Themes, Reflections, and Meditations to Weave into Your Practice
My introduction to yoga began in my twenties, not with postures, but with meditation. At the time, I had less than no interest in yoga, which looked to me like a weird practice for flaky people. I considered myself a serious person with more important things to do. As so often happens, life circumstances stepped all over my worldview. My story is similar to those of so many others who turned to yoga and meditation only as a desperate last resort but found healing and relief in what yogis have known for so long.
I was working on Wall Street in the late eighties during one of the biggest bull markets in history. It was a heady time, and I thought my rather large paycheck proved my importance and worth. I embarrassingly personified the word yuppie—young, upwardly mobile professional. My dreams were coming true. I was living and working in Manhattan, making lots of money . . . which was pretty much the extent of my goals. Im not proud of these rather shallow, early-in-life dreams, but thats who I was.
My job was demanding and, looking back, not sustainable. As a woman trying to excel in an aggressive, male-dominated industry, I put unrealistic demands on myself and did not appreciate the notion of balance. Eventually, I began to feel the stress taking a toll on my body. One night I woke with a powerful headache. I couldnt get up or even lift my head, and I eventually passed out from the pain. The next morning, I slowly opened my eyes and strangely felt zero pain. Brushing my teeth, I watched in the mirror as the left side of my face began to melt. I thought for sure that I was having a stroke. The left side of my face was completely paralyzed.
Panicked, I went to the emergency room and learned that I had a fairly common condition called Bells palsy. I was relieved that this was not considered serious but rattled when told to expect a three-month recovery. There was also the possibility that there would be no recovery.
I went home with a small electrical device to intermittently shock the side of my face to delay muscle atrophy, and that was it. There was no medication, no additional physical therapy, nothing I could do” to end the symptoms of Bells palsy. I taped my left eye closed because it didnt blink, wore an eye patch, and put an earplug in my left ear as loud noises were painful with an inactive eardrum. This new look was made complete with a slight drool out of the corner of my mouth.
If I went outside, I used my hand to hold up the left side of my face. I remember trying to place an order at my favorite lunch spot. The familiar guy behind the counter just shrugged because he couldnt understand what I was saying. I left dejected and hungry, thinking this would be the low point of my Bells palsy experience. That came later when I was asked to take a leave from work, as my appearance made people uncomfortable.
Even though Bells palsy is not a life-threatening illness, it was the first time I had ever felt physically challenged. I had always been an athlete, with the illusion that I was in charge of my situation, especially my physical body. Now strangers looked at me with what may have been compassion but felt like pity. I was devastated and frightened.
I began to visit different doctors, hoping for some innovative course of action, but they all said there was nothing to do but wait. One doctor wisely asked if I had considered meditation or alternative medicine?” I had no idea what that meant, but I now see that the question was a lifeline, and I am so grateful that I grabbed it.
Even though I had previously dismissed alternative medicine as wacko,” I was now all in. I read as much as I possibly could with one eye patched and began meeting with energy healers, meditation teachers, a chiropractor, a medium, past-life regression therapists, and more.
At one of my first appointments, a meditation teacher asked me to do some deep breathing on her count. I was sitting in her comfortable office, and I somehow couldnt breathe slowly and deeply. I apologized and ran out of her office in tears. The more I tried to relax, the more I realized that I couldnt. It was at this point that I understood I had some sort of problem. I had no idea what was wrong but believed that figuring it out was critical to recovering and living a healthy life.
So I started with some meditation at home. I did not start slowly. Reading with one eye was uncomfortable, so I just skimmed some basic instruction and meditated. I liked it. Im sure this was because I couldnt go to work, read, or watch TV, but I was doing something. I meditated earnestly for hours, right from the start. I craved the feeling of transcending my physical body. I didnt know then that its best to start with a few minutes of meditation and slowly increase your time.
What I experienced during meditation blew my mind—from metaphysical experiences to senses of love and light to energetic presences. I glimpsed firsthand that there was more happening than just the physical, five-sensory world.
I had no idea what was happening, but again I was determined to find out, and with Bells palsy, I had some time on my hands. This was pre-internet, so I began my research primarily in bookstores, while also asking doctors and the healers I had started seeing.
Fortunately, I worked with an experienced energy healer who clued me in. She listened and told me that I could find answers to what was happening by studying yoga. Yoga? I thought skeptically. I did not realize at that time that meditation was a central aspect of yoga. After doing some digging, I was flat-out astonished to find that she was right. This was not at all what I thought yoga was about.
