Someone recently asked me about my morning routine. I have a practice rather than a routine. I practice every day. My morning practice is one of the ways I show up for myself. I call it Mornings with the Universe. Sobriety has taught me to love and care for myself on all levels. My mind, my body and my spirit. I start each day the same way. I wake up, take a few deep, conscious breaths and say thank you to the Universe. Then I get on my meditation cushion and sit silently for 20 minutes. Always. It’s the way of easing into my day and into the world that works best for me. My mind isn’t yet racing with all of the things I need to do and I am able to connect with something higher than my ego self. I love mornings. That is my standard “routine.” Some days, that’s all I have time for before I have to get started with life. On days like today, I can take my time. Some mornings I need movement and I step onto my yoga mat. Some mornings I need stillness and I spend time journaling. It’s all about tuning in to myself and honoring my needs. People often tell me they feel stuck when they try to journal. My response to that is to just do it. Don’t worry about what you write or how it looks. Write. From your heart. I love daily meditation books and try to read from one every day. Most days I do. I just picked up The Soul’s Companion by Tian Dayton and I am in love. Meditations from the Mat by Rolf Gates is one of my favorites. I feel connected to his words. He writes in a 12 step yogi way and it’s the same language I speak. It’s my life. This morning I spent my time in my books and journals. Sorting out my thoughts. I guess I needed stillness this morning. I’ve had a bit of chaos in my life this week. As we all do from occasionally. In the midst of the chaos I discovered that a 6 am bath feels pretty damn amazing. I’ll be incorporating that in from time to time when my schedule allows. Unfortunately, it won’t be a daily thing. Unless I get up at 4 am every morning. Which I won’t. Because that’s crazy. My morning practice sets the tone for my whole day. Occasionally my day falls apart, but as long as I have taken the time to connect and center myself, I can handle whatever comes my way. Some days I pull oracle cards and burn incense and play with my crystals. Some days I sit on my deck with a smoothie. It doesn’t matter what I do as long as I do it. I’ve had people tell me that my practice sounds like work to them. It might be, but I love working on myself because I am worth it.
I am a Hope Dealer! Number 499! Plus P Productions sent me a Hope Dealer chip in exchange for my story. They are doing a very cool thing by giving a face to addiction and showing the world that we do recover. Check them out! http://pluspproductions.com
Everyone has a story. This is mine.
I was born an escape artist. Simple as that. I don’t ever remember being comfortable in my body and in my own skin. So I learned to escape it. I grew up in a loving home with two parents that worked hard to make sure they provided all the things we needed and most of the things we wanted. Alcohol was present in my home and I liked to snag sips of my dad’s beers from a very early age. I caught my first buzz at 8 or 9 years old. I was with my parents at a cook out hosted by their friends. A friend and I decided to sneak into the cooler of the adults and sneak wine coolers. Oh my! Instant LOVE. I was happy and warm and completely comfortable. I loved the way I felt. Being an elementary school aged child, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to drink, but any time the chance showed up, I took it. By junior high school I was drinking every weekend. I had also picked up a new way to escape my body and my mind. Huffing. As in sniffing cleaning supplies or other harsh chemicals. Paint. Glue. You name it. I either sniffed it, or put it into a bag and breathed the fumes. Every day. All day. By the time I made it to high school, I was the kid who snuck alcohol into school every day in a bottle of Chloraseptic spray with just enough red food coloring to make it look legit. And then came the drugs. Marijuana was first. Then pills. Cocaine and meth followed. By the time I was 16, I had quit school to do drugs and hang with anyone who wasn’t going to school. I had my 17th birthday in a behavioral health center. It should have been a rehab. Who knew? I didn’t see the point. I learned nothing because I didn’t want to be there. I left and resumed the same old, same old. My life was a string of alcohol, drugs and many, many blackouts. When I was 19 I met a stable man who wanted to marry me. He owned his own business and didn’t do drugs. My parents were thrilled. My Mom planned a beautiful wedding and then sent me on my way into the grown up world. The grown up world was not ready for me. During that marriage I drank every day and became addicted to pills. I managed to stay married until I was 21. As soon as I turned 21 I was able to purchase my own alcohol and really didn’t see the need to be married. I moved into a small