The Hidden Agenda of Yoga in Midlife
In my most recent podcast episode, I chat with yoga instructor, Julie Breedlove Montemerlo, of Wise Waves Wellness, who describes herself as a music lover, mother, wife, optimist, marketing professional, and constant student of life. We talk about yoga but not in the way you might think.
By now, you might have heard me describe my experience two years ago of getting up the courage to leave my hometown behind, along with my professional persona to go live in a Florida beach town. The ghost-town feel of my two-day stay in Nashville on the way down seemed to be a perfect metaphor for this in between phase of my life, which was full of anxiety about the uncertainty of it all.
When I pulled into the Beach House apartment complex, I wondered who it was that had arrived. By day two, I had adopted a daily morning ritual of walking to the beach. How could I not? It was beautiful and I had always dreamed of living in a beach town.
On my walk one day, I noticed this little building with a beautiful courtyard, and one of the businesses was Bella Vida Yoga. I hadn’t been to a yoga class in years, but something drew me back to it, perhaps the constant anxiety I felt about the uncertainty of my new life, which hadn’t taken form yet.
I hadn’t been to a yoga class in years, but something drew me back to it. I immediately felt something I hadn’t felt before, and I wondered if it was the energy of the place, the instructors, I didn’t know exactly what. I even wrote a short story about one class that prompted a powerful insight. The story hangs in the yoga studio and it’s on my website, it’s called, A Single Moment.
Anyway, I have experienced yoga in an entirely new way over the past two years. My breathing has gotten deeper, and I find myself intuitively stopping during the day to take a huge breath in and then drag out a cleansing sigh as long as possible. I don’t know if you know what pigeon pose is, but finally, I was finally able to relax into that dreaded pose, which means I let go of energy that had been trapped in my body.
Not until I was preparing for this interview did I realize there seemed to be a relationship between my deepening experience of yoga and my midlife reconstruction phase. I haven’t figured it all out yet, but you know how I love finding meaning and sharing it with others. I think this podcast conversation will be a gift for you no matter where you are in life..
So, What Do You Know About Yoga?
It’s not a religion as some fear, rather it’s a framework for approaching life. It’s an Eastern practice that found its way to the West because it filled a gap by providing something for which people were hungry. In many cases, yoga then became Westernized and lost much of its Eastern essence. Some of my earliest classes were more like aerobics classes and some even included rock music.
C.G. Jung, one of the founders of depth psychology, the study of the unconscious, studied Eastern traditions, and saw them as a complement to the West’s more masculine approach to life, masculine not meaning man of course. The West’s focus on the external world vs. the East’s focus on the inner world he saw as incomplete on their own.
You could say that Jung’s psychology, which admittedly values recognizing the feminine (not meaning woman) as critical to balancing out the one-sided masculine inherent in patriarchy – is a psychology of the feminine. The one-sided masculine nature of the West projects what is deemed inferior onto the Other and into the closet, which we could call the personal and collective unconscious.
Patriarchy for example, is not a man/woman thing, it’s more a system of domination, which thrives through ranking and division, and is enforced by many forms of violence, including economic and climate. Patriarchy has deemed as inferior not only the feminine, but women as a gender, their bodies and sexuality, and nature or climate.
What does this have to do with yoga? Many people find C.G. Jung and yoga at a pivotal time in their lives, a time when the one-sided masculine approach to life doesn’t serve them anymore. And this happens to be true with Julie I found out when we started talking about how we each found yoga.
Yoga as a Call to the Feminine
In hindsight, my call to practice yoga seems to have been orchestrated by my unconscious to get me to come into deeper relationship with my body and breath. Five years of diligent weekly practice changed my body forever, but there was something deeper happening, something of which I wasn’t aware.
This excerpt from my coming memoir shows the sneaky nature of my psyche:
“I’m off to body flow class,” I announced to my husband one day. I had recently turned forty. Noticing my breathing, holding poses, and contemplating how movement reflected my energetic being felt odd. While my ego was busy experiencing things from its intellectual lens, another part of me was drawn in by something mysterious. I was being seduced.
Slowing down became a new skill I needed to develop. I can feel my body, I realized. What an odd sensation. “Breathe,” the instructor gently reminded us, as we moved into the next position, lying on our stomachs. “Breathe,” she seemed to remind me just when I needed it.
Then, during one class, on the speaker came a song. The lyrics of the song by Evanescence—Wake me up inside—abruptly caught my attention. Call my name and save me from the dark. My heart was beating harder, and my body became heavier. And then, Bring me to life. Something deep inside me was moving, welling up, emerging from my belly. I couldn’t stop it. A tear. Then another tear. I cried right there on the mat. Not sobs, just a few tears that I quickly brushed off my cheeks. I kept this experience to myself. Why did I cry? I didn’t know, not until years later.
