Please meet Laura Faye. She is Mind Body Flow Yoga’s featured student for this month’s newsletter. She has a beautiful yoga practice and was generous in sharing it with us, as she demonstrates Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana).
Laura Shares Her Yoga Journey
The day Marina asked me to be featured as student of the month, I was so humbled!
I haven’t been a part of the MBFY community very long. I still remember how nervous I was going to my first class here because I didn’t know anybody. I felt so, so welcomed and encouraged at my first class, which only increased with every class and new teacher I met! I couldn’t feel more honored to share my story through MBFY.
I was very nervous because this is the first time I’ve shared my story so publicly. I remember asking my fiancé to read it first and asked if he thought that I was sharing too much. Which in retrospect, I think is what makes stories inspiring – having the courage to be vulnerable and real.
Marina encouraged me to speak openly and freely, letting it flow from the heart. In the same genuine and spirited way, she encourages us to let our practice flow from the heart, because that’s where the breakthroughs happen.
When I first started coming to MBFY, every time a teacher said, “handstand,” my heart wanted to try, but I was so afraid of falling. I finally just went for it, and now I go for it every time! Being able to flow through practice is so uplifting, in the same way that being able to share my story openly has matched.
Have you ever cried in a yoga class? About two years ago when I started my yoga journey, I had a routine outburst of involuntary tears in Final Resting Pose (Savasana) almost every single time. It sounds funny, but truthfully, it’s what kept me coming back.
I had gone through nearly three years of relatively unsuccessful talk-therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) before I found yoga. I was closed-off and unable to regulate my emotions, so instead, I shut down as a way to survive. Yoga has been one of the most important parts of my recovery and continues to be every single day. Yoga taught me how to feel safe, how to connect with myself, understand myself and how to connect with others. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness can help to cultivate a present-state awareness that helps you to be nonreactive – as opposed to a traumatized person who lives in a constant state of hyper-vigilance, which had been my life for three years after I had been attacked.
For reasons I couldn’t quite explain yet, I began practicing yoga every single day. I would rearrange my schedules, cancel dates with friends, run to the studio door when I was late – anything to make it to yoga. There is a book that helped me connect the dots of my newfound love (“The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma,” by Bessel van der Kolk). It changed my life. It taught me that trauma leaves an imprint on our bodies, not just our minds. Overwhelming trauma can actually rewire pathways in the brain’s alarm system – although the traumatic event is over, the brain continues to signal danger which causes the hyper-vigilance. We can be highjacked by sensations or our emotions at any moment in this state.
I had become an expert at hiding from myself. Yoga helped me to see myself. I was recovering the bodily perception of safety, through yoga, not just the cognitive one. Linking body movement to breath and ease can help create new pathways in the brain that signal safety, instead of danger. Yoga does that. I think this happens to a lot of people – they find yoga before they find their answer.
It’s why yoga worked for me. Eventually, I was able to re-associate sensations of relaxation, connection, touch, community, and pleasure with safety. Yoga was rewiring the pathways that had been overwhelmed and uprooted by trauma. Yoga can help teach us to feel safe feeling sensations in our bodies and rediscover our mind-body connection in a safe place once again.
The tears I cried in therapy had been tears of defeat. My yoga tears were tears of triumph, break through, growth, recovery, and starting to feel at home in my body again. It was the beginning of everything for me. I went from jumping out of my skin when a yoga teacher gave me an assist and sobbing in Savasana, to loving the feeling of community and safety in the touch of an assist, and sometimes involuntarily beaming a smile in Savasana. I was able to open up to my therapist and trust her in the same way I had learned to trust my yoga teachers. I found Marina and all of the beautiful teachers at MBFY almost a year ago now, and I attribute a huge portion of this progress specifically to them! Yoga isn’t just a class, it’s a philosophy, a lifestyle, an art, a safe place – you have all made my experience nothing less!
Through my yoga journey, I’m continually learning to observe my inner landscape. It’s not always easy, and I don’t always like what I see, but it’s important. It has filled in all of the gaps that talk-therapy wasn’t able to. I’m able to ground myself, see myself, feel myself, and find the courage to be myself every day. I am quiet, shy, sensitive, I hoard books and useless objects from thrift stores, I lose too many things, I leave the house without makeup on, I wear sweaters and Birkenstocks when my friends are wearing dresses and heels, and all of this is me. And all of this is okay. It is a journey that has only just begun, but I hope that in sharing this, I can encourage anyone who has been overwhelmed by trauma, in any amount, or feels like a stranger in their own skin, to explore themselves and re-embody the life of your organism.
Yoga brought me back, it brings me back every day. The old me had just survived, the new me is learning to become fully alive.
I actually found MBFY before I even moved to the area. I was leaving the city where my yoga studio was only a few doors down the street, to Clarence Center, with my cousin. I couldn’t walk, but I could drive 8 minutes to MBFY according to Google, which was close enough for me! I came the morning after I moved, and I loved it!
I think it was fate – the close-knit family at MBFY is exactly what I needed. I am grateful beyond measure for the time I got to spend here with Marina and all of the beautiful yogis and teachers. I have grown so much and I will carry their hearts in mine every time I practice in a new space. I’m moving back to the city in a couple weeks, and I couldn’t think of a more special way to transition onto the next part of my journey! ~ Namaste ~
What is this Pose About?
This is a pose, which opens and strengthens the hips. The resulting shape is a deep opening and stretch in this area, as well as the legs and ankles. Watch Laura enter into this asana from Mountain Pose (Tadasana). She will exit the pose and land back in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) as well.
Here are a few things to keep in mind, if you decide to try this pose, or if you have already started to experiment and play around with it.
Tips for Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
- Stand in Tadasana.
- Choose a point on eye level to focus on with a soft gaze.
- Exhale and bring the weight onto your left foot and lift your right knee up. Reach with your right hand along the inside of your leg for your big toe. Fold your thumb, middle finger, and thumb around the big toe. Make sure that you stand and keep your back straight.
- Keep the upper thigh pressing to the back of the standing leg. As far as possible, on an in-breath, extend your right leg out to the front and hold for about 5 breaths. It is more important to keep your back straight than it is to straighten your leg fully.
- Keep the shoulders on the back, your chest open and both hips the same level.
- When you are steady, inhale and bring your leg out to the right and look over your left shoulder.
- Stay here for around 3-5 breaths, concentrating on the breaths to help focus the mind.
- Then on the next inhalation, bring the leg and head back to the center. As you exhale, lower the foot back to the floor.
- Return to Tadasana.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Opens and strengthens the hips
- Strengthens the legs and ankles
- Increases flexibility in the legs
- Improves concentration
- Improves balance
- Seek advice or supervision with this pose if you are pregnant, or have any injuries to the lower back or ankles.
- Your ankles – this yoga pose requires good balance and you can really feel it in your ankles. Try doing some simple ankle rotations after coming out of this pose if you feel the strain.
Have you tried this pose before? What has been your experience?