apartment. Alone. I immediately became addicted to meth and in hindsight probably already was when I moved in. I had a job that paid for my meth addiction and little else. I didn’t eat, I didn’t sleep and I didn’t pay any bills. I eventually got evicted and went straight to a rehabilitation center in Nashville TN. It felt great to get my head straight. I remember how healthy I felt and how much I liked being in that center with so many women who were so much like me. They were also much older than I was and I had a really hard time imagining that I was as bad as them or that I was in the right place. I did my 28 days and went back out into the world of drugs and alcohol. I lost my job that I hated and to accommodate my drug addiction, I learned how to manufacture methamphetamine with some of my “friends.” How I lived through this, I will never know. I saw the most horrible things in the two and a half years that this went on. I hated the things I was doing, the people I was doing them with and mostly I hated myself. I was just broken enough to agree to trying another treatment center. This one was in Oklahoma and it was a long term center. I was ready this time. I was miserable enough with my life that I was honestly ready to leave it behind. So I did. I stayed at that treatment center the entire 4 months it took me to complete the program and then I stayed to work there. I met my second husband there. He had also completed the recovery program and was working there. The treatment center probably should have mentioned that it was a bad idea for two drug addicts to get married, but that’s what we did. Then we had babies. Two of them. Two beautiful and perfect babies. And I was happy. I was healthy and I was comfortable being me. Being a mommy. The good times lasted only a short time and my husband relapsed. I had the sense to know that I would not raise my children in addiction. So he moved out. I had no idea how to be alone, with myself and with my two children. Alcohol reentered my life. I found solace in a bottle of Makers Mark bourbon. Every night. After I put my children to bed. I drank myself to sleep. I had a man friend who lived in North Carolina. I called him to come and visit me. He came and pretty much never left. Within 6 months my two small children and I moved to North Carolina. Oak Island. Party Central. Everyone is on vacation all the time there or so it seemed to me. My alcoholism really went unnoticed for quite a while. Years. In those years, we had another child and lived a pretty normal life where I drank way too much. My behavior when I was drunk became pretty outrageous and AA was suggested to me. So I did what any good alcoholic would do. I hid my drinking. I knew it was a problem. Since nobody realized how much I was drinking, my behavior just seemed strange. I needed therapy. Obviously. And special behavioral therapy because my behavior was so fucked up. Enter DBT. Dialectal Behavior Therapy. DBT introduced me to mindfulness. DBT combines Buddhism and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy into one. The problem was that I was still drinking and, truthfully, usually drinking before therapy. I still saw my regular therapist who really kept pushing yoga and AA on me. After having a complete breakdown and ending up in a state mental hospital (which is one of the scariest places I’ve ever been), I decided to go into another rehabilitation center. I was ready to address my alcoholism. This treatment center was a 28 day program and it was close to home. I had my doubts. Once the fog lifted, I decided to try. I knew I had overcome bigger things and thought just maybe I could leave the alcohol behind. This treatment center had a lot of extras. Yoga, art therapy, guided imagery (meditation), and DBT. They didn’t call it DBT, but I recognized it. The problem was that I hated myself so much. So much. I didn’t think I was worth saving. I was failing as a wife, failing as a parent, and failing as a human. My anxiety was through the roof. Breathing is the one thing humans should be able to without too much trouble and I couldn’t even do. I have this tattoo on my hand that says “HOPE.” HOPE is an acronym for Hold On Pain Ends. I knew what it meant to be hopeless. Some tiny piece of me also remembered that there was a better way. I started to pay attention to that HOPE tattoo on my hand. I went to yoga. I went to the art therapy sessions and drew mandalas. I went to guided imagery. And I sat. I sat and I stayed with whatever “happened” to me. Whatever happened was all in my head anyway. It was so uncomfortable, but it also felt good to begin to get healthy again. Eating food instead of drinking my calories. Moving my body in yoga. It felt good. I knew my therapist would be proud of me and believe me when I tell you I was all about seeking approval. I knew that I was going to have to buy in to the 12 step program they were selling. I had a hard time with this because of the whole God thing. This had always been a problem for me. I did have a tiny bit of faith