Our First Workshop

Still a bit hazy, I come out of an emotional fog. Last weekend, my mother and I co-taught a workshop...it was kind of a big deal for me as a nearly certified teacher, and a next level in mother-daughter connection. But after a few months of planning, I was nervous. I had never done anything like this before. It wasn't the teaching yoga... I have been practicing that on my own and on other people. It wasn't the public speaking... something I won't say I have ever been GREAT at, but not something I fear. When I started to speak aloud I realized how nervous I was to talk about my story, something that would be deeply threaded into the lecture.

 

I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition called Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2002. As if middle school wasn’t already awkwardly painful enough, I was faced with having to confront the strange fact that I couldn’t see at night the way all my friends could when we walked to get an ice cream or chased fireflies. After seeing a number of eye doctors and undergoing a number of laborious tests, it was confirmed that I had the rare genetic condition often referred to as RP, which causes a gradual breakdown of photoreceptor cells. 1 in 4,000 people in the United States have RP, and at age 13 I was definitely the only person I had ever known who had it. Having been told that there is no known cure, I chose to live my life the same as my peers – I would play sports, go to parties and off to college – but I never understood what was going on in the background this whole time. Stress and anxiety built up in me like a concrete balloon, weighing me down and sending me into periods of acute depression. It impacted my physical health immensely, but most importantly it impacted my relationships with others, especially my immediate family...

I started practicing yoga on and off in the later part of college, around 2010. I did it just for exercise and went in and out of periods of practice, taking up other hobbies to keep myself fit. It wasn't until I started working a fast-paced job in NYC that I came back to yoga (after one of my year-long hiatuses). So many nights I came home from work and felt helpless, paralyzed, often in tears seeking comfort from my parents or my boyfriend. My mom, a psychologist, started to help me realize my triggers. It was the pace, but not the pace of the job…Stepping off the bus or train I was thrust into the bustling station where literally millions of people pace around every day like crazed animals. With my limited peripheral vision, I would often trip over things, step on people's feet (or luggage, or children) and a few times took falls that left me cut and bruised. Subways were the same. The stress of setting foot into that every morning was enough to not only make me victim to obvious cold sweats, but cause me to build up even more stress throughout the day because I knew I had to do it again on my way home, and the following day, and the next.

 

When I began my yoga teacher training in October, all the trainees were told we would have to do a service project. My mom and I had recently been talking about how, throughout the time of my working in NYC, she had begun to really help me cool down and understand my stressors rather than just react to them…a loaning of calmness known as “co-regulation”. We thought back to my earlier years through high school, college and afterwards, where I had undoubtedly had similar triggers that manifested themselves as seemingly unrelated behaviors.

 

Being able to trace what I was feeling and what I had felt for so long back to an origin was like discovering a buried treasure inside myself. I couldn’t have done it without her, but what came up for us was how long it took us to get here. What was blocking us from seeing this in the earlier stages? Wasn’t it obvious that, having been diagnosed with an incurable disease that would slowly take my vision, I would be depressed and stressed?

 

And that’s where our workshop sprouted from…because the thing is, it’s NOT obvious when it’s your kid who is suffering. Emotional barricades stand in the way of parents (first) acknowledging that their child has a problem and (second) empathizing with that problem. I realized that I could verbalize what had been going on for me back then, what continues to go on for me now, and that many people with other disabilities cannot as easy do so. I could express it in great detail, even, and what a gift that was.

 

So, we thought up a title for our workshop while hiking a mountain in Joshua Tree this January, “Harnessing the Inter-Brain to Reduce Stress for Your Child and Your Self”. We planned the lecture around how the brain functions, co-regulation, and ultimately how we can self-regulate using yoga and meditation. Discussing my ability to explain my sensory experiences, and connect the dots from behaviors I had always perceived as unrelated to the true nature of my stress, was integrated throughout. My mom, having worked with children with autism (and their parents) for 20 years saw the value here, as most of the attendees have children or students who are non-verbal. She brilliantly wove our story in as a way to educate on the importance of relationship, since I could never have made the connections otherwise and begun to help myself. The yoga practice was a stress-reducing flow, and an example of how I have begun to regulate my anxiety.   

 

Many women came up to me after the workshop and said they hadn’t felt so calm in months. That they learned so much from my mom’s lecture, and that the yoga practice was peaceful and out-of-body. It was my intention to remind them of this truth… a truth I have come to learn, that we are not the body, not the mind, just peace, light, a reflection of nature.

 

I crashed that night after the workshop, and, full disclosure, cried a lot. I was so proud of us doing this together, that so many people came, but I was emotionally spent…something inside of me was broken open. I had that familiar feeling from earlier years where I wanted to crawl into a ball and sleep for days. As I let myself lay there, I was reminded of the countless hours I spent alone, in bed, in my head, and all the things I probably (definitely) missed out on throughout a decade of reacting to my stress, rather than understanding and accepting it. It made me come back to just how important this work is. With that said, I know it is my calling, my dharma, to help people calm their selves so that we can better help calm their loved ones. We will be holding this workshop in additional locations, dates and times to be posted.

Martel Catalano