It happened again in the next class. Oh no. Breaking out in tears in a standing position was more embarrassing than being down on the floor. I couldn’t hide now. No one seemed to mind. This time the song that prompted the release was Beautiful, by Christina Aguilera. What is happening to me? I would ask myself after these classes.
Later, I learned that each tear shed contains a thousand toxins. Our bodies have our own purification system it seems. I felt both exhausted and relieved.
Momentum seemed to be gaining, for what I wasn’t sure. A kind of excitement about life. Not about my current life, but about what seemed to be unfolding. I couldn’t see it, but I became conscious that I was seeking some deeper meaning in life. Simply knowing that there was a reason for my restlessness felt affirming. It didn’t matter that I was alone on my journey. One class per week turned into two classes per week, and then three. I was embarking on a religious path without realizing it.
By now, I was taking yoga at an authentic wellness studio. My body surrendered at the end of one class, during the final pose of Savasana – corpse pose. As I lay flat on my back, eyes closed, and legs and arms falling where they chose, my ears were alert to the instructor’s bare feet moving as she dimmed the lights and lit candles and incense. Not since my Mexico birthday trip, had I felt this relaxed, able to turn it all off, given a reprieve from what felt like a heavy burden.
This is what they are talking about! I can’t feel my body, I thought with amazement. I feel like I’m not here, except that I am, I continued contemplating as I relished in the brief experience of deep awareness. How can this be? I’m nothing and everything at the same time. How can I stay calm and quiet now? I didn’t know what this experience had to do with anything. I just knew it was significant. And I loved it. I wanted more!
I didn't know it at the time, but yoga was facilitating my return to the feminine, my body, my sexuality, which was all a bridge to that deeper part of myself that is connected with the Divine, what many call God.
Five years of diligent practice changed my body permanently. And then I took a break. Perhaps yoga helped initiate my midlife unraveling, and then my coincidental calling to study depth psychology served to help me detach from the old and surrender to the new, which had yet to be defined.
The not knowing felt like torture, and then yoga called to me again and became my partner as I weathered the anxiety and strengthened my capacity to trust in what was unfolding in my life. Two years later, I'm rounding a corner that I could never have anticipated - a new sense of purpose and business that is really taking off. Hear more in this week's podcast episode: Yoga, C.G. Jung & Midlife: A Conversation with Julie Breedlove Montemerlo, Yoga Instructor and Owner, Wise Waves Wellness.
Try it out with no expectations. The experience of yoga over time feels like waves. You might first appreciate its impact on your body, and then come to crave it as a respite from your mind. One day, you'll have that experience that will blow your mind, when you feel like nothing and everything at the same time. If you're a newbie, just try to be aware of your experience. If you're a veteran, play around with closing your eyes more, audible exhales, and deepening into Savanna, or corpse pose.
Explore the power of breath. You'll initially feel foolish breathing and chanting, but once you get over yourself and your attachment to pleasing others, your breath will become your new partner in crime as you discover a secret that few know, how breath can change your life. Take a huge breath in, down into your belly, up through your chest, and imagine breathing up to the top of your head. Hold it for a couple seconds, and then breathe it out through an audible sigh that lasts six seconds if you can do it. Take a moment to linger in experience of having emptied out and being ready to receive.
Learn to trust your Self and the Transcendent. The more you surrender to the mysterious forces of your unconscious, the faster you empty out the attachment to convention, and the more you are open to receiving what wants to flow through you, the more amazing things you'll discover about yourself, pieces of you that you will remember and reclaim and want to express. This is where creativity comes in. After yoga class, take a walk and see what comes up from your unconscious, which could be in the form of images or words. Try journaling after your walk, or if what came up can't be articulated in words, pull out your image journal.
Being a vessel for creative intelligence, the Divine, what some call God. The reward for withstanding the journey is a new sense of purpose that is in synch with your deepest desires. You will be rewarded in the form of explosions of creative expression, which may feel arousing, like a combination of sexual and spiritual orgasm. These glimpses into the eternal, which I have experienced, are mind blowing and worth the work.
I hope you have a chance to listen to my conversation with Julie, and maybe even follow her on Instagram. Her energy is is soothing and full of positivity.
In my new book, Your Soul is Talking. Are You Listening? I talk about the importance of coming into relationship with your body. I'm so excited that now you can purchase a paperback at www.bookshop.org. You can also follow me on Instagram for inspiring images and intriguing reflection questions.
Thanks for embarking on the journey of self-reflection and for supporting my mission.