Catherine Morrison discovered just how beneficial yoga can be for healing family hurts. The family has been able to release deep trauma through regular practice. Having practiced with her daughter, who is nearing adolescence, she believes that a regular practice can help to avoid some of the traditional pitfalls of teenage years.
We are a fairly normal family of four living in south west France. We considered ourselves to be pretty ‘lefty’ we are vegetarians we garden organically and we had once a week yoga practice. Our eyes were about to be opened, through tragedy, to the amazing healing power of yoga practice.
Bri and I had just settled down for the evening and were chatting by the fire. The children were in bed, the chickens away and we were going to watch a film. When our daughter Minka then 9 came to the top of the stairs and said “”mummy the beams are on fire” thinking it just must be a bed time delay tactic we went up to investigate and sure enough the beams of our roof were on fire. From this point on the whole thing seemed very unreal to me and I found myself amazed at how quickly everything can change but also how slowly each event seems.
We grabbed our son, Hibou, then only 1, from the bed and ran downstairs. My parents live with us as well so we shouted and knocked on their door on the way down. Once everyone was out of the house my father who was a builder by trade made the adults form a bucket chain and he went up on to the roof to try and put the fire out. I did phoned the fire brigade as a precaution but I felt stupid and as if I was making a big deal out of nothing, the fire didn’t seem to be serious threat and certainly nothing my dad couldn’t handle. What we didn’t know was that the fire was mainly raging between the tiles and the interior plasterboard, we just couldn’t see it.
After about 30 mins of bucketing water we felt as if we were getting it under control little realising that my father was sitting on a sheet of fire. When the fire brigade got to us they were horrified about dad’s attempts and dragged me into the house up to the top floor to tell him to come in. My father’s French is very limited and so was the fireman’s English. I called to my father and told him he had to come in straight away, he responded by saying he was heading for the velux. At that moment the section of roof my father had been on collapsed in a burning shower of debris. I remember thinking to myself that the whole thing was so silly and melodramatic and that the world should not operate that way. It seemed like something from a bad TV movie plot, ridiculous. I was surprised by how slow everything had got, that if I could just pull myself together and find the moment I could stop it all and it would all be back to normal. It was probably only a minute or two but for that time I thought my father was dead and it just felt so unreal that it seemed ludicrous. It was only then I realised I was screaming. I heard my father shouting my name. The firemen rushed forward into the shower of flames and were able to grab my father from a section of roof as yet unfallen, and drag him to safety. We sat outside, huddled in blankets for the rest of the evening and watched our home burn to the ground.
It’s only after the event that the what if’s set in. One of the firemen told me that if we had waited 20 minutes more both the children would have been dead from smoke inhalation. If Minka had not been awake and seen the flames, things could have been so much worse. The same fireman told Minka that she had saved the family, he meant to be kind but his words haunted us all.
The village was great and found us somewhere to live, gave some cash and even found me some washable nappies. So many villagers turned up with bags of jumpers we had hundreds. Everyone was so kind, our insurance company was fantastic and seeing as we have two builders in the family the new roof was on within 2 weeks. It was the if’s that we couldn’t shake off. Minka had only left the family bed when she was 6 so it seemed natural for her to come back to sleeping with us. We passed 3 months in the rental house while my partner and my father worked on getting the top floor habitable as we had decided to work top down. It was when we had to come back to the house the full extent of the trauma became apparent.
Impact on health
About an hour before bedtime Minka would start complaining of tummy pains, which would continue to get worse as bedtime approached. At first we gave her hot water bottles and homeopathic medicine and thought it was something she ate. It wasn’t. Night after night the pains got worse and worse until she was crying with pain. We went to the doctor and he could find nothing wrong, we had no explanation. Around the same time I started having horrific dreams and attacks of paranoia. I found myself imaging the most horrible scenarios and then crying with stress and panic. I found I would avoid new “unsafe” situations becoming immersed in routine and keeping things normal. I told myself and others it was good for the children but really I couldn’t cope with anything unknown or deviations from my timetable. I could see myself getting worse and worse and Minka’s nigh time painful cramps were so bad we were thinking of sending her to s specialist.
Affected by stress
I bumped into Lara our yoga teacher in town and when she asked how we were, it all came flooding out. She is such a calming person and once I started I couldn’t stop. “I think I can help you all,” she said. “You are experiencing stress related trauma.” Once we talked it out I saw that Minka’s tummy pains were stress around bedtime, the time of the fire. And for me I was stressed about how I could keep my babies safe in an unpredictable environment. It seemed obvious; I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it before. Lara helped us by designing some specific yoga routines for us to do at home and coming on her days off to work through yoga practise and meditation with us. It was a very emotional time for us as a family. We had lots to talk through. Minka felt that she hadn’t woken up, we would have all died and so she felt she could not sleep just in case, it happened again. She felt responsible for the safety of us all. Her tummy pains were a physical manifestation of her stress and fear. I felt I had no control over the world and that everything was potentially dangerous so I tried lost myself in routine and structure. We both had to accept, and let go. Lara’s yoga and meditation was so key for us, it gave us a channel to get rid our negativity and build inner strength.
I wouldn’t be without yoga now, it’s so healing. You can apply yoga to every situation and I often find that the classes focus co-inside with what I need to work through. I feel so strongly about the positive transformation and peace yoga can bring you I want to shout it out loud. So I have decided to turn part of our stud farm into a yoga retreat. We have some beautiful woodland on the banks of the Vienne River and I always felt positive there. When Lara visited us for our yoga sessions we always went there, so it has a special supportive feel. Lara and I are working together to develop an enriching program of yoga meditation and diet. We also feel strongly about yoga for children and teens. The change in Minka is astounding. She is confidant and positive. She doesn’t let little things defeat her, or big things either. She is so much calmer than many of her contemporaries. At 12 we were expecting the beginnings of teenager troubles but so far no sign. We all feel it’s because she has an outlet for her negative feelings and coping mechanisms. I want encourage family yoga and to help demonstrate how positive it can be to spend quality time with each other. Yoga is inclusive because everyone works at their own level alongside each other. So we will be hosting some family yoga camps as well as the retreat weekends.
We are happy, healthy and more than ever a family unit. We had a very horrific and stressful experience but it has made us stronger and now I feel nothing can faze us. The healing power of yoga has given us a new lease of life and a more positive, loving future and I am truly grateful.