Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

Name: Amber Shumake
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga Therapist / Photographer / Writer / Lover

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

For several years as an English teacher, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, to my 8th grade students. My passion for the prose, I poured into the teaching of this classic. I’ll never forget the year that a student – one of my favorite suns {a pun used to describe the endearing male students who brightened my day} did the unthinkable: having read ahead of the rest of the class, he blurted out the ending, shouting, “Tom Robinson gets shot!” My mouth dropped in dismay because I was disappointed, certainly, but more so because I thought I was going to have to restrain the other students in the room from lynching him.

One of my favorite lines from the text is when Scout, the precocious heroine says, “Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

“What is it that is like breathing is to you – as reading is to Scout?” I would always ask. Occasionally, the students would wax philosophical and turn the tables on me:

“Mrs. George,” that was my name at the time, “what is it that is like breathing to you?”

I’d skirt around the real answer. “Like Scout, I love reading,” I tried to encourage them to love the subject I taught, “and writing and – ”

I love yoga.

Amber Shumake scorpionAlmost a decade later, it has become difficult to delineate between where yoga ends and where I begin. It has become a part of me, a facet of who I am. Essentially, I take it for granted, but I know one day it, too, will be gone. Ironically, losing the practice that has taught me to live fearlessly is perhaps my greatest fear.

In Sanskrit, yoga literally means to “yoke,” or “to unite.” Yoga has enabled me to connect the once buried facets that make me who I am. My teacher, Ana Forrest, will look across a room of hundreds of yogis and remind me about the difference between the amber stone with inclusions that the Native American people use for its exquisite healing properties and the worthless, albeit beautiful, pristine variation.

“Amber, use all your facets,” she’ll say, and it sounds so simple. But, how many of us deny parts of ourselves – the parts that make us feel vulnerable and shameful, the parts that make others feel nervous and uncomfortable, the parts that make us powerful and beautiful? Indeed, society conditions us to dim ourselves down, to hide our emotions, to deny our strengths.

Photo by Flickr user Gene Wilburn.

Photo by Flickr user Gene Wilburn.

“Why would you say such a thing?” I remember my mother asking me after reading a composition I had written for school. Within the yellow legal pad, I told the story of the first ten years of my life as I had lived it. I told the story of a young girl who never felt good enough. Within two years, she would begin smoking. And then drinking. And then binging. But always she would be starving {for the sacred}.

“It’s true, Mom,” I said. How could it not be true? Preferring basketballs to ballet slippers and denim to dresses, I did not live up to the dream of who she had hoped her first-born daughter would be. Watching her flip the pages, her red pen resting between her knobby knuckles, I saw the tears well up inside her beautiful brown eyes, which might as well have been my own.

I watched her consciously close the floodgates. “Pull yourself together,” she might have said had it been me crying. Always the anxious one; doesn’t do change well; what will people think? – these are the chapter titles of my childhood.

The selfless martyr, my mother took care of me; my mother took care of everyone.

A couple years later, standing shyly before her one Sunday afternoon in the garage of our buxom suburban home, I listened as she sighed, “I need to go check on your father.”

Seeing that he had just left us, I couldn’t understand. Publicly he’d come out of the closet as gay, and inadvertently he’d confirmed my inner story that I would never be good enough. “Why?” I sobbed.

“I just do.”

And then I heard the sirens and knew.

Though my father survived the many pills he swallowed that day, the man I once saw as my hero killed himself off on that page. I, too, killed off the parts of myself that were like him in a silent pact of loyalty, swearing I’d never be like him.

Ten years later, mired in my own abusive marriage, I remember dropping to my knees in my master bedroom in a panic attack. Suffocating in my own shame, I told no one. I held fast to my tight-lipped hope that something would change. Many a night, I hurled Santa Claus prayers from the tattered tile in the bathroom: “Please God, I’ll do whatever you need me to do, if you could just help me get out of this.” During this time – a college student by day, strip club waitress by night – I found yoga.

Amber Shumake bowYoga held my hand as I left that marriage. I betrayed him. I’m not proud of it. It was the only way out I could find with the faculties I thought were available to me at the time. I began drinking vodka nightly. I often wondered if I was an alcoholic. I assured myself I was not. {As Mark Twain said, “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”} And, then, I experienced a dark night of the soul where I tried to kill myself in the same cowardly way my father did. Never say never.

But I continued to go to my mat. It continued to welcome me and my sweat, my snot and tears. I began to feel my heart beat. Backbends like pigeon, wheel, and scorpion became my friends. And as I became stronger {and sober}, I realized I didn’t need anything else. I began to hear, I am. When I stopped listening to the voices of who I was not, I realized I was enough; I always was; I always will be. I began to excavate the parts of my spirit that I’d long ago buried. These facets I began to use to write a new chapter in my life.

Ironically, through betrayal, we learn about forgiveness. And, through yoga, I’ve stopped betraying myself; I’ve started forgiving myself. I’ve removed the self-inflicted daggers from my heart. Unfortunately, our best lessons we learn from our pain; fortunately, our worst deeds do not define us.

“Can you drop the story about what you can’t do,” I’ve been known to say from my mat where I now share snippets of my healing story with my students, “and let where you are now be enough?” Yoga continues to change me – to unite me with the person I always was, the one God put me on this Earth to be. According to Maya Angelou, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” In this sense, I cannot not share my story of transformation with others. I have no choice. It’s like reading . . . like breathing. . . like yoga.

Amber Shumake bio croppedAmber Shumake lives in Azle, a suburb of Ft. Worth, TX – over twenty miles from the nearest Starbucks and yoga studio. Gallivanting throughout the metroplex in her Jeep, she prefers to drive topless. As she rocks out to spiritual podcasts and audio books, she remains always vigilant of the local owl who occasionally lands on her windshield as a reminder to slow down, to seek only Truth. She calls Karmany Yoga, the donation-based studio where she teaches, “home.” Trading one compulsive addiction for another, she currently prefers backbends to drugs, tea to coffee, and Facebook to Twitter. If the stars align {fingers crossed}, she’ll soon have a Masters degree in Counseling. After she graduates, she plans to unite yoga and therapy, wiping away sweat and tears, connecting people to their beauty, one empowering arm balance and inversion at a time. A born writer, she encourages others to revise the life stories that no longer serve them. She dreams {in no particular order} of marrying her partner whom she lovingly calls myDana, growing a family to play with her Blue “Healer,” Tino, writing a book, and changing the world. She’s pretty easy to find in the virtual world at http://www.facebook.com/ambershumake and www.backbendaddict.blogspot.com.

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16 thoughts on “Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

  1. Pingback: Present on MY Mat | The Yoga Diaries™

  2. You are indeed a beautiful and free spirit! Thank you for that sharing. I am currently on the journey of my own life and Yoga is changing me. I feel it’s powerful molding and shaping in my soul..no one can ever be the same after Yoga becomes part.

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