Two to four times a year, a snake sheds its top layer of skin. This process is called ecdysis, which means "the act of molting or shedding an outer cuticular layer." Ecdysis doesn't actually mean shedding skin, but rather sloughing off the outer layer of cells, in order to remove parasites, free up mobility and enable growth. Apparently, just after a snake sheds a layer, they’re visibly healthier, vibrant and clear. Their new skin, free of restrictions, allows them to grow and move how they should.
When snakes are young, they shed more often - every two weeks or so. Maybe this is simply because they grow quickly, or maybe it's because they are so often something's prey, and so are in constant evolution. Baby snakes are vulnerable and trusting, moving without inhibition but adapting to circumstance. When they outgrow their layers, (the human equivalent to a toddler outgrowing a race car bed), they simply shed, and continue on.
Snakes and seasons live in cycles, encountering and adapting to every obstacle. Each peak and valley seem higher and higher, easier each time to trek. Rainfall feel heavier to a small body, parasites attach quicker to young blood. Baby snakes bear the weight of the weather and predators, grow tougher skin for survival, then slough it off when it becomes too heavy and tight. When they become trapped in their outer shells, they don't wait for the environment to change - they change their bodies, and continue on. The old skin gives itself to the earth, waiting somewhere in nature, fertile to become something else's material for something else’s purpose.
In the first grade, our class pet was a Ball Python. I remember noticing the snake's abandoned skin collect in the tank over time, and he would move about, shining in his new, rejuvenated body with ease and freedom. I remember feeling jealous of this ability. How badly I would have loved to leave my parasite-ridden, restricting physical body. How beautifully instinctual it was to shed a layer when it was no longer needed, to uncover and expose the purer, healthier, cleaner self.
Childhood health problems made me anxious in my skin, malnourished and reactive to culturally "normal" foods my classmates could eat regularly. I had an intestinal bacterial infection which caused physical tension and emotional instability, tics and mood swings and symptoms such as the one now known as “restless leg syndrome,” because our culture likes to confuse symptoms for the causes, but I digress… :)
Thanks to my incredible parents and a team of nutritionists, biochemists, and physicians who helped us conclude that Candida buildup was the root cause of my symptoms, I have the good fortune of living a relatively healthy and "normal" adult life. Sometimes the swells of tension come back, mostly when I indulge in toxins, which unfortunately include sugar, dairy, and other processed foods commonly found in our society. Sometimes I recall my childhood inability to relax physically or mentally, and a chaotic wave of pins and needles washes over my midsection and skull. Sometimes, even now as an adult, I want to shed like a snake and leave the old shell behind. I catch myself resenting the skin I’ve often felt so stuck in.
In addition to dietary changes and a cocktail of vitamins and herbal supplements which cured (and still keep) Candida at bay, I’ve tried many methods to slough off this experience: Holistic chiropractors, acupressure, Reiki, massage therapy, cognitive therapy and family counseling, aromatherapy, the list goes on. If it reads "personal development" or "holistic body work," I've probably explored it (or become licensed in it). One thing I was hesitant to try, however, was yoga. This is mostly because I am, by Bostonian nature, a perpetual cynic. Despite my genuine love and passion for all things holistic self care, I'm guilty of having a baseline of “Daria”-esque sarcasm. Humor is how I cope, I admit, but my point is, (or used to be), that yoga was for privileged white women looking for fitness and weight-loss trends. I thought it required expensive clothes and a size 0 waist - how ELSE could one fold into “Mermaid Pose” like the blonde beauty on the cover of Yoga Journal?
So, I initially tried yoga for the same reason I tried Reiki and acupuncture and all the other ancient practices: I needed a tool for stress relief and was desperate to explore all angles. I was working a demanding job with chaotic hours, and the emotional stress eventually manifested as physical pain. I was desperate for a way to slough, and I needed my body and mind back - even if just for an hour a week. I tried a “Gentle Restorative” yoga class first, and was beyond content with its predominately grey-haired demographic. I particularly enjoyed the part where we lied on the floor on bolsters, gently twisting and wringing out the workweek. I became a pro at Savasana, "corpse pose," or what I endearingly refer to as the “yoga nap."
It took just a few classes to realize that gentle, restorative poses could churn up fervent feelings and insights I didn't know were there. The class began to feel like my weekly acid trip, to be frank, going in and in and in until the information I didn't know I needed became uncovered. And the more I dug and twisted and rinsed out the stress, the more joy and calm began to surface. I noticed myself approaching work with less anxiety and more efficiency, I started to choose better eating habits, and I started to notice unhealthy relationships and built boundaries accordingly. I realized I was carrying this dead weight of old anger, anxiety, and resentment that just didn’t need to be there - and certainly wasn’t serving me or my loved ones.
The best part was realizing that this information is always in there - self awareness and joy aren't outside of the body, they're just sometimes buried under stress and skin. Our culture doesn’t encourage us to dig below those surfaces. In fact, it encourages quite the opposite. Media and popular culture tell us to band-aid our problems with distraction by booze and sleep aids and selfie sticks. Definitely don’t explore it, we're told, definitely don’t get vulnerable - because pain hurts, waahh! But yoga truly helped me realize that the only way out of the pain is straight fucking through it. The pain was telling me information, I just wasn’t listening close enough.
Over time, my yoga practice naturally evolved, and I tried more advanced Vinyasa, heated classes, and countless workshops on yoga therapy, transcendental meditation, Yoga Nidra, you name it. The more physical my practice became, the more emotional skin I shed. More movement allowed for more shedding, which led to more movement, and herein lies the ever-evolving cycle of yoga. The exploration just never, ever ends. Every day brings a chance to dig and play and unbury myself, untie the knots, un-fuck my life and relationships and every experience. I can move, physically and emotionally, without the weight of dead and useless layers.
I read that "ecdysis" comes from the Greek "ekduo," or, "the act of getting out." I'm grateful to be a young snake who can shed often, vulnerable to parasites, but brave enough to let go of my too-small skin and build upon my innate resources for strength. I’m grateful for the chance to grow up and up and out, by going in and in and in.