Much of my life has been as an addict. And many of us on some level are all addicts. But for others, their addiction becomes who they are: their identity, their only lifeline.
It may be slowly killing them, but it is also what is keeping them alive.
For me, there is no question that yoga saved my life. Yoga found me when I couldn’t pretend to save myself any longer. Ever been to a high-security prison? That is what a full-blown addiction feels like-24/7, except you are trying to live a normal life at the same time. You are usually trying to hide it or pretend it doesn’t exist. My life was much to this drum, a ten-year battle with a wide variety of eating disorders, depression, drugs, and anxiety. Ten years ago I would be asking for your pity, now I am hoping to help.
Yoga Showed Me Addiction is Not a Choice
Imagine having an evil twin that never leaves your side. Imagine that every move you make, every bite you take, every breath you take is being ripped apart constantly by someone else.
Addiction is not a choice, you don’t wake up one day and decide, “Hey I am going to start bingeing and purging all my food from now on,” or “Maybe today I will starve myself to get attention.” Addiction doesn’t work that way. As an addict forever in recovery, I get this.
I did not choose to starve myself, to drop 32 pounds in 60 days at the age of 15. I didn’t choose to relapse and binge and purge up to eight times a day, as I put stress on my heart, rot my gums and teeth, kill my stomach lining, messed with every system in my body. I, like many struggling with addiction, spent many hours, days and months in this horror. I was trying with all I had to be normal, to fit in, to hide the only thing at that time in my life I could control.
As an addict, you realize that the numbed feeling or “high” you get from your drug of choice (food, alcohol, medications, exercise, restriction of food, smoking) is what you have been searching for. Nearly half my life I spent in addiction, where I cycled anorexia and bulimia. I dabbled with drugs, found myself binge drinking (under age of course), made several attempts at suicide, experimental cutting, and was obsessed with calorie counting, exercise, my weight, my size, every pimple on my face, every imperfection possible… I was obsessed with it.
And at one of my lowest points, this craziness wound me up in the hospital with gastric obstruction surgery after I swallowed a toothbrush, desperate to purge just one more time. To many, you may not understand, but for some, this rundown seems like a horrible mirror.
Yoga Was My Path to Recovery
If you are struggling with addiction and are at a place that you know you want to move forward, you probably already know that it’s one tough uphill battle. Yoga was what kept me holding on to that tiny microscopic string. My Wednesday night yoga class kept me hoping and praying I could do this. I could survive. In my first few classes, while still struggling with an eating disorder, my mom and I attended yoga together. That one class each week was a new chance. I remember many nights walking out praying to God, “Please help me to go home and not binge and purge, praying with all my might that tomorrow I’d wake up and be normal.” I probably wouldn’t have gone each week if my mom wasn’t going. Not knowing, she kept me accountable and kept giving me my string of hope each week.
You can’t think straight as an addict. The Yoga Sutra talks about eliminating the dualistic mind – you ask any addict, and they totally understand the double mind. You have your “eating disorder mind” saying one thing and your “sane mind” saying the other. For many years, I couldn’t even hear my sane mind.
Yoga has saved my life. Yoga has given me a second chance, and has taught me to live in the most in-touch, real way possible. Yoga has taught me how to breathe again, feel again, and somehow someway it has helped me loosen the grips on life a little and trust a little more.
For a long time I didn’t believe that there was anything from my past that could have triggered this experience in my life, but yoga has helped me to realize that some of this was learned behavior. Some of this was the reaction to cruel kids in school, and some was simply fear of not being enough in my life. At some level, we have all been there. We have all cried tears of fear, control, sadness, imperfection. And to all of you out there still walking up hill – it’s way easier with a yoga practice.
Yoga teaches you to want to live again. It teaches you what it really means to be in the moment. Those struggling with addiction know better than anyone what a moment is. Because on the same note, you are trying to stay alive or sober for just a moment.
Yoga lets you know it’s not your fault; even when you feel alone you are feeling, and that is a start. Don’t stop feeling, let the feeling pass, and they will.
