Are you ready, folks? This is a loooong one, but worth the read. Grab yourself a cuppa and settle in!
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Name: Christine Claire Reed (aka BlissChick)
Bio: I am a healing movement instructor, dancer, and writer, who finally has the tools to consciously keep in check the former primacy of depression, anxiety, and disordered eating in my life.
How long have you been a student of yoga? And how long have you been teaching?
I started doing yoga about 16 years ago for a very typical reason — I needed to calm down. I suffered from debilitating despression, anxiety, and many-times-a-month migraines.
I knew intuitively at that point that it would be first through my physical self that healing would come. I started with Iyengar and spent time delving into many schools, including Integral, Kripalu, Vinyassa, Ashtanga…you name it and I probably experimented with it at some point. About 9 years ago, I found and fell in total love with Kundalini.
I am now 43 years old and am finally seeing the fruits of those initial efforts, but most of my healing has come through creative movement and healing dance…which would have never been possible if I had not started to study yoga.
I have been teaching for about a year and a half.
What sort of yoga do you teach?
Currently, I teach intuitive dance based on the principles of yoga dance, the 5 rhythms, and an array of other modalities. I also teach a mixed class that relies heavily on Kundalini yoga.
Which form of chronic illness do you live with? When were you first diagnosed?
Oh, my…I think my most accurate diagnosis would be Chronic Grief. Yes. That covers it all.
There is no formal diagnostic protocol for living with and being neurologically-biologically changed by chronic abuse, being surrounded from the time you were born with the anger and violence of the two people who were meant to care for you. To try to put someone like this into a diagnostic box proves almost impossible, as I have found out over the years.
Some people would like to call me Borderline and that is not helpful at all. Children raised like I was often exhibit those characteristics but we most likely just learned those behaviors and are not actually Borderline in the sense of having psychoses.
Complex PTSD comes the closest but then there was no classically definable trauma but instead a string of sometimes daily traumatizing factors.
Physically I am quite certain many physicians would say I suffer from Fibromyalgia due to my (previous) chronic pain issues, exhaustion, etc.
Yes, I like “Chronic Grief.” Over the last two years of my life, I have come to a much healthier and happier version of myself, but I definitely still have times of struggle.
Now though, since I have the tools that I need, I am able to turn those times of struggle rather quickly into breakthroughs.
What sort of symptoms do you experience? Is there a known cure for your condition?
My symptoms over my life have been varied. As I mentioned, there has always been chronic pain. It changes and even now I can relapse but the more I MOVE, the better I feel. Period. I have to move at least 2 hours a day. Seriously move, as in sweat and exert.
I have gone through periods of disordered eating, and now because I dance, I know I have to eat well, so that was like an instant cure. I still have body dysmorphia issues, but I just take off my glasses while I dance through times like that and soon I am back in my real body. (HA!) Depression has been managed pretty thoroughly with gluten free eating. Anxiety is no match for Kundalini Yoga. Over the last twenty years, I have gotten rid of (for the most part): IBS, severe migraines, and not-able-to-walk-needing-a-cortisone-shot hip issues.
Chronic Grief = total mess. Really. When I was recently at a trauma workshop with world-renowned trauma psychiatrist and research scientist, Bessel von der Kolk, he said over and over that children of chronic abuse are a mystery to him in terms of how to help. That we are so basically changed by the chronic nature of our traumas. He said for a person to maintain curiosity about their internal lives (which is essential for healing) after a childhood like this is the sign of an extraordinary intelligence.
Though that was hard to hear (he kept saying that healing rates are rather low for people like me), it was also really affirming, because I HAVE maintained that necessary curiosity. In a recent interview when I was asked what I thought was THE THING people needed to heal, I answered with “curiosity about themselves,” and this was before the workshop.
I don’t know why I have been lucky enough to have that gift in my life, but I am thankful for it every single day.
Did you start teaching yoga before or after you got sick?
After, obviously. I have lived with all of this my whole life. Teaching has been such a gift. The energy exchange that happens between students and teacher is a healing balm for all of us, isn’t it? And I find myself feeling accountable to my students — like I have to do better for them!
If you got sick THEN started teaching yoga, what was going through your mind when you applied for yoga teacher training? Was your YTT impacted by your illness?
When I returned to dance at 40, I knew my life was either going to change right then and there or I was forever to remain stuck in illness. I opted for the change, and I knew for that to really STICK, I had to make some radically different choices.
