How Hot Yoga and a Boatload of Blood Led to a Miracle—A Goddamn Beautiful One.

The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the mother**king sh*t of it. —Cheryl Strayed

It’s early August, 9:30 a.m., hot and sticky on Saturday in the charming city of Fairhope, Alabama, some twenty miles southeast of Mobile.

I steal away from the adobe cottage that keeps me flinching in the wee hours due to its “settling noises” and take up on the sidewalk wearing a pair of CrossFit training shorts and a running bra.

It’s not exactly yoga attire, and in the modesty of the South, nothing short of conspicuous.

What can I say?

I’m from the Northeast.

Sweet Luna, a small, “feral” black cat greets me on the steps of nearby Soul Shine Yoga Studio for the third day of my thirty-day pilgrimage – a writer’s retreat –, in search of creative inspiration and, this morning, to better hone my yoga practice.

I’m holding the camera making kissy noises at Luna when vivid splats of red flash through my mind. Before I left my sometimes-creepy cottage — you know the drill — I squatted on the toilet and my maxi pad got unstuck and plopped into the bowl. Things like this happen to me all the time. I fished the thing out with my fingers, squeezed out the excess fluid and tossed it into the wastebasket.

This fourth day of heavy flow began drip-drip-dripping as I sat down into seat 34F aboard the plane at Logan, wearing my favorite white jeans and lusciously deep pink-colored panties with a wide white band that reads “Victoria’s Secret.”

I’m an open-door pee-er in the sunlit privacy of my own home but peeing in the cottage bathroom’s windowless dark keeps “Missy-the-homeless-woman,” who is known to stalk the place, from glimpsing me through the front door window. The same goes for the drummer who lives in his car in the library parking lot next door.

I rose from the toilet and put on the light. Worthy of a CSI crime scene, its white porcelain base, the rim, the seat, under the seat and the tile floor was not dotted, but wildly strewn with bright red blood. “My biology,” as I’ve come to call such things. I cleaned up the mess, thinking, Jesus, really? A voice in my head, a source of infinite encouragement, emitted a self-deprecating, resolved sigh. Not wholly due to the grossness, but because “we” thought my menstruating was done for good.

At 53, my periods stopped six months ago and “personal summers,” e.g. fling-the-covers-off-body-aflame-at-3 a.m., ensued in their wake. Honestly, with no irritability and continued and intended weight loss through cycling, running and High Intensity Interval Training, I was over the moon. My husband began finding me in Namaskarasana at sunrise, staring fixedly at the ceiling and chanting, “Dear God, at last, thank you.”

But why had the flow resumed when I was boarding a plane to take me far away for this month-long writer’s residency awarded to finish the memoir manuscript I’ve had kicking around for 8 years?

Could it be a cleansing of sorts, a divine reckoning, penetrating that dense layer of dust in the creative cogs of my mind?

A rebirth in the advent of leaving the sentient beings I love—my family and furry kids and best-girls behind?

Can’t be—because as time progresses in this creep-du-jour cottage, I’m Bugs Bunny doomed in his aircraft, twisting and turning in a tight downward spiral toward earth.

How come?

It’s the day job. It makes for a tasty morsel of distraction. Same goes for the things that go bump in the night—not the fridge’s compressor turning on and off or the central air. It’s the noises I can’t pinpoint—that banging. The dread of opening my eyes to make for the bathroom when I can’t hold my pee in one second more and fathoming the walking dead standing at the threshold with a blacked-in eye socket and the other eye barely intact, dangling down its cheek by a bloody gnawed-on thread.

The cottage is rent-free, awarded on the merit of my published writing and work-in-process but, let me tell you, everything comes with a price.

My ego doesn’t take the spooky stuff into account or the ample and overwhelming creative-crushing opportunity to get some writing done.

You’re finally here and look at you go, that little voice in my head jeers. I can’t give a fruitful response to each of the good-natured sponsors who take turns treating me to their favorite restaurant every night, all the while suppressing my question, “So, how have the women faired in a month-long stay in the cottage?”

Instead I tell them, “I’m not sure where I’m going start—revising a manuscript or beginning a new one.”

They search my face for intent, some hint of promise.

Look at you go.

I think hard on a source for creativity and inspiration: yoga.

I pinpointed the studio on the map from Massachusetts, just in case I’d need that source of creativity and inspiration. There, it’s a block from the cottage. Soul Shine Yoga.

The name of the place sunk in well. I-want-my-soul-to-shine.

Luna grows bored with my picture-taking and crosses the patio to the florist next door. I check in with the teacher at reception and step into a studio not even twice the size of our master bedroom back home and heated to ninety-three degrees. It houses no more than four mats three inches apart width-wise times four mats lengthwise, a cramped total of sixteen yogis, plus an instructor, standing.

