Yoga saved my life...
I started practicing yoga regularly 10 years ago, in the fall of 2009. I remember this because yoga didn’t just change my life, it saved me. Up until this point I’d only dabbled in yoga, a class here, a class there, but never sticking with it beyond a fleeting whim. I can’t believe it’s been nearly a decade, and though I’ve shared a lot over the years, I’ve never shared the full story. And since it’s International Yoga Day, I suppose now is as good a time as any... When students tell me I say the exact things they need to hear in class, I tell them it’s because those are the things I need to hear as well. I share the following accounts not for sympathy or pity, but as a reminder. A reminder that regardless of your story past, present, or future - you are not alone, you are worthy, and you are loved…
By the fall of 2009 I’d been in an incredibly toxic and abusive relationship for nearly 4 years. I had no sense of self-worth and did not feel deserving of better treatment. We lived together off and on and he cheated on me incessantly. When I would confront him about his indiscretions he would get mad and twist things around so I was the crazy and untrustworthy one. I was a prisoner in a world of my own making because I had given all of my power away. Even when the girls came forward and told me of their relationships with him, he would somehow convince me it would never happen again. That I was the one he truly wanted to be with. I was depressed and living in constant turmoil. Every part of me knew I needed to leave, but I didn’t have the strength to go.
Things got so bad that I attempted suicide. Because surely death would be less painful than this twisted version of love (i.e. dysfunction and co-dependency). His response when he found me was not one of concern, but anger that he couldn't leave me unsupervised. We fought all the time. ALL the time. One night he kept chasing me around the house and I grabbed a knife to try and get him to stop. He ended up in the hospital getting stitches, I ended up spending the night in jail. And still he had his talons sunk deep into me and I went back. I could go on and on, but the details aren’t important, and my story isn’t unique. I was at rock bottom, and praying for a way out, a miracle, anything.
One day a tiny ad in the back of the paper caught my eye. It was for a new yoga studio (Orlando Power Yoga), new students 40 days $40 it said. And since I was looking for any distraction to help numb the pain, I decided to check it out. Under the guise that yoga would help me with my flexibility for skydiving (while this was true on the surface, it wasn’t the whole story) I had my hall pass for an hour of freedom each day.
The first class I took was so hard and intense I wondered why anyone would such a thing voluntarily. I came out an exhausted, beat up, sweaty mess, but oddly enough I also somehow felt good at the same time. So I went back the next day, and the next, and well you get the idea. What I discovered when I practiced was finally there was some peace and quiet - not just from the fighting, but my own berating thoughts. What I found was the ability to actually feel something other than shame and hurt. And little by little there was space - space to breathe a little easier, and imagine a better life. Class by class I got stronger (and I don’t just mean physically) and could see pieces of myself I had buried away and forgotten trying to make their way back up to the surface.
I didn’t want to live like that anymore, I couldn’t. I found a new place to live, borrowed some money from my family, and left without telling him where I was going. I didn’t know where I was going. I had no plan beyond just getting out of that house and going to yoga. Not even a month after leaving I was offered a dream job in skydiving. I immediately accepted and a week and a half later I was driving up to the middle of nowhere North Carolina sight unseen, but it didn’t matter as long as it got me away from him.
I’d love to say it’s been nothing but rainbows and butterflies since then, but old patterns of behavior and thinking don’t just change overnight. When you grow up feeling like nothing you do will ever be be good enough, you truly believe that you don’t deserve any better. Even if your brain knows that isn’t true, even if every friend, teacher, and self-help book tells you you do deserve better. It takes a lot of work to override those beliefs. Work that I am still doing today, every time I step on my mat. And while it took multiple tries to break the cycle of abuse, each time it got a little easier, I left a little quicker, with a few less scars, and found my way back to myself a little sooner.
So whatever your story is, has been, or will be - whether you’ve been suicidal, bankrupt, homeless, or all three like me. No matter the choices and mistakes you’ve made… You are not alone. You are worthy. And you are loved… Yoga taught me that.