My journey to the mat is like most things in my life (and I guess most people’s lives, as well) – highly irregular and nowhere close to what I expected.
My first ever taste of a yoga class was at a local YMCA in Knoxville with my Aunt Brenda. Aunt Brenda is a lithe older lady, and so, the handful of classes I attended with her we soft and easy-going. As a “young buck” – I was 25 or so – I basically scorned the classes in my mind. I thought them silly, and I was too strong to be hanging out in forward folds or reclined spinal twists. These thoughts are a constant theme for my life. Usually I perceive myself as better than all or at the very bottom of the heap. I have never been able to find and stay on the middle ground as a person among people, to view people as equals and not judge.
To make a 15 year-long story short, if one pours enough booze/drugs into their system, in all likelihood, they will derail their life and end up in a substance abuse program; or at least, that’s how it happened to me. Before I jump right into that, let me back up and introduce my choice for a yoga teacher I admire: her name is Madeline. She is a lifelong friend. Madeline stuck around even after I treated her like crap through my addiction, and she only disappeared from my life when things got darkest before there was light again. While I was derailing my life; she was studying to become a yoga instructor and opened up her own studio in Hattiesburg, MS. She is a 500 RYT, specializing in vinyasa and restorative yoga.
Spoiler alert, Madeline will return to the story, but for now, back to me. So, I land myself in treatment, am bored to death, and only half-heartedly listening to constant droning about 12 steps, God, and spirituality. Yoga was offered to the residents of the treatment facility, and that at least seemed appealing to me. I attended the yoga classes with a bit of willingness, and literally, nothing had made me feel physically better in quite some time. Everything, from the inside out, felt rejuvenated and I left that small little space with a smile across my lips. It was lovely.
But alas, alcoholism is not cured by yoga. To skip forward a bit, I did not stay sober the first, second, or third time I left those treatment facilities. I was not willing to take suggestions about trying something new. Finally, after being in a dark, colorless existence for another year and a fourth treatment, others’ suggestions about the 12-steps, God and spirituality didn’t seem that bad anymore, so I gave it a shot.
And it worked. Then, someone offered the suggestion of giving meditation a try to bring awareness to my thought patterns and continue deepening a relationship with some sort of God. I began playing with meditation as part of building a spiritual discipline. Right or wrong, left or right, I played with it and began to experience some feeling of contentment. I would sit and be still at least for 5-10 minutes every morning to at least be aware. Recovery is fun like that, take a suggestion, incorporate it into your life and see if it works for you (very yoga like).
Five years later, the girl who got away, Madeline, reentered my life. In my grandiose mind, we were destined to rekindle long lost love, so when she said, “You ought to try yoga,” I jumped in with both feet. Having tasted a little yoga before and now sober and armed with a laughably “solid” meditation practice, I felt ready for the mat and whatever that entailed. Plus, to be honest, I was desperate to share anything with Madeline to make a relationship with her work.
So, a fool in love, she loaned me her YogaGlo account, gave me a Lululemon mat, and I started a home practice. I jumped straight into Level 2/3 classes like the arrogant jerk I am, and then Madeline counseled me to relax and start from the beginning, so I did. She always has been a person to curb my pride and vanity. She offered enough praise to build my confidence while showing me it wasn’t about doing it for any other reason than myself. While getting into headstand looks cool, she told me it was about the journey on the way to the headstand. Like a puppy, I listened and obeyed intently. Full disclosure, “love” brought me to the mat; I don’t try to hide that fact. I embrace it, because it led me to here and now and to where I am going.
I started building a solid foundation and finally gained the courage to join a studio in Huntsville. Just like before, as my practice grew those same rejuvenating feelings from yoga in treatment came flooding back. I felt new connectivity with God, power, presence, and peace of mind both on and off my mat. It was wonderful. I began attending 3-4 classes a week, and I’d come home excited after class and try to recall sequences of the classes to share with Madeline. We’d FaceTime and go through the classes together. And she’d offer insight on how to make poses stronger with attention and awareness and where to relax into things. She was the first person to ever tell me to create space with my breath. That opened up so many doors!
So again, skipping ahead. I did not get the result I desired with the relationship with Madeline. Much like always, I set forth to manage both the journey and the destination. My heart got stomped on, but here’s where yoga really took a drastic turn for the journey of my life.
When it became apparent that things weren’t going to work out between Madeline and me, life became increasingly hard. However, with a solid foundation of perseverance ingrained in me from recovery, I continued to practice yoga. For a while, even on the mat, breathing became intensely difficult. Emotions would bubble up to the surface because yoga was the thing Madeline and I were supposed to share, but on the mat, I didn’t run from them. I allowed myself to consciously continue breathing, experience them and allow them to pass. It set a wonderful example to me of using the tools gained on the mat in a real-life way.
This all happened in the past year (2019). It was a roller-coaster kind of year, but two things were at the center of it all – recovery and yoga. Now, as I begin another journey into teaching yoga, I find myself leaning on Madeline in a different way. She is no longer the person who will “complete me” or “make me feel good about myself”, but she’s there to learn from, and fortunately, it has worked out that way. Teaching a couple of classes for the past six months, Madeline helped me develop sequences for the students in my classes. With a little of her guidance, I’m learning how to adapt to each class and each student and think creatively and also have found some measure of acceptance and contentment with the idea that a relationship with Madeline isn’t written in the stars.
Madeline has been around the center of my life for almost 20 years, and for good or worse, she’s changed the course of my life drastically. I never thought I would be going to study yoga. But now, I view yoga as way to increase the spiritual foundation I gained from the 12-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Yoga was instrumental in me learning more about myself this past year, more about how to properly manage expectations in relationships with others, and about furthering and deepening a connection with whatever Divine Power is out there.
I love it, I love the way it makes me feel, and as a sober alcoholic, that’s probably all I can expect.