Yoga gives you a second chance a million and one times. It reminds you that your life is just as valuable as everyone else’s, in your own unique way.
Today is a call to action.
If you struggle with addiction, I beg you to try yoga.
Be careful – us addicts gravitate to that which can feed the need. So mix it up, most recovery programs that incorporate yoga use styles like Yin, Hatha, or Restorative. These styles are great to really help you learn how to be present, be still and be in the feeling. Don’t throw in the towel and don’t hate your first class because it asked you to step out of your comfort zone. Keep at it. If you want to live, if you want to come out on the other side… for me it wasn’t a choice anymore, it was a matter of life and death. And I chose life, and I continue to choose life each day.
If you are an outsider to a person with addiction, most likely they know there is a problem. Don’t shove food in their face, point out their appearance, or tell them they are killing themselves. Ask yourself this: “Am I helping or hurting?” Addiction hurts loved ones too, but be a forklift as a friend, bring your friends up with you. Take them to a yoga class and keep taking them. In Savasana, hold hands with them. Say “I love you” with no strings attached. Be there for them instead of telling them where to be. Most importantly, don’t give up.
This content was originally published in the June 2012 edition of MindBodyGreen.
Yogic philosophy and the Yamas and niyamas (the first and second limbs of yoga) offer us a roadmap on how to treat ourselves and others, and as a result, connect more fully with our inner truth. The eight limbs of yoga offer anyone who is willing to partake a wonderful guide to more mindful living, and they teach us the ethical practices of yoga. This pathway to absolute truth is one combining inner and outer work, physical practice, our breath, mindfulness, concentration, and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but it is an opportunity to live a better quality of life, and a more purposeful one at that.
1. Yamas: Restraints for One’s External Tendencies or Behavior.
- Ahimsa – non-violence. Are you a bulldozer or a forklift to those around you through your thoughts, words, and actions? Ask yourself if this is lifting people up or crushing people down.
- Satya – truthfulness, honesty. Ahimsa helps us to not use truth as a weapon. Satya questions us being nice vs. being real.
- Asteya – non-stealing. We steal others time, attention, power, and confidence. ADHIKARI: the right to know or the right to have; you are a visitor in life, not an owner. Take note of all that you take that is in fact not yours. Reflecting on the first two yamas, we may steal more than just someone’s property.
- Brahmacharya – nonexcess. “Acting in Brahman (Holy Spirit)” means entering each day with a sense of holiness rather than indulgence, remembering that everything is sacred.
- Aparigraha – unselfishness, non-possessiveness. Non-attachment and being able to “let go.” We are like a monkey in a cage with a banana; we choose our attachments rather than our freedom. Why?
2. Niyamas: Self-Control Over One’s Internal Tendencies.
- Saucha – internal and external purity. What is your process of purity? Think about what used to be our “Sunday best” purity in each moment? Focus on consistent purity rather than selective purity.
- Santosh – contentment. Gratitude will keep us out of our own pettiness and allow us to receive our own abundance from the Universe. We tend to “play things up” when we don’t feel content with what is; here we must take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
- Tapas – austerity or self-discipline. You are not rocked by the external world. Here we are offering the next higher version of ourselves. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste …
- Swadhyaya – scriptural study or self-study. Knowing our true identity as divine. The world reflects what we are seeing, not what is actually there; it is a mirror. Self-study breaks the ego (Ahamkara). Take some time each day to read and study that which invokes the greatest good in you.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God or universal consciousness. Life is not meant to be a battle. We are not here to have to “prove,” but rather to become one. Here we no longer need the moment to be our way; we see a higher purpose for us.
3. Asana: Physical Exercises.
We can use asana to help train the physical body and teach discipline and all that is reflected in the Yamas and niyamas. We treat ourselves as an aspect of the divine.
Our breath is everything; without it, we do not exist here on this earthly plane. Our breath is the gateway to the many dimensions and layers of the self and higher consciousness. (Note that Ayama means a dimension, not control.)
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawing the Mind.
