When I first got clean and sober my mind was constantly busy and my body had excessive nervous energy. It was difficult to concentrate or stay still. There was a torrent of energy, emotions, and internal chaos. Attending AA seemed to be helping and I was staying sober. But I was still totally jammed up with extreme restlessness and nervousness. It was clear that I needed more than AA to stay free from alcohol and drugs. That extra support that became necessary turned out to be yoga.
My first yoga class did not go well. It was a heated class (95 degrees!) and I wore sweat pants and a sweatshirt. I also set my mat at the front of the room which I thought was the back of the room. The class had about forty people in it that were watching me be totally overwhelmed, not to mention very hot, trying to move from posture to posture.
After the class, exhausted and soaked in sweat, I felt a new sense of something that I could not really put my finger on. I was aware of feeling lighter inside. There was freedom from the chronic sense of being all twisted and tied up emotionally, mentally, and physically.
Connecting To My Body
So I went back again. I began to feel a new sense of connection – a sort of power – ignite within me that was refreshing and reassuring. I had no clue exactly what was happening or how it was happening but I knew the chaos inside my mind and body was starting to subside. One day in yoga class we went into a pose called half pigeon. I had done this pose many times before. It is a hip opening posture done lying face down on the mat. Unexpectedly, I began to sob. It was very surprising to me that all this sadness was spilling out of my body.
I did not want to bring attention to myself. It was clear the yoga teacher was aware that I was sobbing on my mat. She gently moved into the area where I was but let me have my space. I was curious if she might know why I was crying because I had no idea. She seemed comfortable with my state and had no reason to interrupt me.
After class, I found the courage to ask her about my experience. I wondered if she had any idea what the heck was going on with me. She said she had seen many students release pent up emotions on their mat before, particularly in hip openers. Over time, I realized that the difficult experiences of my past, including childhood neglect and emotional abandonment, had somehow become trapped in my body. Yoga was now helping me to release that which had apparently been inside me for years. I began to understand why I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol.
As I continued going to yoga classes, I begin to feel an array of emotions in my body. Prior to getting sober, I either felt good or bad. That was it. And both were a reason to get wasted. Now, I was experiencing an array of emotions somewhere between good and bad. For the first time in my adult life I felt the difference between anger and frustration, happiness and gratitude. Being able to identify and discern my emotions now gave me the ability to know what I needed to either express and/or accept them. A healing deep within started to take hold.
I had not been able to identify or express my emotions in a healthy way since I first picked up drugs and alcohol. They were buried and numbed. I did everything possible to pretend I was ok when inside I was dying. It was clear that my emotions were unraveling and revealing themselves by connecting my mind and body through the practice of yoga.
Tapping into Wisdom
My yoga practice has become a major support to my recovery. With the work I was doing in AA and my yoga practice I began to make my way back to finding out who I really am. For years I had lived a sort of false self. The person I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I said yes when I meant no. Perpetually people pleasing exhausted me. As I started to get a glimpse into my authentic self, I began to realize what was truly important to me and what made me uncomfortable. Then I slowly began to speak and act in a way that was authentic. At first I stumbled a bit. Blurting out my truth in sometimes harsher ways than intended. Or picking the wrong time to express what I was feeling.
With practice though, and consistency on my mat, I began to tap into a deeper wisdom that lies within. Some may call it my truth. I call it my compass for living clean and sober despite the ups and downs of life.
Bringing it All Together
One day at the yoga studio I saw a flyer announcing that a mindfulness meditation teacher would be doing a talk there. I was curious about meditation and attended. It was the first time, and certainly not the last, that I heard acclaimed mindfulness teacher and author Jon Kabat-Zinn. He eloquently outlined the benefits of being awake and aware. The exact opposite of my days of using drugs and alcohol. So I started a meditation practice that today is another strong foundation of my ability to happily live clean and sober.
Soon after that other unexpected benefits of yoga began to appear. My diet changed dramatically from not paying attention to how I nourished myself with food to caring deeply about what and how I eat. I began to notice the foods that my body did not like and stopped eating them. Being groggy and bloated because of my diet was no longer acceptable.
Slowly my diet changed in a very natural way that was effortless. I began to want less sugar – which had become a new addiction when I stopped drinking – and more fruits and vegetables. I was very invested in what I put into my body for the first time in my life. This made me feel empowered and like I finally truly cared and liked myself. A first in decades.
The same was true of people. With acute awareness I noticed those people who made me feel uncomfortable, silenced, or anxious. Setting boundaries with others was not a strength of mine so I met with a therapist for a year to learn more. Honoring my intuition got stronger while my people pleasing began to wane.
Yoga and Recovery
Yoga has been fundamental in my ability to maintain sobriety. I was absolutely disconnected from my body – the home of my spirit. When I started to become whole again, healing began at a much deeper level. Instead of just being this head walking around I was now guided by a repaired and engaged heart.
Today my yoga practice continues to be one of my solid pillars of wellness that maintain and strengthen not only my sobriety but also my life. Fear, anxiety, and insecurity have been replaced by freedom, calm, and sense of contentment I never thought possible. The simple act of rolling out a yoga mat and moving my body from one pose to another has had an amazing impact. Gratitude now guides me back to my mat again and again!