How Yoga Got Me Through a Near Death Experience

I just got back from a week of camping and my goodness but it was so good to be in nature again. I didn’t realize how much I needed to disconnect from the internet until we were about day three in and I got a distinct feeling that we were really living again.


In fact, I have a bit of a crazy camping story to share with you related to being very much alive…

We decided to rent canoes and go for a 2.5-3.5 hour paddle through 3 different lakes which would require a couple of short portages.


“No biggie,” we thought. “It’ll be fine,” we thought.


While me and my friends were sorting out some important details like who’s packing which snacks into which backpack, Christa (my wife) waited for us by the rental canoes. She was approached by one of the staff at the centre who told her that a thunderstorm “may be coming through in a few hours” but she wasn’t sure when given that it could be moving quickly or slowly our way. She thought we’d have about 3-4 hours on the water before it came in and advised that if the storm rolled through, we should get off the water and seek cover until it passes.


“No biggie,” we thought. “It’ll be fine,” we thought.



So we awkwardly lifted the canoes onto our backs and lumbered down to the water, in the process realizing we had no idea how to do this. Painfully, we did it anyway (you know, like how most new experiences typically go.) We get into the water and also realized we didn’t know how to paddle a canoe and lost a ton of time making zigzags through the water rather than going in a straight line. We got the hang of it by about the half-way mark.


“No biggie,” we thought. “It’ll be fine,” we thought.


But then things took a turn.


By the time we were nearly 3/4 of the way through, the wind started to pick up… Then the sky began to darken and we could heard thunder rolling in the distance. It started to rain lightly and we began to feel nervous. We passed by a small beach and our friend tentatively suggested that “maybe we should pull off there and wait it out.” We decided to keep going a little further, pushing our luck, unsure of what “waiting it out” would really entail.


Then the rain really started coming down. The sky went from dim to dark and the thunder came closer toward us on the horizon, still no lightening though so we weren’t yet in real danger. Thankfully, we had stuck close to the shoreline so when Christa made the executive decision that we had to get off the water, it was a quick maneuver to pull over and tie up the boats to a tree.


We were all standing knee-deep in the now-choppy water, trying to tie our boats up together. As the wind and the rain started to pick up speed more and more the waves grew larger and larger. I could sense that the thin rope we were using to tie up the canoes wasn’t going to hold against rough waters so we again pivoted and decided to untie the boats and in a scramble, bring them to land. The rain was coming down heavily by this point and we were all soaked through to our skin, teeth chattering and bodies shaking. The lightning hadn’t opened up yet but we knew it was only a matter of time before it would and we had to be off the lake.


“We need to stay CALM!” I yelled at the group. In confusion everyone looked back at me saying “We are calm!??” I realized I was the one who wasn’t and needed to resource myself.


Christa climbed up onto the shoreline. It was a big step up that her long 6ft frame could handle no problem and the rest of us shorter folk heaved the canoes out of the water and passed them up to her. She pulled them up the steep, mossy, forested slope into the cover of the canopy of trees above.


We scrambled up the big step after her to get out of the water and to try to find shelter. The best shelter there was were our canoes so we tipped them on their sides and, in twos, huddled underneath them. Christa, being so tall, was in a very uncomfortable position as she barely fit into that narrow space, limbs jutting out into the cold rain. We were all freezing; so we sat as close together as we could to stay warm.

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The thunderstorm finally broke overhead; lightening ripped open the sky in flashing bolts. This is where we all discovered the real danger of the present situation we were in. It was a sobering moment. I felt a heaviness in my belly, knowing we didn’t have better options than this one and still, it wasn’t great. “We could actually die out here,” I thought to myself. I saw a future where each one of us was hit by lightning. Like Cerdric Diggory from the fourth Harry Potter who book dies when struck by the curse deathly curse,Avada Kedavra, our bodies would go limp and lie dead on the forest floor. Like the waves of water building in the lake, waves of panic began to build in my trunk, running upward to my tense shoulders and neck.



It was in that moment where my years of yoga practice came back to me.Those thoughts weren’t helpful, weren’t true, and in that moment and were leading to more and more catastrophic thinking and an upregulated nervous system. “What’s the a technique for regulating one’s nervous system?” I asked out loud to no one. “Breathing!” Came the reply. “Right! Breathing.” So I breathed in a rhythmic count.


“Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4. Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4.”


Repeat.


“Inhale, 1, 2, 3, 4. Exhale 1, 2, 3, 4.”


I looked down at the ground, away from the chaos overhead, focusing on the smallest details on the forest floor that I could find, looking for an ally in the wet bugs, leaves and twigs I found there. This was helpful because it gave my mind something else to focus on other than look into an imaginary dark future where one of us has been hit by lightening. It helped. My body stopped shaking and I could feel my muscles begin to relax. This regulated breathing and focused attention carried on for likely another 30 or so minutes while we waited for the thunder and lightening to fully pass.


Eventually the sky began to lighten and the rain eased up. We emerged from our canoe-shelters, still cold and wet but now with hope that we would be able to return back to our campsite again. We carried the canoes back into the now-warm water and clambered awkwardly back inside.

Like in a Hollywood movie, as we rounded the last spit of land and saw the landing dock, the rain came to a complete stop and the sun came out. It was a glorious moment! We were fully alive!


Nature’s power continues to inspire awe and humility. I certainly forget my own vulnerability when I feel that I have so much control over my own life. Nature reminds us that that is not the case and that she has immeasurable power to give and take life.

In many ways this story could be seen as a metaphore for how the last year and a half has gone for the world as we navigate our way through COVID.

COVID brought on a fully unexpected, and in 26,000 cases life-taking, change.


I lost my job.


I lost the professional future I’d imagined for myself.


I have had to start again from scratch as an entrepreneur.


It seems like the best comparison I can make to the above story would be that my daily practice, teaching online at Katarina Yoga Online Studio, and community have been the canoe that sheltered me while we weathered the brunt of lockdowns. Outdoor yoga classes taking off in London have felt like the moment where we were able to get back in the water and paddle our way home.


What was your shelter during COVID lockdowns? What got you through the storm?

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What’s now giving you the feeling of getting back into the water? What are your rays of sunshine?


I’d love to hear from you!

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