Understanding that this is not just our senses but the mind as well. Iyengar says pratyahara means “to draw toward the opposite.” The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain; a difficult reaction. Our minds are flooded with negativity; we must work to move towards the opposite.
6. Dharana: Concentration.
We are a society of quick and CliffsNotes. Unfortunately, we can miss out on valuable knowledge and relationships by skimming over everything. The value of pointed thought, self-analysis and introspection cannot be understated. Time spent on self-observation of inner thoughts, desires, and conduct helps guide us toward Dharana.
“Dhyani,” which means “to think of.” In the process of meditation, we calm the mind, which leads to the realignment of our inner self to the right path. Meditation is everything we engage in; initially, we sit to meditate and eventually, we live to meditate.
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment.
There are different stages of Samadhi and one can experience it at any moment: a blip, a moment, that takes you towards your bliss. We all experience these blips. The goal of the above practices is to attain Samadhi infinitely.
This post was originally written for Nature’s Pathways.
5 Ways to Live a More Authentic Life NOW:
1. Be Honest with Yourself and Others.
We often think that the little white lies we tell ourselves and others will make things easier. We think we are doing a favor to others by saving them the time or emotion of the truth. But the reality is, it makes things much more complicated and incredibly dishonest. These lies snowball until you can’t remember who you’ve told the truth to. Find your authentic truth.
2. Stop Saying “I Can’t.”
We look out at life and say that we can’t do this or that, and what we say becomes our truth. What we tell the Universe is what we get back from the Universe.
Erase “I can’t” from your vocabulary and replace it with “I can, I have, I know, or I am.” Take life and start living in the moment.
3. Take Risks.
I’m not saying jump off a cliff, but rather, live boldly. I would rather fall a million times than never fall once and have never tried. We learn through hardships and risks, and the only bad risk is the one not taken. Sometimes you need a little clarity to feel more confident to take that risk…
So are you willing to take that risk if you know it will bring you clarity? What if there was something you could do to aid that clarity creation and feel more confident in that next step?
4. Speak up.
I often speak what is on my mind and what I desire. And yoga has taught me how to channel that in a positive, more helpful, loving way (better than I could years ago). I often hear people say: if only, or I didn’t know, or I wish someone would have told me, but the truth is, unless you speak up, why should anyone come running to your aide? Don’t blame others for your unspoken wish list. Don’t say, “I should have” when you know you could have. We all have a voice and the right to speak up. So when you don’t, it’s no one’s fault but your own.
5. Be a Leader.
We need not be trendsetters or inventors, but rather leaders in our own lives. You may not be famous, but when you live 100 percent each day with no regrets — truthfully and positively — and speak up in a kind manner, you become the authentic leader for others to follow in living their lives that way too.
Each and every day we must work to be more mindful and work to be the best version of ourselves in all that we do. When we step outside our comfort zones and work just a bit harder than the day before, things get easier and we start to enjoy life more. Seek to live an authentic life and reap the rewards.
Being stressed appears to be the new norm. Tasks just keep piling up and finding time to de-stress seems to never fit into the day’s schedule. And when it comes to work, it may not be realistic to drop everything and hit up a yoga class or take a day at the beach. We can use mantras and affirmations to keep our mind calm and focused without detracting from our productivity.
As a yoga and mindfulness expert of more than seventeen years, I firmly believe in making small little changes to our lives. And at the end of the day, those small little changes all add up to big results.
And that is why incorporating the use of mantras into your life and workday can be a very effective way to curb stress, help you become more productive, and keep a “zen” state even in the most stressful of times.
The use of mantras can benefit anyone who incorporates them into their lives.
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Soothes stresses from technology hangover
- Assists in shedding neurotic habits
- Boosts immunity
- They are FREE
What is a Mantra?
A mantra is a word or syllable repeated to help curb the mind and keep focus. It acts as a form of meditation. One would often use a mantra in yoga and meditation to help keep “the mind on the mat.” They are often also used in everyday life and given from teacher to student to help overcome obstacles, challenges, and transitions.
Incorporating mantras into ones’ workday can be a wonderful way to combat stress, keep better focus, improve confidence, and keep negative, self-sabotaging thoughts at bay.
