Content note: This article mentions eating disorders and addiction.
When I started doing yoga over twenty years ago, I did it because it was suggested to me that if I wanted to continue lifting weights, running, and doing all the vigorous things I love without injury or pain, I needed to do yoga. Okay, fine, I thought. But I wasn’t excited about the prospect.
And as it turns out, I hated it. It was boring. I couldn't stand savasana. In fact, I was that person tapping her fingers in class counting the seconds until it was over. Sometimes I even went so far as to roll up my mat, skip this final practice, and leave. Savasana was a waste of time as far as I was concerned. I could have been doing something more “productive,” after all.
Plus, lying on my back doing nothing was uncomfortable for me. This was a dark time in my life. I was suffering from an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, and to top it all off, I was in the depths of my alcohol addiction. I took any chance I could get to escape what was really going on inside of me, and any time there was a chance that I had to face my demons, I avoided it at all costs. The more distracted or numb I was, the better.
Fast forward another ten years or so, and things were the same. I was still lifting weights, still running long distances, still drinking, but at that point, I had left yoga behind for some time. (Like I said, it was boring.) But a hot yoga studio opened up in our small town and my husband suggested that I go check it out. They were offering an introductory package, so I thought, Why not? I had never done the hot yoga thing, but the thought of sweating profusely was certainly appealing to me.
And I was hooked immediately, sometimes practicing two or three times a day. I loved the physicality of it and never listened to (what I heard as) the philosophical and spiritual mumbo jumbo that was often spewed from teachers’ mouths in class. That's how I perceived it—as spewed mumbo jumbo. So I simply tuned out. My attitude was, Just get me through this workout so I can get on with my day (and back to my booze). But, without my realizing it, a shift began. I started to listen. I began to connect with myself. I started to cry a lot in savasana and child's pose. What the hell was going on?!
I began to realize that what I was achieving on my mat was not being reflected in my life off the mat, and that felt wrong. I felt like I was betraying myself. And so I began my journey into recovery. I got sober and became a yoga teacher. That was over eight years ago, and I'll never look back. Yoga didn't “save me,” but it was certainly a catalyst.
Hot yoga led me to Ashtanga, and that practice was right up my alley. It was challenging and required great discipline. I practiced every damn day, without fail. It held the same priority as my sobriety, and it was working. I was meditating more, getting stronger, becoming more flexible, and even doing those wild circus tricks that you see in all the magazines and on social media.
But then something happened. I started to get hurt. My shoulders popped and cracked with shooting pain every time I went into a bind, but I ignored it. My lower back began to scream and wake me up in the middle of the night, but I was told that I just needed to practice more. I also acquired a dull, aching, continuous pain in my right SI joint. Soon I came to realize that these aches and pains were common in yogis (especially Ashtanga yogis), so I decided to stop. I didn't stop practicing yoga, though, I just stopped practicing Ashtanga. It became my nemesis.
This is around the time that more yogis started to publicize their own yoga injuries. It almost seemed like there was a yoga rebellion. I joined that rebellion, and although I was teaching yoga, my classes began to look and feel like anything but yoga. I got into functional movement. I got my Pilates certification, and I continued to avoid anything overtly “yoga-like,” because yoga (as far as I was concerned) was bad. After all, it had caused my injuries, or so I thought. But by turning my back on yoga, I also turned my back on connecting with myself again.
Although my sobriety was never at risk, I once again began to lose myself.
I lost the connection.
This is where another transformation ensued. I secretly began to practice more “classic” yoga. Even with my injuries, I was craving the aspect of yoga that goes far beyond the physical. And something miraculous happened. I realized that I could still practice actual yoga, but adjust it to my physical limitations and practice with kindness toward myself. I started teaching it in the same way. I let go of “traditional alignment” and foot placement. I gave myself permission to play with and explore the asanas to accommodate my cranky shoulders and back.
In addition to teaching yoga, I'm also a massage therapist and work with people to rehabilitate their injuries, so I started to rehabilitate my own. I knew enough about the body and how it functions uniquely for each individual, so I could then explore the postures and transitions in a more analytical way. I brought science into my practice without depriving myself of the spiritual and philosophical components. I began to fall back in love with yoga. I didn't think it was possible, but it was.
Practicing yoga daily had been my saving grace, and I missed it, but yoga and I had to break up for a while. I'm glad we're back together. It took a messy breakup for me to realize how much I value the practice. And you know what's really cool? My practice is different every day. My other movement practices, like resistance training, hiking, and fishing, also possess a level of mindfulness they didn’t have before, and because I have experienced injuries, I have a deeper connection to my body.
I listen more intently and adjust the practice to what my body is telling me it needs. In the beginning, I didn’t really understand what teachers meant when they said “Listen to your body,” probably because I was still detached. So I'm grateful for my injuries. I'm grateful for feeling those aches and pains, I'm grateful for my sobriety, and most of all, I'm grateful that yoga will always be there when I need it.