I began to study older texts from schools in India and was amazed to find that the mystical experiences of some devoted yoga practitioners mirrored my own. I learned about kundalini energy and realized that I had to settle this energy; the way to do that was through yoga postures and breathwork. I had to get healthy by grounding and balancing my system.
At this point, about three months in, there was no sign of facial recovery. Thankfully, meditating and reading about yoga and other esoteric subjects made the time move along. I became completely enthralled by what I was reading and experiencing. It was like an entire unknown universe opened up, or honestly, a universe I had previously thought was fake. I am sorry I once had that opinion, but now I get it if people roll their eyes when I teach about out-there” subjects.
When I started to learn about kundalini energy and life force, or prana, I intuitively knew that this energy was the key to my particular issue. I felt a sense of hope and relief that by getting to the root of the problem, I had the best chance of recovery. I suspect the cause of Bells palsy is different for everyone, so by no means do I believe this is a universal cause or a medical opinion.
I began to incorporate some basic gentle yoga movements with breathwork and lots of meditation into my routine and felt the therapeutic effect on my body. I learned a little about Ayurveda, the medical sister science to yoga, and self-diagnosed that my system was overheated, or in Ayurvedic terms, had excessive agni (fire). When this occurs, the nerves are at risk. My prescription became cooling down my body. I cut back on heating foods such as sugar, alcohol, and coffee—basically my previous diet—and added cooling foods such as green tea, green vegetables, and oatmeal. I intuitively felt that I was on the road to recovery.
After about four months, I noticed a little flutter in my eyelid, and the corner of my lip started to move. In twelve months, I looked somewhat more like my previous self. Bells palsy was the wake-up call or punch in the face I needed to begin to find more balance in my approach to life. It gave me the opportunity to discover a lifes passions: yoga and meditation. Some muscle weakness remains on the left side of my face thirty-some years later, but I am forever grateful for this medical and personal initiation. I struggled to integrate what I was learning into my day-to-day life. At first, I became a bit of a yogavangelist.” With a lack of subtlety, I steered every conversation toward meditation or yoga. I was utterly intrigued by all things esoteric and genuinely thought that everyone else should be captivated as well. I was perplexed when people would not want to discuss these subjects at length all the time. A lot of people were struggling, and I knew modalities such as meditation could genuinely help.
It took some time, but eventually, I realized that people might be interested in other worthy topics and not so much in meta-physics. I now get (sort of ) that its a good thing that were all fascinated by different subjects. We each have our role to play in the world, and if we listen to and follow what were interested in, life will certainly be more fun and fulfilling for everyone. However, I believe yoga and meditation offer so much benefit to our lives and our world that I remain motivated and energized to share whenever I can.
While I did stay in the finance industry for a few years, eventually my interest in yoga and meditation, along with marriage and two children, led me to leave Wall Street. After a decade of yoga practice, I became an instructor and ultimately opened a studio in my hometown.
Over the past thirty years, I have witnessed how yoga and related concepts have become more mainstream and popular in the United States and around the world, to the point that we now commercialize and exploit words like nirvana and karma to sell cars. But this commercialization of yoga comes with costs— few people understand the roots of the practice and the depths beyond the postures. I hope that Threads of Yoga will help you explore and experience these concepts in your own practice, begin or continue to share them if you are a teacher, and weave them into your life. I hope they also inspire you to delve into some of the original yoga texts for yourself.
Yoga teaches us who we are, and its time we remember and embrace this astonishing gift.
From Threads of Yoga by Pamela Seelig © 2021 by Pamela Seelig. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO
Thank you, Pamela Seelig and FSB Associates
About the Author
Pamela Seelig is a yoga teacher and the author of Threads of Yoga: Themes, Reflections, and Meditations to Weave into Your Practice. She began her yoga and meditation journey in 1991 when an illness interrupted her Wall Street career. Along with helping recovery, the impact of her meditation led to a lifelong pursuit of perceiving and sharing yogic wisdom through practice, teaching, and writing. She completed her teacher training in 2006 at Integral Yoga Institute in New York. Pamela considers Swami Satchidananda, the founder of Integral, as her primary teacher (root guru), but she has trained with many of the top yoga luminaries in the world today. Pamela is a fervent student of yoga and continues to deepen and expand her yogic knowledge and understanding. Along with Hatha yoga, Pamela also studies Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and is a certified Raja Yoga instructor. While grateful for so many brilliant teachers along the way, she regards the practice itself as the greatest teacher. She lives in New Jersey where she practices yoga, teaches yoga workshops, writes, and empty-nests with her husband, Bob, and dog, Bodhi.