How Do I use a Mantra?
If you are a yogi working with a teacher, one would often recommend you recite your given mantra for 108 times, X amount of times per day for so many days. (108 is a special number in the yogic world.)
Anyone can begin to use mantras and instantly benefit. And that means you can start today.
You may already have used a mantra and don’t even know it.
Affirmations are forms of mantras in the English form. Mantras can be more powerful as the vibrational tone. The sound of a mantra when spoken correctly aids the brain and our inner state more deeply than its English sister.
No matter where you start, a refocusing on the mind will surely follow, with commitment and regular repetition.
Where do I Start?
One of my favorite mantras that I was given during my stay at an ashram during one of my yoga teacher trainings is a mantra to Ganesha.
Ganesha is seen as the remover of obstacles. When chanted to, it can help you overcome, move through, or see more clearly that which is in front of you and needs to be dealt with.
Mantra for the Workplace
“Om Vakratundaaya Hum” (Ohm Vah-krah-TOON-die-yah Hoom)
When chanting this, you would either chant using a mala or even just chant this frequently during the day to help keep the mind focused and aid in working through difficulties.
If you would rather not use a Sanskrit mantra, then using affirmations (which many of us do already) is a great place to start.
I think of mantras as a way to change the internal voice we have. For many, that internal voice is negative and downgrading.
Affirmation for the Workplace
“Peace is within my reach” or “I am calm and focused”, or “Obstacles are opportunities”.
No matter what mantra or affirmation you choose, they don’t work and cannot help you if you don’t use them. Check out this blog post to learn how to craft your own personal, positive affirmations.
Please comment and share with me what mantras you have chosen for yourself!
This post was originally published in the March 2018 edition of Inspiyr.
My yoga mat has been my place of refuge, my place of contemplation, my place of self-discovery. My mirror for the good, the bad and the ugly. Time and time again I step into the unknown, only to find that everything I need, everything I am wondering about, lies on my yoga mat.
I look back at myself five, even ten years ago, and find that I am still the same person. Even memories as a child are laced into who I am today. But the difference is that how I see the world, how I see myself, and how I chose to live – is drastically different.
For some yoga is a savior for their physical bodies: to be saved from inflexibility, headaches, cramped feet, or to regain the body they have been long searching for. But for me, my yoga practice has taught me how to actually be able to look at my body and befriend it. I can look at my life and no longer see myself as the victim. Rather, I see myself as the person at the wheel, in control.
I tear up thinking about what I have been through and what I have put myself through. Only to come out bright-eyed and ready to move on with no regrets. And I never thought I’d say that. The tears that come are only tears of joy and amazement that my mat brought this to me.
Our Yoga Practice is a Promise to Ourselves That we Want More and Deserve More.
Yoga is so powerful and unique in that it is an experience and a practice. If you are not ready to step onto the mat, then the change will not happen. I have not only seen this in myself, but also my students over the last decade of teaching.
To me, Yoga is the most real that someone can get with themselves. The lies will eventually rise to the surface, the false hopes will eventually go sour and the work will time and time again be put back in our court. What I’m trying to say is that life becomes a lot sweeter when we start to trust that the universe and our Creator has our best interest at heart. That we might not know it all, and that no matter how “good, smart, elite, or savvy” we think we are, there must still be a humbleness to remind us that there is always something to learn.
Interestingly, My Journey was the Opposite.
For much of my life, I felt lesser. I felt that I was the one always lacking, or missing the bar. For me, my yoga mat became a constant reminder that I am great today, just as I am… even during my stages of recovery. I began to stop seeing myself as “messing up” day after day. Now I am thanking life and God for the opportunity to be aware of what I need to learn and how I can change.
I post a Facebook quote of the day, a Daily Dose of Hope. It is usually something from my heart. I had posted a few months ago a quote stating:
You know you are ready for change when you come to realize that what you see in other people and don’t like is a mirror for what you need to see in yourself and begin to change.”