This is my third-ever “Hot Power Hour” and I’ve learned as soon as you exert the slightest bit of energy, the obvious happens. The sweat pores out of your skin in buckets. It’s the effect I’m seeking, although against my mother’s advice. She bravely contended with my frequent acute knee-buckling episodes of teenage tachycardia known in colloquial terms as “heart attacks,” a rampant yee-haw condition in which a stress-induced event (e.g. excessive heat and humidity, exertion) tripped electricity inside my heart to a rogue electrical pathway, spiking my heart up to two hundred beats per minute.

Mom said, sympathetically, “It’ll be too hot for you.”

The instructors at this studio play a diverse mix of music, and Mary Jo leads us into subtle movements to limber our muscles, accompanied by Perry Farrell’s eerie and whiny-pitched voice singing Jane Says, a song about “Jane’s” heroin addiction and how “she’s gonna kick it tomorrow.” Jane’s Addiction’s album covers flood my mind: macabre busts and a recollection of their fantastic rendition of Sympathy for the Devil and how Farrell says he’s visited by aliens.

All this is not good for my practice, so I dismiss the lyrics and imagery for later when I approach my creep-du-jour cottage.

Mary Jo intensifies the movements. Plank, chaturanga, up dog, down dog, crescent lunge. The sweat on my body reflects the recessed ceiling lights, cascades down my nose and limbs, drips to the floor. I do not lapse into a “heart attack”; my mother forgets I had the rogue electrical pathway ablated in my late twenties. When Mary Jo takes us through a hyper-intense flow sequence including Warrior I, II and Reverse Warrior, three women in the class more than half my age (and sporting proper yoga attire) revert to child’s pose.

The voice inside my head sets a precedence. It offers words of affirmation. You’re winning, it says.

Winning?

My heart’s beating so hard it’s going to tear out of my chest, but darkness is not inking over the crown of my head and seeping into my eyes, bringing me to my knees. Back up to Warrior I, I lunge and reach my arms for the sky, my pose a tuning fork and open channel for divine intervention.

I am self-aware and my senses keen; my chest and heart uplifted. I radiate empowerment—there “ain’t no mountain high enough” to keep me from anything. My abrupt exhales and the sweat pouring out of my pores tells me I am life, a vessel. Biology. Mary Jo prompts us to transition to Warrior II and, grounding strong in my core and quads, I bend at the knee and stare over my middle finger on my extended arm, and every cell in my body is vibrating, shimmying.

They say to me, You’re rocking the intensity, sister.

The voice in my head echoes, Rockin’ it. Like a warrior.

Mary Jo eventually leads us toward reprieve—my familiar bedside prayer squat—and surprise or perhaps not during this rebirth, this cleansing, I’m called to embrace my womanhood again. My uterus contracts and expels a boatload of blood.

The maxi pad is saturated with sweat and blood and due to routine straining before the pad slipped into the bowl, mucous from my intestinal lining—major biology. Whether the pad is fixed in the right place or not, it’s not going to serve much purpose.

During Savasana, I am at ease. I think how my period after so much time is like it used to be with its heavy flow, but on this occasion without cramps or fatigue or cravings. I think how I was at “my edge” and found strength and empowerment so big and expansive it couldn’t be contained in a single moment. I think how the sweat bubbled up from my skin in bodacious beads and momentarily fatigued and depleted, I held grounded in my stance. I think about one of the T-shirts for sale on a rack near reception that reads “This Isn’t My First Vinyasa,” and smile ever so subtly.

When I leave the studio with my drenched yoga towel draped about my neck and shoulders, I bend down and give the not-so-feral Luna a scratch behind the ears, then retreat to the cottage. Thoughts of Perry Farrell and his creative renderings do not come to mind upon its threshold. I enter the place, take down the towel blocking the front door’s window, open the curtains and snap off the light in every room. I voraciously devour lunch and the words on these pages spill forth: a culmination of the bleeding, sweating, cleansing and opening; the zenith of being a woman.

It’s a miracle; a goddamn beautiful one. I brought it on, knowing yoga and the universe would serve as catalysts to open me up like a flower and weave a story derived in a fresh tantalizing experience, a wanting, a means to an end.

The bumps in the night in this writer’s cottage won’t be so scary tonight.

They’re confronting a warrior.

Thanks to Elephant Journal for featuring this essay in their Yoga section on 9/15/20!


Lisa Mae DeMasi loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on its sequel “Saving Tom Wilkins.” She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi dot com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

In the Face of Adversity, the Universe had a Message for Me

I am talking to you from the ground. Where I lay pitched to one side, my shin throbbing and my cheek pressed against the grass. The 30-gallon bucket of bird seed I was carrying is at eye level and has strewn its contents on the other side of the cement steps, leading from our porch, to the backyard. Dennis is here, beside me, saying, Oh, Lisa, not again. I raise my head, acknowledging his presence, gasp and rest my head back down to the ground. Jesus, did I just fall again?

