Before I had any experience with yoga—the practice, the principles, the lifestyle—I assumed it was for people who already had their act together.
Those who could live life successfully and were looking to enhance what they already had.
I pictured holy men in caves or rich housewives with time to kill.
You see, I was in rehab for my fourth time for drug and alcohol addiction. I couldn’t stop doing dope, let alone imagine dedicating time to stretching or breathing or whatever yoga was.
I had very real problems and needed a very real solution; I just assumed yoga wasn’t it.
A little background on me: I started using and drinking at a young age to change the way I felt. I didn’t want to feel like me (with all my fears and insecurities) and so I sought out a solution to my internal condition. The consequences of my chosen “solution” just happened to be disease and jail and degradation of any and all morals I had.
But I firmly believe that we all have those fears and insecurities.
I thought I was unique in my struggle, but as the years go by I learn that the human condition is full of self-defeating behaviors.
We may drink too much, eat too much, shop too much, sleep too much, seek validation too much.
We may sleep too little, speak up too little, eat too little, leave our homes too little.
If yoga was a practice to enhance an already perfect life, I can’t think of one person I know who could benefit from it.
Yoga is real.
Pain is real.
Suffering is real.
And the need for connection and acceptance is real.
So I started practicing—not because I wanted to but because I had to. Literally, I was in a facility where participation in all programs was mandatory.
But slowly, over time, I saw benefits from the mindfulness involved. I saw others around me start to benefit. It wasn’t necessarily about the postures, but the lessons they taught.
“Try to balance. If you fall, shake it off and try again.”
“Try to be still. If you wiggle, don’t be angry with yourself; just start over.”
“Try to breathe. If it’s challenging, then keep practicing it.”
“Try to focus on your thoughts. If they are dark, then walk through that darkness with the light of observation and non-attachment.”
We were not learning how to be better at yoga; we were learning how to be better at being ourselves.
We were learning to watch ourselves. Just as a recovery program asks us to watch for dishonesty, selfishness, and fear, a yoga practice asks the same.
Watch yourself even when there is no mirror. Watch yourself from inside of yourself and learn to do it without emotional attachment to what you find.
Watch yourself on your “good days” and your “bad days.”
Observe that what forces you to deem a day “good” or “bad” may be a delusion your mind has created based on false input.
Watch yourself for reacting without thought or pause.
As the years went by, some kept up with their practice and some did not. Some continued to live sober and some did not. I don’t have the answer to why some make it and others don’t. I only know that the more tools I had in my belt, the more safety lines I had for the inevitable struggles that lay ahead.
As I started to accumulate more time sober and more time practicing yoga, the lessons they both taught never changed: watch yourself, help others, and connect to something greater.
As I eventually started to spend time in a yoga studio as a teacher, I noticed that the students attracted to the practice were not holy men or holy women. They were real people who were seeking something—something to heal, to unearth, to grow.
We don’t have to be perfect to benefit from a yoga or a mindfulness practice. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. We have to be a little flawed, a little scared, a little unsure.
We have to be willing to get uncomfortable in order to find comfort in our own skin. And this process could continue for a lifetime.
Today, I see humans (addicts or not) benefiting greatly from yoga.
I go back to teach at the same treatment center where I was mandated to practice, and I see change happening. The change isn’t pretty or perfect, it’s crying and frustration and doubt and the unknown. And that is a pretty and perfect circle to be a tiny part of.
We get to be sober, we get to experience discomfort without numbing it, and we get to actually “live life on life’s terms.”
I never knew I would be so grateful to be a flawed human—doing my best, just like everyone else.
What Yoga is Not.
The Best Yogis I know have Never Stepped Foot on a Mat.
Author: Monica LeBansky
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Catherine Monkman
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