For me, this simple thought was such an eye-opener. This awareness not only helped me to grow and realize what I needed to change in myself, but to also realize what I didn’t and did want to take into my life. Without awareness, you will never grow. There will never be change, and that box you feel stuck in… It will still be that box and you will still be in it.
Stepping out Means Taking a Chance.
It means trusting without immediate proof. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, trusting that you are being guided. Trust that what you are doing is right. If you don’t like your life, where you are, or what you are doing – ask yourself…
What am I doing to move beyond this?
What am I doing to make a change?
Are you tired in the morning? Well then stop going to bed at 12am. Sick of all the mess? Well then go clean it up. Who are we all waiting for? What formula do I not know about that fixes all problems, all people, all situations? The only formula I know is the one where I start to take care of me, work on me, and change me. Because that is the only way I know to get to where I want to be.
If you pray and ask for guidance, once you get the guidance it’s your job to take it and act on it. When you meditate for peace, it’s your job to work to keep the peace. If you ask for help and suggestions to regain your health, well then you have to follow through to see the results.
So how does this all tie back to a yoga practice? On our yoga mat we see ourselves as we truly are, raw and willing to do the work necessary to move forward or make change. Even if we are not ready, at least now we are aware and it becomes our choice what to do with that awareness.
The sweetness in me bows to the sweetness in you…
This post was originally written for MindBodyGreen, and updated on Oct 7, 2019.
Save Savasana! The final pose of yoga is the most important. Are you missing the boat? Or should I say relaxation?
I have had the honor of coming to the yoga mat for almost 20 years, and 17 of which I have been guiding others from their first pose to relaxation.
And it has most definitely happened on more than one occasion that students skip out on Savasana. Some are very clear that they need to leave to get their kid from school or to hit a deadline and I am happy that they at least made time.
But there have been a few occasions where the student could not handle such a pose and as a result left. But acted as though they were late for something, or continued to roll around and strike a pose at the back of the room while the rest of the yoga class soaked up some Zzzz yoga style.
Well, I should probably explain to my non-yoga readers that Savasana is a fancy Sanskrit word for relaxation or corpse pose. Which I would say is both the easiest pose of class, and at the same time the most difficult.
You will often here my encourage my students minutes prior to Savasana that this pose, relaxation is the final pose of yoga. It is what we prepare for the entire 60, 75 or 90 minutes for. Post that, is meditation.
Yoga itself is a bit of a challenge in that it confronts our insecurities, our weaknesses, our strengths, our anxieties. And if we are not attentive to it, we simply ignore them and find ways to work around such challenges in-order to say safe and say comfortable.
But yoga is “comfortably uncomfortable” as I like to say mid way through a pose that to my students appears to never end. And how we treat the yoga poses. How we act and react on the mat is a complete mirror for our every day life.
In my experience many of my type A students often gravitate initially to the faster paced yoga classes. The ones that on the surface, in the description appear more difficult.
While their counterparts often gravitate towards the slower styles, and classes were moving and grooving isn’t the in the glamorous description.
It could very well be a torture chamber to request my type A students initially attend a Yin style yoga or slow style yoga and a ten minute relaxation. By minute 60 there might not be anyone left in the room.
But here’s the thing. We all need to chill out. Not fake chill out. Not relax with our phone scrolling Facebook aimlessly. Not huffing and puffing trying to keep up with a flow that does not exactly scream soothing and calming, and then skipping out on the relaxation part because it seems “pointless”.
I was that person. Anxious, busy, rigid. And laying around made me frigidity beyond normal comparison.
But for some odd reason I stuck with yoga. I began to learn that my anxious state on the mat was a complete mirror for how I was behaving off the mat.
My restlessness, my need to keep moving and “not feel” was the same way I was approaching life. The need to push, stress, and basically kill myself in class to call it a success were the exact unrealistic standards I was holding myself to in my life.
And relaxation. Don’t even get me started. I had more anxiety about it than my students at times. And watching them lay quietly I was the one restless, anxious about weather or not they were anxious, bored, and disliking the moment they were in.
But I learned. I learned along with my students about the importance of this pose as well as a deeper insight to my yoga style choices per my current personality and life challenges.
