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The practice of yoga is not a cure-all, but a means of creating an awareness of our condition.
For many, there is no substitute for the counseling and medications provided by mental health professionals, which can be a great way to aid in bringing balance into our lives. Acknowledging when we need help, and accepting it, is a necessary part of the healing process.
There was a time in my life—not all that long ago—when I was a drunk.
It was a time when I struggled to find a center; to find a reason to wake up and not dive headfirst into whatever I was doing to avoid the work of healthy coping skills. I’d been leaning toward the dysfunctional side of the spectrum since I was a preteen, and, in many ways, I reveled in it.
I avoided the practice for a long time, under the assumption that I didn’t fit the yogi bill of clean living and a regular exercise routine. I couldn’t practice because I was lazy, or broke, or smoked cigarettes and drank; allowing myself to find some sort of balance in my life meant I would become boring or lose my rebellious nature.
It wasn’t until my life fell completely apart, and I was sitting among the wreckage, that I realized this practice of breath and movement wasn’t only about opening hamstrings or getting a good workout, but about finding a way to move through my own madness, while still gaining the knowledge and creation it has to offer.
Yoga would become a survival tool and a method of, not only managing but also harnessing the chaos of the human experience that I had identified myself with for so long.
So, in a tiny corner of my room, in my wrecked and infested apartment, I began clumsily following along on YouTube videos. The one I chose to start with was a bit on the workout side of yoga (also known as yang), but it was a start.
There are tons of free instructional videos and led classes for all levels. Perhaps you’d prefer to begin with simple breath guidance or a five-minute gentle movement class. All it takes is the first step, and even simple movements—along with breath practice—to relieve stress and aid in bringing awareness to our bodies and thoughts.
With so many available options, you’re bound to find something that feels right for you. While I fully believe in the value of having an instructor to guide you personally, it’s such a blessing to be able to show up wherever you are that day without worrying that you may be judged—even if you’re stumbling through in a messy apartment with bedhead.
It’s committing to showing up for yourself, no matter how you may look or even feel, that brings about the power of passive observation of our external and internal condition—a skill that can help us better cope with, understand, and even transform, our reality.
The practice brings about the union between the observance of our world, inside and out, and the actions one must take to bring those into balance.
Do I stray from my regular practice? Absolutely, it is inevitable that we get off track. It is the act of returning to ourselves, over and over and over again, that builds resiliency, and gives us an opportunity to practice grace and radical self-love—the kind that acknowledges our imperfections and blessings without allowing them to consume us.
The goal is not to reach some point of perfect concentration, but rather to consistently bring ourselves back.
It is the nature of this human condition to spiral away from ourselves; it can aid in expansion and keep us active in the material world. It can inspire us to be vulnerable with ourselves, and to connect more deeply with the struggle and pain of others. The practice is simply a means of bringing back into perspective our present condition, observing ourselves and the world around us, and finding the stillness necessary to decide what the best course of action is.
The continued practice of yoga has changed my life.
Taking those first steps down a path I thought I wasn’t ready for added an element of accountability to my life in so many ways, beginning with giving me a reason to stay sober long enough to get my practice in for the day. It was a small step, but a major turning point in recognizing my ability to take control over how my mental, physical, and emotional health affects my behavior.
Even still, I have plenty of struggle days, but instead of running, I lean in. I feel and express in ways that are, at the very least, not destructive to myself or the people around me.
It’s most certainly not a guarantee of perfection, and I have made many mistakes, even after I began my yoga practice.
I have no doubt there will be more to come. But, through all of the uncertainties of human experience, knowing I can return to this space of reflection to understand, accept, and grow, makes it all seem a little less catastrophic, and that is a major win.
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