So I immediately looked for any sort of training I could commit to and challenge myself with. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a Yoga Dance teacher training at Kripalu, and I signed up and paid right away so that there was no backing out. It was the scariest thing I had ever done, but I just walked through one fear after another to get there. I am stubborn like that.
My teacher training was a deeply emotional time for me. It was a time when I was witnessed as a dancer in more ways than I can possibly cover here. It was a re-birth.
I was also lucky enough to meet one of my main mentors in this life, Megha Buttenheim, who still guides me with her love and care.
Have you ever thought of quitting your teaching because of your health?
YES! There are times when I am feeling so awful that I am convinced that I am nothing but a fraud and that my students deserve the “real thing.”
Marcy (Ed: Christine’s partner) reminds me that my hard times are exactly what makes me that “real thing.” She is right. Many of my students tell me that I am their true teacher because I am so up front and honest about my struggles.
Have you ever shared your health condition with your students? If so, what happened? Has anyone ever reacted negatively?
No one has EVER reacted negatively. When I “confess” about difficulties to my students, there is a palpable sense of relief in the room.
It is important for people to see the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in others and especially in teachers. I use my own struggles as examples all the time and it is inevitable that someone (usually more than one someone) says, “Thank you for telling us that. I feel that way all the time and think I am the only one…”
Can you tell us a little more about how this kind of sharing works in your classes?
I usually talk about things like this at the very beginning of class so we can have a few minutes of contemplation and even quick little conversations before beginning with breath awareness, during which I then follow up with a suggestion for, perhaps, something they can hold in their hearts during class, a filter through which they can “listen” to their bodies for messages, information, stuff that needs to come up, answers to questions they’ve been having in their own lives. When I tell stories like this, they are great at book-ending the class, creating another level of meaning to the work we do.
The stories I tell are always from my immediate life. And they just happen. I rarely go to class with the intention of talking about something specific. I show up and trust that I will know what needs to be said. Erich Schiffmann talked at a workshop I was at about how it took him 20 years to get to the point where he could just go to a class with no notes, no topics in mind. This really startled me, because I have done this from the beginning (but I do have many years under my belt of teaching critical thinking and creative writing). I might take a quote with me but have no idea what else I am going to say.
For example, I might tell them that because of serious abandonment fears, I can get triggered by the most harmless things… like Marcy wanting to have a beer date with a friend. Totally NORMAL! But I can feel my fear monsters just rear their ugly heads, and before I know it, I am acting ridiculously angry and jealous. BUT…I have come far enough to SEE it and so I know I just need to dance and get back in my body so that I can remember that I am reacting to my present out of my past.
After a story like that, there are a lot of out breaths and giggles. So many people…especially people coming to Kundalini yoga who are obviously seeking something…they just need to know they are not totally wacko and alone and that they are actually quite normal in their…unhealthy or unproductive ways of responding to their feelings.
Then during breath awareness, I will direct them to be aware of any anxiety or tightness in their own bodies that was elicited during my story. During class, I would encourage them to be aware that their own stories might start popping up and that they can say, “HEY! There you are…” and just keep breathing.
I also have a free movement segment in all of my classes, regardless of what I am teaching, and toward the end of that, I direct them through a stomping, shaking, jumping routine that is based on Peter Levine’s work with trauma release. By this point in the class, they are usually already pretty “clear” but I do this to make sure they leave feeling free and emotionally flexible and strong.
Does your health ever affect they way you sequence or run your classes? (e.g. time of day, how you have your needs met before/during/after a class etc)
Mostly I have to be careful about how much I teach (I teach many classes a week but need lots of down time), and I have quit teaching gigs when I am uncomfortable in the environment. The way a place feels to me is very important, and if I am uncomfortable, I know I am not giving my all to those students. (Ed: this is pretty much good advice for all teachers!)
Other than that, I find the more I trust myself to teach what needs to be taught, the better my classes are. I rarely rely on my “plan” at this point. I also have found that if I am in need of a certain type of class, that it most likely will resonate with the students. There is an amazing energy connection and synchronicity if we trust ourselves to tap into it.
It’s a bit of a “DOH!” question, but do you think your own practice and/or teaching have helped your health stabilise or even improve? Which part of your yoga practice helps you the most and specifically, in what ways does it help?