An hour before, Dennis cleaned the windows of our porch as I was finishing Boho Beautiful’s Pilates 21-Day Challenge, a full body 25-minute workout. For his benefit and my own commiseration I had repeated “this is so hard” throughout the various exercises; the workout ending with heel beats, airplane and grasshopper pulses. You know, the kind of drill that hours later leave you with the feeling that your gluts are bleeding. Having completed the last exercise, I got up off the floor, relieved to take pleasure in walking our dog Sabrina.

We strolled the neighborhood. The weather was optimal. Despite the downer of the pandemic, people were out in their yards, raking and planting, and chatting with neighbors. Kids rode their bikes, squealing with laughter. I felt gratitude. With a capital G. For the glorious weather, the blue sky, our home, the feel-good feeling emanating from inside my body, despite the unexpected ripples of change that had recently occurred in my life.

I had lost my full time job on May 1 due to the impact the virus has had on the economy. I loved my job, but it was intense, and although I would have never left it by my own volition I embraced the news. I had told my manager, “It’ll open up space for my memoir to get picked up.” And, I thought, give me the opportunity to kick up my workouts and fold in a daily guided meditation or two.

It would not be so seamless.

Two days after I lost my job, Dennis and Sabrina and I were at the start of our favorite 5-mile hike at Callahan State Park in Framingham. The first mile of “hiking the pipe” is a steep incline. A fallen limb laid unseen in the mud and as I stepped on it, it rolled under my foot and my person crashed down hard to the ground, on my left knee. Sabrina retreated to my side. Dennis entwined his arm in mine, helped me up and started wiping mud off my face.

My knee blew up. My mother saw the ace bandage around my leg the next day. She was parked at the end of our driveway and I stood talking to her by the garage. When I told her we finished the hike after I fell, she said I must not have hurt it too badly.

I had hurt it badly; went on meds to reduce the inflammation. The injury put an indefinite end to my riding horses, doing HIIT and running a few times a week, and left me no choice but to seek alternative means of exercise. Calamity continues to become me.

That fall took place on May 3. From where I’m talking to you right now, on the ground with my cheek mashed to the grass, sending out reconnaissance throughout my body for further injury, is May 25. It dawns on me, did any of my neighbors see me go down? Defeat and embarrassment seeps into my every cell. Then, Why has my gravitational pull towards the earth been so much stronger lately?

Dennis is crouching beside me, patiently, observing the questions running through my mind. He knows what I’m asking myself. Does he have an answer as to why I keep falling?

I sit up. The skin of my left chin, just below the injury site of the first fall, is torn and beginning to swell. Dennis is waiting for some kind of communication from me. I say I’m okay. He helps me up. We pile what we can of the bird seed back into the bucket. Numb (traumatized), I top off my feeders; and for the remainder of the afternoon sit in my chair in the porch, granting myself permission to blow off doing any work, and with a heap of ice on my elevated leg, watch the birds feed and bathe, and three chipmunks duke it out over the spilled seed. There are libations in the evening.

The following morning, I wake, feeling blue and teary-eyed. Dennis is “occupied” in the bathroom and I sink into one of the dining room chairs and begin to sulk. Sabrina nudges my elbow, hey, what’s wrong. I reflect on the positive changes I’ve made in my routine.

For nearly every day for a month and a half I’ve been listening to Bob Proctor’s Calm Guided Meditation to Gain Abundance, Love & Happiness. It’s given me “calmness of mind” which is “a beautiful jewel of life” and the ability to use my imagination to build the world I want.

Upon waking, I listen to one of a handful of 10-minute guided meditations for gratitude and have learned I want for nothing and my life is so full of everything wonderful that it’s stupefying.

I started practicing Boho Beautiful’s Yin Yoga after managing a Pilates workout to open up my hips and stretch out my gluts.

These are all good things. And I am grateful I sought them out and will continue to practice them. But I still feel defeated and full of self-pity. I’m injured (what’s with this falling shit?), my weight is not where I want it (fruit is really not a carb and why can’t I stop binge-drinking on the weekends) and I’ve received no word back from the agents I’ve been pitching for my memoir (some of the pitches date back to November).

And that’s when it hits me. Clear as a bell. Unmistakably. Powerfully. Amazingly.

Three words of inspiration. From the Source. Yesterday.

Sabrina and I had been walking by one of our neighbor’s houses. There was a guy working in his yard, listening to music, as he spread mulch in and around his hedges. Being an 80’s girl, I recognized the song that was playing, the chorus, three words of which I only heard, assimilated, and then immediately dismissed.

The words suddenly resonated: Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel singing “Don’t Give Up.”

It’s a message from the Universe, directed to me, of loving support. It knows I’m here. It knows I’m feeling discouraged and falling in defeat. It hears the desires I seek. It’s telling me, “don’t give up.”

I’ve stopped sulking and I’m getting on with my day.

Despite my bum leg, I’m not giving up.

Thank you, Universe, for acknowledging me. I am grateful.

This article was published in Elephant Journal, 9/2/2020.


Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at lisa.demasi@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.