ALL THE STORIES WE COULD TELL
by Janna Leyde
We all have our stories.
Death, divorce, the job you couldn’t keep, the illness you couldn’t heal, the move you didn’t want to make, the person you didn’t want to leave. It’s the stuff that no one wants to live through. But we live through it, because we have best friends and yoga class and loving pets and fresh, empty notebooks to help absorb the pain and keep us carrying on. And we have time. Time passes and these once catastrophic occurrences become the stories we share over dinner and drinks, at coffee shops and airports. They are the stories we tell the people are we are getting to know, the people we are getting to love.
These are the stories that shape us into the person we are continually becoming. They are the assignments—what can we learn?
My story is about brain injury. I’ve been telling it since I was fourteen. Yet, it was not until the tumultuous year of change and teacher training that I starting accepting it. I was strong on the outside, but the latent feelings of sadness and anger and perplexity lived on in the inside. Specifically, in my hips.
I was in Double Pigeon—or Ankle to Knee or Fire Log or Agni Stambasana or whatever you would like to call the pose that I called Hell, scrunching my face, holding my breath and seething. I was immersed in an inexplicable sensation (not pain, but something about as impossible to break through) and there was no way my ankle was ever going to meet up with my knee.
“Just breathe.” My teacher came over to me. “Relax your face. Stop thinking.”
She knelt down behind me, placed her hand on my back and leaned her knees into my lower lumbar. And I folded. Hips that never creased creased as easily as creasing a piece of paper. My forehead met with the mat. I was a faucet.
“Let it go,” Jo whispered. Jo, my teacher, knew my story. “Just let go.”
I didn’t feel happy or sad. I felt ridiculous. I hated things that came without explanation, and sobbing in a room full of 23 teacher trainees made no sense. But I couldn’t stop and part of me didn’t even want to. Heaving sobs poured upward from somewhere so deep it felt like nowhere. I didn’t know. I just cried.
After class my heart felt lighter, like I’d loosened a death grip on something intangible. Over the next few days I noticed a continual shift. The lightness stayed, even though the next Double Pigeon was just as inflexible as the last 43.
The following week I found myself telling a friend my story in way I’d never told anyone before. It was less about brain injury and more about acceptance.
“Yes, it is a story loving and accepting my dad, but I think it’s also a story about loving and accepting myself,” I said. “I mean, it’s about loving myself no matter how I’ve reacted to this shitty thing.”
It’s all about acceptance anyway. At least that is what life is teaching me. It’s about acceptance—and it’s about embracing what we can, and most certainly what we can’t, control. And within that acceptance we find that it is these stories, the super-duper tough ones, that make us stronger than we ever believed we could be.
All we have to do is open up and let them.
It took me fifteen years to gain the courage to tell my story. I’ve told it. I’m still telling it. I told it just last Saturday in a Benefit Class at Mala. The story is my book, He Never Liked Cake, and I believe it will helps others find their path to acceptance and love no matter what their story.
If you missed Saturday’s benefit class, you can check it out here. I have until October to raise the funds needed to publish my story. Please help—spread the news, share the link, support—if you feel compelled.
Janna Leyde is a yogi and writer living in Brooklyn. When she’s not on her mat or at the front of the room teaching, she is working on publishing her first novel, He Never Liked Cake, a coming of age memoir that tells the story of growing up with her father’s traumatic brain injury. Oscillations: A Yogic Exploration of the Brain offers her perspective on the practice through the lens of the complex human brain.