Savasana should offer you, your body and your mind an opportunity to fully unwind. To experience a complete surrender of the physical body. See the class was meant to exhaust you. Not like too hard to keep up exhaust you. But challenge you in every way, shape and form.
Keep your mind focused. Challenged. Nurtured.
Keep your body working, opening, reaching, strengthening, trying both new and familiar things to help you step outside your comfort zone.
Long story short, for many they struggle with allowing their bodies and minds the opportunity to reset the central nervous system. That of which Savasana can and does play a huge part in.
I (tried) to run track in high school and one thing the coach always said was “do not forget to do your cool down, do not just stop after you cross the finish line, keep walking”.
Why? Because that abrupt stop is stressful and confusing for the body.
Leaving prior to Savasana. Or not allowing yourself to fully reap the benefits of it is like giving a kid a sucker and just before the tootsie center, taking it away. How rude!
So why Savasana your way to bliss after your yoga session?
- It removes fatigue
- Calms the central nervous system
- Brings clarity to the mind
- Brings emotional balance
- Promotes deep healing
- Cultivates an energetic connection
- Restores and resets the physical body post-movement
- Offers self reflection
- Lowers the heart rate
- Lowers the body temperature
- Replenishes vital energy in the body
- It is a mini-vacation or relaxation
- This is the pose that connects your entire practice together
The most precious thing in the world which is missing these days is relaxation Yogi Bhajan
Preparing for a Proper Savasana
Take advantage of having a captive audience for 45+ minutes prior to relaxation and prepare your students for what is going to eventually happen. Encourage them of the benefits. To work hard, or breathe now so they can fully benefit later.
I often equate relaxation to sleep. “Skip it too many times and you’re dying at work or dragging trying to keep up your normal groove. Why is it we skimp on the most important aspects of life? Of yoga?”
Spend 1-5 minutes of floor work preparing the body for relaxation. Sitting or supine poses, movements or even breathing exercises to help them wind down.
Offer them a focus or intention. Or even guide them through a short relaxation for the body to soften even more. But it will also aid the mind in wandering and causing frustration.
How Long Should Relaxation Be?
It is a vast debate as to how long relaxation should be. And depending on the style you are teaching or practicing. The teacher, even the location (gym VS yoga studio) the length of time will and can drastically vary. And it is in my experience that at least 10% of the class’s total time could be considered dedicated to relaxation.
- 60 minute yoga session = 6 minute Savasana
- 75 minute yoga session = 7-8 minute
- 90 minute yoga session = 9 minute
Now that might not work for your current demographic and in some cases it has been my experience that as the teacher you may need to work them up to such a time block.
Customize Your Savasana:
Hopefully you have already ensured there is enough room for each yoga mat, and the person attached to it in class.
And if it is a yoga class you are relaxing to, then chances are the mood and energy is already set up for such a pose. But if you are considering adding in a little Savasana to another style class or practice then here are a few tips to enhance the experience even more.
Tips to help everyone present relax a little more.
- Invite the class to stay for relaxation.
- Let them know exactly how long it will be.
- Ensure them this will not take away from what comes next in life, but enhance it.
- Dim the lights or turn them off.
- Cue students as to where their body parts should go.
- Decide the room set up: legs up the wall, students on belly, back, side, support, etc.
- Invite students to check in with their breath
- Reassure students that the mind wandering is normal and the power is in the practice of continuing to come back to the stillness on the mat.
- Speak in a language that students can understand. Meet them where they are and guide them by hand as to where you want them to go.
Yoga can be a perfect package. It is important to remember that it has to potential to lead the mind, restore the body, and open the soul. And in my experience I have learned that when you remove a piece of the pie for no other reason than it makes you uncomfortable. Or you don’t like it, the pie just won’t taste right. The benefits may not be at their fullest potential.
So I want to encourage you that if someone offers you time to just be, to relax and lay like a corpse. Do it.
And the clarity, rejuvenation, and sense of restoration you will receive thereafter is truly what you will bring home to your family and loved ones.