Written by Ellen Sanders
When I first started my yoga practice 12 years ago, I was a broken shell of a person. I had spent most of my life doing things to extremes: eating too much or too little, drinking too much, smoking too many cigarettes, over-exercising or not at all. At 27 years old, I had come to the end of myself and needed to make a change. For years I had craved and sought balance, but I didn’t know what that would mean for me or how to attain it. Sometime during the first couple of months on my journey of sobriety, it was suggested to me that yoga may be good for me. I decided to try it as “exercise” because I was afraid to do anything I had done in my previous life for fear that it would trigger the unhealthy part of me. Little did I know I would get much more out of it than exercise.
I bought a video (yes, I was still using a VCR then) and started a practice on my own. I didn’t have the money to go to classes at a studio, but truthfully, even if I had the means I probably wouldn’t have. In the past my perfectionism had kept me from trying new things for fear that I wouldn’t be good enough. I was afraid that in a class I would compare myself to others, feel less than, and give up. But in the privacy of my own space I could just focus on the instructor, and try not to think about what I looked like and if I was doing it perfectly.
I needed so badly to connect to that part of myself which was good and pure and whole. Within days I started to look forward to putting on the video. Within weeks, I started to notice I was more flexible and making progress. Within months, I was looking forward to savasana so I could just be still and quiet with myself. I had never in my life been able to do that before. For so long I had been so uncomfortable in my own skin that I didn’t know how to just be. Now I was finding out.
I learned how to breathe! It seems ridiculous to even state that, but the truth is, somewhere along the line I denied myself full breaths. Maybe unconsciously I thought my belly would look too big, or that I sounded too loud, or that if you breathe deeply then you can’t disappear. It very indicative of my previous sense of self-worth that I didn’t even allow myself as much oxygen as a person needs to feel good.
I fell in love with yoga very quickly. I bought more videos. I challenged myself to try more difficult poses, to go deeper. I bought a daily meditation book that was written by a yoga instructor who was also in recovery. I incorporated yoga into me and sought the path it offers.
There have been periods in my life where yoga played such an active role that I practiced every day and then, there were times where weeks, sometimes months, would go by and my mat would stay rolled in the closet. However, yoga became an integral part of my life in a way I couldn’t have foreseen. Besides the breath and movement associated with yoga, the other huge component for me is the mindset of wholeness of being: mind, body, and spirit. It is the language we use, the phrases and meanings of the words we say. Namaste is not just a greeting or a pretty word to end a class. It means “the divine in me sees the divine in you”. When I learned the meaning of this beautiful word, it changed me. Because here’s the thing: There is something divine in all of us and if I can connect with someone on that level, if I can connect to myself there, I will know peace.
It’s remarkable to me now to look back at the person I was when my relationship with yoga began and who I am now. I am older and not as flexible. I have had two babies and my body shows it. But because of the growth I have made in recovery, largely influenced by my experience with yoga, I am grateful now for many of those “flaws”. They show that I have lived, that I have loved, and that I have participated in life. And while I cannot constantly live in that mindset, when I am in the place of acceptance I am whole…a woman with a mind, a body, and a spirit.