June 29, 2023

How Yoga helped me Start Life Over after my Sister’s Death.

In about a week, my sister (and best friend) will have been gone from this world for five months.

On February 3, 2023, she was relieved of life support after her brain stem exploded suddenly while she slept three days prior.

She had called me the night before, twice, but I was at dinner and missed her call. I tried to call back later that night, but I couldn’t reach her. She fell asleep that night and did not wake again, and I lost my last chance to hear her sisterly voice—the same one that mine mirrors so much that I would have her call in to work for me when I was a young, irresponsible teenager.

Now, to jump back, yoga came into my life in early 2012 after graduating college in Austin, Texas.

I am a person who has suffered from an array of different mental health quirks throughout my 35 years, including panic attacks, social anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. When I found this practice, I found a true, miraculously organic healing method, which brought about the physical and mental self-examination that is necessary to grow, heal, and ideally become your happiest self.

One example is the two major orthopedic injuries I sustained in the last 15 years, both requiring surgery and titanium implants. As is often the case, opiate dependency followed and predictably triggered a whole mess of problems. When my bones grew strong enough to move safely again, it was the physical practice of yoga that first revealed to me how magically it relieves pain and balances the mind. I know in my heart that yoga saved me from certain death in that regard, and I know I came very close to actual, literal death before I found it.

I am also prone to anxiety, which was most strongly present in my late teens and 20s. I had a hard enough time just meeting new people or being in large, rowdy groups, but public speaking could literally make my body physically shake and I’d almost pass out.

I vividly remember giving a major presentation for one of my last classes at University of Texas prior to graduation, where although I knew the material well and my research paper was well written, it was all I could do to get through the whole thing without my voice and limbs vibrating like a cold chihuahua. I got a B minus on my project in the end, but I knew why I lost that A.

Ironically, it was right after graduation that I began practicing yoga consistently. And in 2017, I earned my teacher certification and soon thereafter overcame my public speaking fear because the practice taught me to breathe. It taught me to move slowly, and it taught me how to unite my mind and body in ways I could never access before.

The only exception to that natural flow of growth presented itself at the beginning of February this year when my older sister left us all for the stars. Even with a young child, husband, and parents around me, I lost all hope in life and wanted nothing more than to be with my sister. I drank lots of wine and posted about my desire to leave Earth, alienating a lot of people in the process who had once thought of me as a serene, level-headed, picture-perfect yoga instructor.

I scared a lot of people and argued constantly with those closest to me because I was angry, I was sad, and I had never been more devastated in all my life. I felt guilty for being alive and I believed she deserved to be here more than I did.

With all this darkness, I completely abandoned my yoga practice, as at that time I could barely even move out of bed without panic attacks and guttural cries. I couldn’t bring myself to meditate, I couldn’t bring myself to explore any methodical breath—I could barely even stay awake honestly.

I buried myself in my pain for almost three months, even enduring the first birthday I’ll ever spend without my sister, as we were born on the exact same day two years apart. I do believe my sister tried to nudge me out of my wallowing that day because it was the first time since her death that I was able to smile again and take in the joys of nature.

I began to sense an everlasting connection that supersedes the one we shared physically in this world and was suddenly reminded of how yogic principles really emphasize the intangible link I’ll always have with my beloved big sister.

Then came the day that I finally found a tinge of motivation to look up a public class in my neighborhood and, somehow, I trudged in to start my life over again from scratch. I didn’t feel like doing it. I didn’t feel physically strong anymore. And I didn’t like watching myself move in the mirror. But I went again two days later, and then the day after that.

The momentum began slowly but built up as I convinced myself to continue. Soon, I found myself smiling at little things again, laughing at funny moments, and talking to my sister joyfully in journals. Don’t get me wrong, I still cry almost every day but I am able to feel the loss and pain for a little while and then try to move my body again, welcoming a new day of this life.

It is not an easy new chapter, but I am so lucky to be able to live it, to be able to love and honor my sister from this physical realm and grow from the immeasurable pain I’ve endured.

I know now that yoga, in all its forms, is something that may disappear from time to time—especially when we encounter the hardest parts of life and death—but if we can remind ourselves of how the practice helps us endure those struggles, and if we manage to drag ourselves back to the mat, to the meditation pillow, and to ourselves, we will find that there is an immeasurable strength in us all.

It is a strength that, while I sometimes wish I hadn’t had to experience all I did to attain it, I believe will allow me to serve others who find themselves facing the darkest depths head-on. I hope that my re-embracing of this life is something I will never forget and always be proud of. I hope I get to hug my sister and wrap her in light again one day. And until I do, I hope I can reach others who just want to find a way to live again.

If that is you, just remember: try your damndest now to take care of yourself as well as those you love, and with time you will overcome.


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