When I was in the initial stages of my recovery, I started taking yoga – somewhat reluctantly. In my fast-paced, workaholic days, I only valued fast-paced workouts – I felt like yoga would be too slow and boring. Then, yoga changed my life.
Yet I was curious about the benefits of yoga for health, addictions recovery and stress reduction. Not sure where to begin, I did some research on local studios and types of yoga. If you’ve ever looked into yoga before, you are probably familiar with what I found – about a dozen different styles, all purporting different benefits.
Selecting My Style
So how did I decide which type was for me? Well, given my penchant for the moving quickly, I selected Ashtanga yoga. It was described as a vigorous style of yoga, which appealed to my – at the time – aerobic-oriented snobbery. Somehow, I roped my husband into going with me, so I had moral support as I entered into this mysterious realm of incense, chanting music and relaxation.
The first thing I remember worrying about was having to be barefoot. I’d never been a big fan of my feet, so I was feeling pretty vulnerable about airing them to a roomful of students. This simple, silly realization was one of the first awakeners for me. My husband could care less about feet or any other of his body parts – wouldn’t even think twice about it. And here I was, spending mental energy on worrying about baring my feet in class. The awakener was how much mental energy I was spending on worrying about body parts in general. And not just body parts; I realized how afraid I was about being judged for just about anything. This was the root cause of my need to be a people pleaser — the fear that if I didn’t please everyone, I wouldn’t be loveable. Life is perfect in that it brings just the lesson we need at just the right time.
Stay on your own mat!In order to move forward with yoga, I had to let go of this fear of my showing my feet. And after the first few classes, I did. I even started to like my feet – once self-judged as wide and stubby – they soon became valued for their stability in balancing poses. It wasn’t just my feet that I started valuing though – it was my body overall. As I moved my body, synchronized with my breath, I became aware of my strength, my flexibility and my courage to try new things. With each new pose, or variation on a pose, I took new risks – that I might fall, do it wrong – and more often, find a new level of grace in my relationship with gravity.
Coming Out of My Shell
I went in as a shy, quiet student and found myself blossoming in class. Yoga is like body-centered psychology. It takes dedication and commitment to a practice, even if you feel like you “can’t do it right” or “aren’t good enough.” With commitment comes advances – but the key is: you “stay on your own mat,” comparing yourself with only your SELF. So here I was, so used to comparing myself to others (another component of judgment), giving this up as I stepped on my mat. I forced myself to keep my eyes focused for concentration and balance, looking at no one to see if I was “good enough.” And leaving my judgment at the door, I felt free to be more of who I really was.
Another discovery was yoga’s effect on my moods. As I placed my awareness on my breath, the poses, my focal point and my alignment – there was no space left for mind chatter. All the thoughts I had clamoring in my head during the day would melt away as I danced to my breath, listening only for the calls from my teacher and feeling the energy of my classmates. It was a beautiful, calming, stabilizing and flowing rhythm – and often transformed any low moods to a feeling of bliss.
I learned that our bodies hold emotions and as we release tensions and move further into our yoga practice, these emotions release. Sometimes, people would cry in yoga, having released some strong emotion. While that never happened to me, I did exorcise many demons on my mat, breathing them out as I moved from pose to pose.
Releasing Old Beliefs
Surprisingly, I found strength and challenge in yoga – trumping my once superior aerobic orientation and recognizing the value of this mind, body, spirit fitness. My body became stronger, my mind became calmer – and both body and mind found greater flexibility than I’d had before. I started leaving work earlier to make it to my yoga class, banishing my workaholic ways in the name of chasing my bliss. At work, people were asking me questions about yoga, noticing my new habits and envying my new calm. Combining yoga and recovery gave me a glow that looked to others like the fountain of youth – and they wanted to learn more about the source.
Beauty Takes A Backseat
Over the course of the year, I started to make plans to change my lifestyle, to leave my job and create the life I’d built my vision around. Somewhere during this time, I was startled to find that in packing for business trips, I’d choose my yoga mat over my blow dryer and flat iron, if short on space. Once so concerned with how I looked, I was much more concerned with how I felt.
My Own Voice
And so I evolved on my mat and in my life, opening up to the wonder of hearing my own voice and valuing my own experience. Yoga taught me to listen to my own voice, observe my body, to drop my judgment and to focus on the present moment. Most of all, it taught me to be grateful to this body, to this life – and that there is more out there than I could ever imagine – if only I would show up and be present.
Listening To Intuition
Three years ago, I took my Ashtanga yoga teacher training with David Swenson and his wife, Shelley Washington. It was an amazing experience to learn how to teach others to do the poses that shaped my life. I got to face my fears of doing something wrong and realize that all I could rely on was my intuition to guide me. This was when I knew how little I had valued my intuition — how foreign it was to me. Finding it again was what this training was all about for me. There are so many ways we can find what we’ve lost — or maybe never had. Go out, try something new and scary — you might be surprised at what you find.
More On Yoga
Tomorrow, I will focus on yoga and addictions, with more information on how it can help — including some really great resources that helped me along my journey. In the meantime, here is more information on the types of yoga, in case you want to learn more.
- Types of Yoga – cliff notes version
- Yoga Journal – Types of Yoga – More in-depth information and picking the style that’s right for you.
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