How Old Are You, Maria Alfaro?
I’d been going to Willow Glen Yoga for years, and one day Maria Alfaro showed up as a new teacher. She talked and walked like an Italian because she was one. I studied her. I am so American it’s almost painful. These days, it's flat out painful. But I’ve always been interested in European women because they seem to have so many things figured out. Like how to hold hands with their women friends when they walk down the street. How to wear scarves like they were born with one elegantly thrown over a shoulder. How to look put together and effortless at the same time.
In Maria’s case, I was focused on her skin. She looked luminous, but not everything added up. The way she talked, the maturity in her presence made it seem that she had to be over 40. But the skin on her face and her slim body were that of a much, much younger person.
That darn yoga.
Anyway. She introduced herself to the class and asked if we had any questions. I raised my hand. “How old are you?” I asked. She looked only slightly taken aback, and I have to tell you I forgot the answer, but I do remember that the number was not what I expected. At all. Think: higher.
She gave me a look which I took to mean she’d not be talking to me again, but I later learned that Maria’s face doesn’t always do what faces I’m used to do. A frown isn’t always a frown. She’s funny because half the time you (I) think she is being serious, and then you (I) realize she’s pulling the world’s leg.
All of this is to tell you that a few weeks ago I drove to Maria’s house in Santa Cruz to practice TRE (Trauma Release Exercises) with her and that it has taken me all this time to write about it because I’m still digesting the experience. It’s hard to sell something to people when you want to keep it to yourself because you’re afraid of busting the bubble of experience by making it real. It’s not that I want to sell this as in make money: it’s that I want you to have the experience that I did, and I’m not sure you will.
But I don’t know why not.
Except that maybe you won’t be open to it. Maybe you won’t get a teacher. Maybe in your heart of hearts you just aren’t interested in giving up body tension, mind tension. Maybe in your heart of hearts you aren’t ready to go there: to the place where everything is okay and you can sleep like a baby.
TRE is such a simple premise and such a simple series of exercises that it’s easy to think: eh.
When an animal experiences trauma, for example, when there is a thunder storm and your dog is terrified, a common response is for him to go into the corner and shake. The shaking is the body’s way of letting go of fear and tension that might otherwise have become incorporated into muscle memory. The shaking is brilliant. We, the people, aren’t big on shaking. It’s embarrassing. Childlike. Weird. It’s not even an option for many of us because we’re so programmed to get over it. To act like an adult and to shake off the car that almost sideswiped us and get back to talking to the boss on Bluetooth.
We the people love trauma. We are a nation that breathes PTSD. We love to watch the news over breakfast, to eat the horror of devastation and possible nuclear war with our bagel. We almost die getting to work every morning with the world texting at 65 miles per hour. We think someone might stab us and then we realize we are racially profiling and that nothing bad is going to happen, but still, we feel fear. We take fear in the gut and it stays there. It’s like we get kicked in the stomach repeatedly and then never react. But the stomach, and the brain, and therefore the rest of the body, remembers.
The first time I worked on the psoas (yes! You have one! More than one! One on each side of your spine! And you don’t pronounce the p!) as a massage therapist, I cried. It runs deep in the abdomen and it felt like the firm flesh of a fish to me, and that made me think of Jesus, and I cried in class. I know. Be thankful you’re not my teacher.
My favorite part of the series of Trauma Release Exercises is the last part, where you lie on the floor in butterfly pose and let your legs shake. They shake because the psoas, that beautiful, holy muscle, is releasing.
You are letting go. Some people cry. Many people tremble more than shake. Some people’s legs beat a rhythm on the floor.
I’d taken a TRE workshop with Maria years ago, and for a while I did TRE obsessively on my own at home, slept wonderfully, had legs that swung more freely, and then I sort of…forgot. This is why I made an appointment for a one-on-one session with her. I wanted to remember.
We did the exercises together, a series of easy movements that work at preparing the body for release, and we lay on the floor together and vibrated. It’s funny how much concentration and trust it takes to relax. It’s so much easier to hold on than to let go. But wow. I do not sleep like a rock after holding on all day, but I sure float to sleep when I’ve let go.
All of this is to say, I love you very much.
Check out this link for more information about Maria, TRE, and where to find providers in your area:
If you like this post, and even if you didn't, please consider buying my book, You Don't Look Adopted. https://www.amazon.com/Dont-Look-Adopted-Anne-Heffron/dp/0692755640/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1505450311&sr=8-1&keywords=you+don%27t+look+adopted