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Belonging is Healing

I've discovered a far-out phenomenon of nomad life.

Whenever I prepare to pack-up and pick-up and leave a place, that’s just when my sense of connection strengthens – just when I begin to feel I belong.

Maybe that’s a sign I’m a bad nomad. Good nomads don’t bond; foot loose and fancy free, they just move on.

More likely, it’s a sign I’m just plain human.

Every stop on the Ramblin' Anne road - from Santa Fe to San Diego to the the Bitterroot Valley of Montana – has, in truth, been about people over place. But on this leg of my journey, almost six months marooned on Chincoteague Island, I notice I’ve allowed myself more liberty to connect - and do so more deeply.

There I am with my yoga sangha – the word in Sanskrit which means community. It’s one of the best places to belong – in movement, in breath, in stillness.

When I landed on the island in December, I joined the local Y. Becoming a member, paying monthly dues, was extra incentive to get out of the beach house, away from the writing desk, and into the subdued, off-season seaside world. I discovered the schedule of weekly Iyengar yoga classes led by Chuck and Mary.

A Vinyasa flow yogi of almost 15 years, I was curious about this new modality – though also a little wary. BKS Iyengar, the father of modern yoga, was also known for such strident exactness that his students nick-named him “Bang Kick Slap.”

I was not up for abuse; but I was ready to get off my lonesome yoga mat.

First class, a Monday morning, I paused in my tracks at the studio door. Yoga mats were positioned around the perimeter, against the wall, and yogis seated upon piles of blankets, straps and blocks and chairs at the ready. I didn’t like the looks of this; though I followed suit, unrolled my mat, shuffled to the closet for props.

The first thing Mary taught me: there are certain ways to fold the blankets, depending upon the pose: shoulder stand tri-fold, lumbar bolster fold, behind the head tortilla fold. Her cues were exact and dizzying – sternum up, tailbone down, knees straight, shoulders back, navel drawn into the front of the spine. The holds were long and arduous. Instead of one breath per pose, we held for 10, 20, 30!

“Don’t just do the pose, become the pose, be the pose,” the teacher called out as heat built in my torso, twinges of numbness shot down my left standing leg.

By the end of the 1.5-hour class, I was sure I wouldn’t come back. The class was too slow for me, the group too old and novice for me. I had a litany of judgements and excuses. Ick.

Gratefully, Caroline my Blessed Crooked Spine had other ideas. She dragged me back to class for the rest of the week.

“Relinquish to your props,” Chuck called out, as I lay with my legs strapped up, heels resting against the wall, hips propped up on perfectly-folded blankets.

I love this, I love this! Caroline’s glee was palpable as I followed the cues, allowing my body sink into the mat, surrounded by the energy of sangha.

What I was really relinquishing to was community.

Then guru Gail showed up wearing mala beads and madras. Back from her hip replacement, she led a class on mantra, chanting, prahna and energetic clearing. Kundalini was a whole new yoga modality and way to connect, voices meshing, discordantly sweet. Saaaaat Naaaam.

Guru Gail reminded us: the word yoga means to yoke, as in a cart to an ox, as in the body to the breath.

A group of regular gals – Carol, Judy, Renee and I – adopted a name – The Stealthy Cats – and started coming an hour early twice a week to lift weights.

Over the weeks and months, we got stronger and stronger. Standing against the wall in Vrikshasana, a grove of tall trees – heat building, ankles wobbling – we swayed in the imaginary maritime breeze. Caroline got longer, taller, more spacious between the twisted vertebra.

“There’s no problem or challenge that cannot be solved,” Chuck told us as we switched legs, “through the practice of yoga.”

When I couldn’t make class because of my writing or zoom meetings, the ladies grilled me: “What happened to you? Another zoom? We missed you.”

Ooch, ouch, like bare feet across hot sand, to be noticed, to be connected, to belong, almost hurt.

As a kid, I lived with a lie: “To belong, I had to be someone else.”

To fill the void in our house, to combat the tumult, I, willful eldest, became a chameleon. Worse, I was swept off my vulnerable teenage feet by my married music teacher, ensnared in an all-consuming clandestine affair that changed everything.

Through high school, I led a double life. At 18, I eloped with him. Yes, finally, I belonged: I belonged to the maestro.

That’s what my book is about – Strings Attached: A Memoir of Music, Marriage and Escape – the search for belonging and the struggle to break free.

I did break free, at age 27. It was an arduous road – a heroine’s journey.

Still, all these decades later, I live this tug-of-war between belonging and freedom.

On Chincoteague Island, I may have discovered a way to integrate the two.

This is the healing journey. My crooked spine is one part of the puzzle; my heart is the other.

The point of my post may be this...

You can find belonging wherever you go, wherever you are, when you find it within yourself.

And this connects back to my previous post on worthiness. (

I am, you are worthy of belonging right here, right now, everywhere.

Ahhh, there’s freedom in that!

As I prepare to pack-up and head-out, I will face the ouchy, sticky, yummy feelings of leaving something I love. I will throw a farewell party, inviting all the Chincoteague yogis who have so graciously welcomed me in - who have liked me for who I am.

But I still have 10 more luxurious days to enjoy. In fact, I've gotta run.

It’s Saturday night and I’ve been invited to the Island Coffee House, a jam session tribute to Joni Mitchell.

My new friends - Harriet on guitar, John on dobro - are playing.


Questions for your own pondering...

  • Where do you find belonging? In what places, with what people, in what activities?

  • Who are you and what are you when you are truly connecting?

  • What qualities in yourself do you still need to embrace to belong?

Resources that have helped me along this healing journey...

“You do not need to seek freedom in a different land, for it exists with your own body, heart, mind, and soul.” (BKS Iyengar, Light on Life)

"True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world." (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection)

"The investigation about what it means to be in this body is one of the great adventures of life." (Koshin Paley Ellison, Untangled: Walking the Eightfold Path to Clarity, Courage and Compassion)

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May 23, 2023

Wow! Beautiful writing and wonderful insights! I’m sorry that we didn’t connect sooner and that there are only 10 days left, but that makes the brief connection we made that much more bittersweet. Can’t wait to see where life takes you next…and know that all of us would welcome you back here any time!

—Nancy :)


Julie Gabrielli
Julie Gabrielli
May 22, 2023

Wonderful, Anne! What marvelous insights. I'm bummed I never was able to make it out there for a visit, but we'll find a time and place to catch up. Where are you headed next?

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