The biggest thing for me is that my own witness consciousness has expanded exponentially since I started to teach. I am able to watch myself and “see” what is happening with my mind/body now on a much deeper level, and my witness self kicks in much faster than ever before. I find I have become highly attuned to seeing the emotional state of my students in their bodies. That has been thrilling and again has rippled over into my ability to do this for myself.
I find, too, that I am able to find previously debilitating issues that would have led to self-judgment rather fascinating now. Like I am my own research subject now that I have students to share the findings with.
Also, as someone who used to sequester herself when she was having an extra hard time, I can no longer do that. I have a class six days of the week. I have to get myself together to meet my students and be open to their needs. This pushes me in very positive ways. I can’t sit in my own crap for very long any more.
Chronic illnesses can be very frustrating. Do/did you ever feel angry about your diagnosis? How does it impact your own yoga practice and your life in general?
I can feel quite angry. I feel angry that the way most of us are raised impacts us in such negative ways. I feel angry that violence in the home is a silent epidemic that culturally we refuse to acknowledge and that it then changes the person you were born to be. I get angry that we then have to work so damn hard on such basic things just to maybe some day get back to being that essential person/soul/heart. I get angry that so many people never ever get better and that they live their lives sad, stuck, never fulfilling their beautiful, powerful potential.
I get angry, yes, and it is the very reason I do this work.
Have you experienced any “dark night of the soul” moments/hours/days in dealing with your illness? What got you through?
Love got me through. My own stubbornness got me through.
There were many days and weeks and months of my life where I was not sure I wanted to continue to live, and yet I pushed forward. I am essentially an optimistic person, I have come to learn. I kept going; I kept searching; I kept doing the work. My will power and determination — two things that I was told I did not even possess!! — are incredible.
There are still days that the symptoms of “Chronic Grief” are overpowering. There are still days when the best I can do is get through that day in one piece. On those days, I can feel like a total loser for not being someone who can power through a giant To-Do list, for not being “normal.”
But I am learning that it is those days that are my biggest winner days, because I do NOT give up, I DO make it, and I LOOK FORWARD to the possibility that the next day holds.
From your yoga practice and studies, what sort of outlook do you have regarding your health?
My outlook is super sunny!
Through Kundalini yoga and dance, I have come to taste and know my own internal resources of power, courage, and beauty.
When I am dancing, I know 100% for sure that I am a piece of the eternal, the infinite in a skin suit. I am the universe exploding through this skin. I get stronger, fitter, more balanced, more creative, happier, more playful, more joyful every single day, and I know that will only be increasing.
How do you manage your health? With western medicine, eastern medicine, alternative therapies or a combination of them all? What one thing helps you the most?
Western medicine has never been helpful for me. Even with my migraines, the medicines that were tried on me did not help and usually made me feel worse. With depression and anxiety, the mix of pills they tried me on, created side effects that were worse than the “illness.”
I do not think Western medicine has anything to offer Chronic Grief, and I do believe with all my heart that the majority of people diagnosed with ANY “mental illness” are actually suffering from Chronic Grief (Ed: even people who don’t have a “mental illness” I reckon!).
They need to speak their grief; they need the grief acknowledged; they need to be told they are amazing for being so strong that they are still alive; and then they need to be helped back into their bodies and thus back into their lives.
I have used some alternative therapies, but it has mostly been telling my story and now dancing it out that has created my health.
Currently, my main self-care method is going to an energy healer every few weeks who does incredible mind-blowing energy work and using singing bowls to create vibrational reactions in my very cells and in my spirit. She cleans me out!
Is there anything else I haven’t asked you, but that you’d like to add?
If I could emphasize one thing here, I would BEG people…no matter your symptoms…to be truthful about your story and not let anyone tell you it is insignificant and to MOVE YOUR BODY. We were made to MOVE. Dancing is in our DNA. Ecstatic, sweating, giggling movement will change your soul and heal your life. I PROMISE.
Where you can find Christine
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Christine – I really like your definition of Chronic Grief. I too, think grief underlies the discontent and unhappiness that many people feel. Something I’ve been coming to terms with lately is that no matter how small you think something might be, if it matters to you, then it matters. Also, the more we cram our emotions down deep inside for fear of their escape, the less likely we are to be happy and healthy. For healing to really happen, we really DO need to be honest with ourselves and tell our stories. So thank you for your wonderful words and for sharing so much with us here!!
If you have any questions for Christine, let her know in the comments. :)
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