in meditation. My therapist was adamant that meditation was the medication for me. I trusted her. She was the ONLY therapist I ever had that didn’t steer me wrong and I loved her for that. I began to use my morning free time to meditate. The others would play ping pong and foosball and I would take a yoga mat and go off on my own to sit. It was miserable. I could only sit for minutes at a time. 2 or 3 minutes. But I did it. Every day. 28 days flew by and I left treatment to go into a half way house. That didn’t work for me. I needed to be home with my children. I couldn’t get better away from them. My family was scared that I couldn’t be at home and get better either. I had tried before without success. I missed my family too much. After one week at the half way house, I came home. It was two days before Christmas. On Christmas I got a brand new meditation cushion from my mom. A beautiful Zafu and Zabuton set. And I sat. I sat and sat and sat and hated it. My mind darted here and there and everywhere. I went to local yoga classes. I hated it. I was so uncomfortable in my skin. I hated moving in front of people, I hated being touched by the teachers and most of all I hated the tears that I seemed to cry every time I was in class. I went to AA meetings. I didn’t hate them as much as I hated yoga and meditation, but they were weird and the people were weird. I went anyway. My life started to suck less. I was told that it’s not only OK to cry in yoga, it’s perfectly acceptable. I was taught that everyone’s mind darts around in meditation. That’s why it’s called practice. I was taught that all alcoholics and addicts have to learn how to get comfortable in their skin. I wasn’t special or unique. That little voice in my head, everyone has one. The AA people explained to me that I don’t have to act on every thought that enters my head. I really wanted people to meditate with, so I started a local meditation group. I posted to a FB page for locals in my community and found some people willing to sit with me. These people helped me so much. They were my teachers. Older. Wiser. They taught me that nobody really gets to meditation because things are so wonderful in their lives. They were all searching when they found meditation. Searching for something better. I was still going to yoga pretty regularly and still not loving it. But, I went anyway. It gave me something “wholesome” to do during my day that distracted me from my desire to get outside of myself. What it did was put me directly inside of myself. Inside of my body. It was moving meditation! For the first time in my life I was able to be in my skin, in my body with no distraction. I learned how to breathe deeply. I learned how to let go of my thoughts. I learned how to create space in my body by letting go of the years of torture I had put my body through. I learned to invite love and light into that space. I started to grow and to thrive. I wanted to practice yoga all the time. I started going to multiple classes a day. One day I saw a FB add for a Recovery Yoga workshop in Carolina Beach. I registered and I went. What I found there changed my life. I found a group of yogis in recovery, just like me. The people who put all of their addictive tendencies into their yoga practice. The people who, just like my meditation friends, came to yoga in crisis. Searching for something, anything better. I cried through that whole 2 hour workshop This time it wasn’t my body opening up and letting go of years of abuse and anxiety, it was gratitude. Gratitude to be in a room of people who I felt a part of. Gratitude for my sober life. Gratitude for everything. I knew these were my people. The next week I signed up for a yoga teacher training in that same studio. On the first morning of teacher training we sat in a circle and introduced ourselves. Again, I heard through every one of these women’s stories that nobody gets to yoga because they love their lives so much. Yoga is healing. Yoga is love. Today I am a yoga teacher. I teach recovery yoga every Saturday because we are all recovering from something. It doesn’t have to be addiction or mental illness. We don’t make it into our adult years without some sort of trauma, grief or loss. I teach yoga to help people heal. I teach a lot. Different styles and different places, but recovery yoga is my “baby.” I also secretly know that all yoga is recovery yoga. Because I am a yoga teacher I have the opportunity to teach mediation every time I teach. I always incorporate a few minutes of meditation into my classes. Meditation came first for me. I had to learn how to stay with whatever came up. Until I did that, my yoga practice couldn’t grow. The two work together for me. I start my days with 20 minutes on my cushion. Every day. In times of chaos, I come back to my cushion to sit with it, to let it pass. In times of crisis, I hurl myself upside down into a handstand. My body and my mind are both aware of what they need today. It’s a beautiful place to be. I have so much gratitude for all of it.
