“I hate yoga.” My mantra for years. I did it, but I really didn’t like it. “Does anyone really like this?” I pondered as I sweated through my TJ Maxx yoga leggings, staring at my inexplicably filthy mat in a Level 3 hot yoga class I had no business being in. I wondered where those wine yoga classes were at, making a mental note to check groupon later.
I hated having to slow down, making time for myself when I could be making time for more important things – like a car wash or dishes or literally any man who would definitely never text me back. I hated moving my body because moving meant energy and energy meant calories and calories meant obsessing and shame and guilt. Don’t even get me started on comparing bodies in a yoga class of other bodies – firmer, tanner, more graceful bodies. I hated balance poses because I hated how they highlighted my imperfection, my lack of skill. Seriously, fuck yoga.
But over the last two years of living alcohol-free, I have re-discovered yoga in the way it was meant to be discovered.. Gently and with curiosity. A way to appreciate my body, not scold it. A way to do hard things and survive them. A way to be still (or not) and listen to myself (also sometimes not). At the very least: it became a way to show up for me.
I’ve done yoga in the hippest studios, on the beach, online. Hated, hated, and more hated. But then I discovered She Recovers and eventually, Taryn Strong’s yoga for recovery. At first, I signed up to support my friend and sister in recovery, but then I figured I may as well check the videos out once a month. Then once a week. They were not always a whole hour, sometimes a divine little 15 minutes.. I could commit to 15 minutes. Sometimes, she even told us we could sleep the whole time if that is what our heart was calling us to do (I have yet to take her up on this because of an innate fear that if I ever stop moving during daylight hours, the world will fall apart). I started incorporating rituals into my practice, a cool glass of water or hot cup of tea one day, soothing music in the background and essential oils another day.. then came the palo santo, dim lights (revolutionary), candles .. and the weirdest thing happened: I realized one day, much to my personal disgust and awe, that I was being nice to myself. I was treating myself like I was a VIP member of a spa (is that a thing at spas?), the most important woman in that moment.
Because I fucking was.
Here are five ways that yoga has helped me to heal in my own recovery:
1. Rediscovering my intuition.
Taryn often offers us options based on what our body is telling us it needs. This has implored me to stop and think – wait, what DO I want? Extended side angle or half moon? Music or silence for savasna? Diet Coke or Kombucha? Iced coffee or hot? A Masters degree or straight to Doctorate? Where do I want to live? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to let in to the space around me? What are my boundaries? I am not exaggerating when I say that each of these paralyzing questions are now able to be approached because one day, I really asked myself “is this moment a down-dog moment, or a resting form moment?”
2. Deciphering between pain and discomfort.
Yoga has taught me to listen to my body. Is it burning, am I breathing faster, am I losing my form? Or am I simply awkward/resisting/denying and, if so, can I breathe through it? I can now have some semblance of inner knowing when it comes to deciding what is actually bad for me vs what is simply uncomfortable but ultimately strengthening me. Is this relationship/job/friendship killing my soul, or is it helping me to see all that I have yet to heal? Do I need to quit my job, or perhaps simply work on my work-life balance? What can I sit through with poise, and what is just bullshit that I am tolerating?
3. Remembering that I am allowed to take up space and time.
When I was a kid, I was loud. Boisterous. A class clown. As an adult, I started to play small. To be loud and emotional was to be un-ladylike and “too much,” so I drank to cope with my natural state. I eventually forgot how to be loud, proud, confident without alcohol. I relied on it, and quickly lost my sense of self worth. Yoga reminds me I am worth the time and space it takes to practice. To set up my mat, spread out my incense, candles, crystals around me, to play music. To take 15 minutes or an hour to myself. To sigh loudly without worrying how crazy I sound or shaking my legs like a beetle stuck on its back without caring what the mailman thinks. To stretch and be wide open in the world. The dinner won’t make it self, but if I lay in savasna long enough my boyfriend is bound to get hungry enough to get creative.
4. Feeling my body again.
This may come from doing yoga alone in my house with no mirrors, but yoga has taught me to appreciate my body again. I am the firmest, tannest, most graceful body in the room. I feel how strong and beautiful and powerful and joyous and tense and overworked and exhausted I am. I know that I might do a hip opener and be hit with a flash of a past relationship, or a side bend might suddenly fill me with tears of joy and gratitude. I am no longer “too much,” I am feeling and healing all the adventures my body has taken me on over the years. I am tune with so much more about my body than I was a few years ago – half the product of being in my mid-thirties and half the product of a spiritual and physical awakening.
5. Forgiving myself.
Yoga has helped me to be ok with not being ok, totally accepting of my own imperfection. I fall out of a balance pose and I laugh. I anticipate it, I understand it is all a part of the process. Just like I may falter in my journey, I might have a moody day or binge watch Netflix or forget to journal for oh, I don’t know, like a year straight. It is all anticipated, and it is all a part of the process. Yoga has helped me to own my journey and trust that I am on a path laid out not by myself, but by a higher power, a divine wisdom that has a plan for me far wilder than my wildest dreams. For example: I fucking enjoy yoga now.
When I started to actually kind of sort of maybe enjoy yoga, it was then that I realized the M. Night Shyamalan twist: I had everything in ME the whole. god. damn. time. While meetings and retreats and meetups were certainly helping – connection is crucial in recovery – I was doing the work. I was becoming myself, I was boisterous, I was loud again. I knew what I wanted and needed all along, I remembered all of those memories buried deep in my tissues, I forgave it all and gave myself the gift of time and space.
It was yoga the way yoga wanted to be all along – not draped in Lululemon or over a $200 yoga mat with a designer headband on. If quitting drinking pulled the curtains wide open for me, yoga helped me to receive the light.