thoughts of my assaults were driving my physical pain. I learned how to confront my trauma – how not to push it out, but how to accept it as part of me. I learned how to acknowledge a part of me as broken and sick and let her remain part of me, but not let her take over me. I let the more fruitful parts of my being bring themselves forward from my shadow.

I wanted to pass on these tools, so I began teaching trauma-informed yoga at a healing collective. While it is difficult to hear other stories of traumatic pasts however when similar words and energies to mine are present, it makes the work so meaningful. There’s this shared understanding that behind closed doors, we create a safe space together, and our throats need not clench so hard onto what feels good to have released. We can remain in our bodies but can express through movement any piece of us we hold inside that we want to be mirrored outwards.

I started to share my work; playing my songs at gigs and reading my poetry at showcases. To be on a stage with everyone else silent, you’re not only heard, but you are amplified. There have been many times that someone in the crowd speaks to me afterward, wanting to tell me their own story. I share my writing, not for myself, but because I want others to feel they can have their voice amplified, too. Creativity streams from any darkness in you that still lives. Creativity is accepting that darkness as part of you, without allowing it to consume you. Without an edge at which to meet yourself and release your vulnerability, you may surely drown in it.

With the women of Grand Rapids, I’ve found a family of one beating heart. I always used to think the world needed to heal before it hears, but now I know it’s the reverse that is true. To heal, it needs to hear. Those that have built themselves back up with tools of resiliency have such a wonderful opportunity to pass those tools on because now is the time. The most important guides to seek are those that know, and that may not have been left unscathed. I now feel sacredness where I once felt shame. My words that were once silenced are now heard, and that seems to increasingly be the case with others in the community. It’s such a beautiful thing!

Now tell me your story

Such a beautiful thing.
This is my story now tell me yours……