I once read a quote that said “The strongest position you can be in is complete surrender.” I really had to sit with that one for a bit because everything about it seemed wrong to me. How can surrendering be a strong action? I busted out every yoga text and recovery book I had and sure enough, surrender is where it’s at. Surrendering has nothing to do with giving up or giving in. It has everything to do with letting go of the need to control everyone and everything around us. Come to find out, I have no control over people, places or things. AA 101. To surrender simply means to stop forcing things and start allowing. Allowing things to be as they are rather than the way I wish they would be. Life is so much easier when I can show up and flow with what is. It doesn’t mean that I allow life to happen to me. I create my life. I make well informed decisions from a place of wisdom, then I sit back and let the universe handle the rest. The things that are meant for me will always be for me. I never doubt that.
While this one seems like a no brainer, it isn’t. When I first began practicing yoga and the instructor would ask us to become aware of our breath I would panic. I would breathe short and shallow and feel like I was hyperventilating or that I couldn’t breathe at all. My thoughts would race as I struggled to breathe. “Really! How can I not know how to breathe?” It actually took a lot of practice (and a tattoo on my arm that says breathe) to get the hang of it. It was all about allowing. Again with the flowing and not forcing. Learning to surrender and allow my breath to be exactly as it was with no judgment. From this place, I was able slow my breath and for the first time in my life I learned how to breathe deeply and fully. Deep, conscious breaths really are like sending little love notes to the soul. When I am feeling particularly stressed, my breath is my anchor. A place I can return to again and again. It’s like coming home to myself.
Again and again and then let go some more. I often hear the expression that “everything I’ve ever let go of had claw marks on it.” I am sure this was true of my life until that magical day I found yoga. First, yoga taught me to breathe out tension and stress. To let go of fear, doubt and worry. Then I learned to let go in poses and release years worth of stress and trauma that were stored in my body. Yoga taught me to let go of emotions. To open to them and feel all the feels. Sometimes this meant crying through class if that’s what I was feeling. Through living my yoga off the mat, I have been able to let go of so many things that are just too heavy to carry. Guilt. Shame. Resentments. All of the things that hold me back and keep my light from shining bright. I no longer cling to the things not meant for me. Sometimes, I pick them back up, because letting go is a practice, like everything we do. The most beautiful part of letting go is that it creates space. When we let go of what no longer serves us we create space for the things that inspire us. We create room for beauty and love to enter our lives.
One thing I repeatedly ask the Universe for is fearlessness. While the Universe doesn’t exactly make me fearless, it does give me enough courage to do the things I am scared of. As it turns out, that’s everything. There’s nothing quite as scary as hurling myself upside down those first few times. Or holding my body off the ground with just my arms. I am always slightly terrified I will break my face. But I am strong. Yoga reminds me of that every time I practice. Way stronger than I give myself credit for. I can do difficult things, on the mat as well as off. Yoga has given me the courage to live comfortably in the skin I am in. If I want something, I go for it. No holding back. Life is too short. I no longer seek approval from anyone. Who has time for that?
