My life-changing journey to yoga.
Today is my one-year anniversary of my very first yoga class. When I look back at the person I was a year ago and the quality of my life then verses what it is now, I almost can’t believe how much change could occur in such a short time. My journey with yoga for the last year has truly been life changing and soul healing. If you would have told me that standing on a foam mat with my arms stretched out in every which direction, doing headstands, or twisting my body into a pretzel would change both my life and my view of life completely I would have told you that you were crazy. Back then my misguided ego thought that would be ridiculous. Not only would I be wasting my time, but I would look ridiculous, and my ego certainly could not have that happen. The ego likes to think that it is always right and knows what it is best, and it will do whatever it can to keep us from realizing how deluded it is, even going to the lengths of enduring immense suffering; and for thirty-five years that is exactly what mine did…and then I walked into a yoga class…
Several years ago, very unexpectedly, my life had been turned upside down and I was unable to cope. For the next several years, traumatic event after traumatic event occurred in my life and I was thrown into a state of constant fear. I was diagnosed with complex PTSD and had been told that I was co-dependent. Day in and day out I was in a constant state of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Every time I thought things “could not possibly get any worse,” somehow they did. Ultimately, it was my childhood trauma that had been the cause of my psychological and emotional state at the time, and my current life situation was praying on every unprocessed emotion that I had carried with me my whole life. I saw everything that was happening in my life as a constant threat. My nervous system was constantly hijacked, and I could not find any relief. My PTSD was so severe that I was almost non-functional. I couldn’t go anywhere because I was constantly crying and my eyes were swollen shut. The anxiety was so overwhelming I thought numerous times that I was having a heart attack. Panic attacks would result in me screaming at the top of my lungs for hours. I would go weeks without eating, and I could not sleep because I had constant nightmares. I had not just one, but three therapists trying to help me, and while crisis therapy could get me calmed down enough to find some relief from the trauma of my current life situation, I could never maintain it for very long because I was constantly being exposed to the people and events that had caused my trauma, and my situation would not allow me to get away from them. I desperately sought help from anyone and everyone willing to help me, but no one could. I understood what was happening and I tried and tried to help myself, but I had no idea how to. Because of my current state of mind at the time I was not able to make good decisions, and although I had nothing but good intentions, it seemed that everything that I tried only made matters worse. In addition, my body would go into panic attacks and I had absolutely no control over it. This went on for years.
At the recommendation of one of my therapists, and only after reaching absolute rock bottom I finally tried yoga and meditation to deal with my life situation. Prior to that I had the belief that I had to “fix” everything because I was co-dependent. The thoughts constantly spinning around in my head kept telling me that I had to do something, that some action had to be taken, and that sitting around in silence meditating or practicing yoga was nothing more than a waste of time. Prior to rock bottom, coming to a place of stillness was not an option my ego would let me explore. For years I was in a constant state of fight or flight, and my ego chose fight; that is, until I physically and emotionally did not have the energy left to fight anymore, and one day my ego finally surrendered.
I couldn’t explain it, but after my first yoga class, I had felt a deep sense of peace which I had not felt before in my life. I very quickly noticed the change within me and my nervous system and I felt drawn to yoga. I went to every class that I could, practicing every single day often up to eight hours a day. I did everything I could to deepen my practice and took numerous yoga teacher trainings and trauma certification courses so I could understand what was happening within me. Finally, instead of using all my energy to stay in “fight” mode, I was using it in a constructive outlet. As I started to understand the process of yoga, and I became more in touch with my thoughts and emotions through yoga, my awareness increased, and my nervous system started to calm down. The more I practiced the calmer I felt and, as the weeks passed by, the longer I was able to maintain the inner peace that I gained from practice. Within a few months, I no longer experienced symptoms of PTSD on a daily basis. For a while the toxic people and situations in my life could still trigger PTSD relapses but, as the months passed and my practice progressed, it became less and less frequent. Now, a year later, I can deal with those people and situations from a place of calm, instead of fear and panic. I can respond instead of react. My codependency dissolved over time too, as I learned to care for myself instead of trying to “fix" everything and everyone in my life.
I still practice every day, but I no longer feel the need to practice for hours upon hours to release my trauma. I do an Ashtanga flow which takes one-and-a half to two hours and then I am good-to-go for the day. I feel complete inner peace and calm from practice and it lasts me through the day; and if at any time I feel stress, I can always use my breath to bring me back to a place of calm. Unfortunately, my life situation has not changed much from what it was a year ago, but fortunately I have. Yoga has completely changed me. Instead of continuing to allow my trauma to define who I am, I got to choose who I want to be. The (traumatized) person that I was a year ago no longer exists and I am so grateful for my new life, and I owe that completely to yoga.
I’m told every day how unbelievable my story is, and frankly I almost don’t believe it either; but here I am, completely calm and at peace with not a trace of PTSD and everyone around me can see the change that has occurred within me. So how is this possible?
"I don't practice yoga. Yoga practices me."
Over the last year I have come to realize that I don’t practice yoga. Yoga practices me. Yoga has taught me how to clear all the negative thinking from my mind, and process all the negative emotions felt and stored in my body. It has taught me to keep my awareness in the present moment, instead of allowing my mind to dwell on what happened or what could happen in the future. When I am practicing, the yogic breath work and postures connect me with the physical sensations of my body. The asanas (postures) have taught me to feel what is happening within my nervous system, and instead of burying my emotions (which is what we are taught to do in our culture), yoga has shown me how to deal with them and process them as they are occurring, mainly by consciously breathing through them. Focusing my attention on my breath during practice also helps me to shift my focus from the randomness of my thoughts to something very concrete and visceral. I have learned that my breath is an anchor I can use to stay in the present moment and to ground myself when I feel stressed, scared or overwhelmed; both on the mat and off. Understanding these sensations in my body and learning to control them through yoga has helped me to realize that I am not my body or my thoughts. They belong to me but they do not define me, nor do they control me anymore. I am so much more than the experiences I have had and the memories of those experiences that my body and my mind carry. And by realizing this and working through these stored memories and emotions on the mat and in life, I can walk the path of inner peace. This is yoga.
The benefits of yoga are so numerous. While our society commonly uses yoga for the physical fitness benefits, I am living proof that the emotional and psychological benefits are far greater; and it is my hope to bring the benefits of yoga to everyone. What yoga has done for me and my life is truly a “miracle,” and the best thing about it is that it is available to everyone. All you have to do is put your ego aside and open your mind, dedicate yourself to the practice, and trust the process of yoga to work within you.
Forward folds in particular always bring up a lot of emotions for me. By focusing on my breath and breathing deeply through the discomfort I am able to process and release all my stored and unprocessed emotions that I have been carrying for decades.
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