At the ripe ol’ age of 20, I wandered into my first yoga class at the Equinox gym on 19th and Broadway in New York City.
I was attending college nearby and two roommates convinced me to go with them. Although I can barely recall the teacher and the actual class, I do remember how my body felt the next day. I had sore muscles in places that I’d didn’t even know I had muscles! Aside from a more peaceful sense of being, I loved that I could finally connect with my physical body in a way I’d not known since being an avid swimmer in grade school.
Although some people may measure the ‘greatness’ of a yoga class by the amount of sweat pouring from their body or the number of times they can leap into a handstand, I have found the value of a class far exceeds these physical feats. The deeper ‘pearls’ of wisdom to be gained from yoga are available to all practitioners — not just the superhuman ones! In essence, yoga is a way of living a peaceful, integrated life. It encompasses the dirty, sad parts as well as the happy. It’s both the tight muscles and the limber, loose ones. Yoga is all things at once, hence the opposing commands that we teachers weave masterfully into our prompts, such as telling you to “root and rise” at the same time.
That’s why yoga isn’t just an exercise in movement. For me, yoga has been the guiding light on my travels through the badlands of post-traumatic stress after 9/11. I was living in NYC at the time, and that tragic event in history was literally my worst nightmare come true, along with anthrax and bomb scares and a whole host of other traumatic events and situations that truly changed my course in life.
For years afterwards I lived with nightmares, panic attacks, anxiety and depression. Crowded subways terrified me and the lightning and thunder of a big storm or fireworks in the summer would scare me terribly. Over next few years, I lost all my savings, my home, my relationship and many friends due to my inability to pull myself out of the darkness. My budding career in fashion design fell apart and no longer seemed like a worthwhile path, despite having attended one of the most prestigious schools in the world. In sum, I lost my way in life and lived in fear of the moment when the walls might finally cave in.
That’s when yoga reappeared in my life, hoisting me out from the depths of a dark and lonely place. What I learned from my renewed yoga practice helped me to find hope and eventually faith in both myself and mankind. Asana practice gave me the space to begin releasing many of the toxic images, ideas and fears that I had been holding on to, so that I could better honor the present moment and those around me. Eventually I was able to bring peace and life back to old relationships that had seemed completely destroyed and heal the parts of my heart that had felt eternally crushed.
I know of many other yogis who have also suffered trauma in their lives and have successfully used their practice to re-ignite their passion for daily life. But it’s only possible if you first commit to making space for yourself, whether it’s on your mat or simply sitting in stillness, connecting with your breath.
That commitment is what brought me here, to a place where I can live a life I love. I still encounter rough spots and obstacles along the way, but I know now that those walls won’t be caving in any time soon, because they don’t exist in my life anymore. Through yoga, I was able to work through them and finally let the light shine in, one breath at a time.
Republished with permission from YOGANONYMOUS.