I saved the best for last. This is the big one. Yoga taught me how to love myself on so many levels. I learned how to forgive myself through the practice of letting go. I have learned to have compassion for myself and know that I have always been doing the best I could with what I had to work with. Yoga gave me a whole new set of tools to work with. Yoga taught me how to love and accept myself exactly as I am. Flaws and all. After years of abusing my body, I have learned to treat it like the temple it is. I no longer desire the things that aren’t good for me. I now crave the things that are good for me. I know how to nurture my mind, body and spirit. I feed my body well. I know how important rest is and I allow myself to get it. I surround myself with people who encourage me to be the best me. I encourage and support my friends. I offer love to myself every day and let it fill every cell in my body. By loving myself fully and completely, I am able to offer love to the world. I am forever grateful that yoga exists and that it found me.
If I ever give the impression that meditation is easy, it’s not. It’s a practice. Like everything we do. It takes persistent effort. Meditation was not an easy practice for me to cultivate. There was a lot of negativity that I experienced along the way. In the beginning it triggered memories for me that were too much for me to deal with. I was learning to fully experience emotions that I had previously numbed out with drugs and/or alcohol. I felt completely overwhelmed by all the shit that was going on in my mind. My meditation practice seemed to be making things worse for me rather than better.
It was suggested to me that I approach my mind like a messy closet. Rather than slamming it closed, I pull a few things out at a time and then put them away neatly and close the door. Coming back at another time. And so on.
So that’s what I did.
Little by little (baby steps), I was able to look at it all. Little by little I was able to get my closet organized. I tossed what I didn’t need and kept what I did. I’m sure I kept things that I really could have tossed, but I just wasn’t quite ready to let them go. I think the letting go is an ongoing process.
The thing is, I had to feel EVERY bit of it along the way and for someone who had found a way to be numb for a lifetime, it was HARD. I sat with sadness. I sat with fear. I sat with anger. I sat with it all. And I lived. Not only did I live, I learned so much through that difficult process. I learned that it’s ok to experience unpleasant emotions and that they are just that. Nothing more. Nothing less. I learned that I can stay present with whatever I’m experiencing and I don’t have to shut down or numb out.
Nobody makes it into their adult life without pain and some sort of suffering. That pain has to be acknowledged and dealt with. Of that I am sure.
If you find yourself struggling with difficult emotions in your own meditation practice, just know that it does get better.
Yoga is everywhere these days. It’s prevalent on social media, it’s all over the television, and there’s a yoga studio on every corner. It seems like everyone is practicing yoga. Why is everyone practicing yoga? I think the world is catching on to the fact that we all need some TLC. Yoga is love. It takes courage to walk into that first yoga class, but I promise you, it’s worth it. If you are feeling a bit nervous about that first class, you aren’t alone. We’ve all had to walk into that first class. Here are some tips to ease your mind and help you get started.
1. Do your research.
Look online for a space that suits you. If you are already established with a fitness center, start there. Read the information about the different classes they offer. You don’t want to jump into an advanced class your first time. Find a class that is suitable for beginners. If you don’t see that information, call the studio and speak to someone. Tell them you are a beginner and let them direct you to the right class for you.
2. Arrive Early
Expect to have to fill out a liability waiver. This is standard procedure and does not mean the class is going to hurt you. You’ll want to get that done and get set up in your space. Many locations offer mat rental or have free mats for your use if you don’t have your own. Most studios will have cubbies for you to store your belongings while you practice. In almost all studios you will be asked to remove your shoes before you enter the space where you will practice.
3. Expect to feel uncomfortable
As the class begins to fill up it may seem like everyone knows one another and have been best friends their entire lives. They haven’t. It’s perfectly ok to sit in stillness on your mat as you wait for the class to begin. Once the class starts, it may feel like you are the only person who is unfamiliar with the movements. Remember, every person in class with you was a complete beginner at one point.
Many classes begin and end with either a chant of OM or a longer chant in Sanskrit. It’s ok if you don’t know what is being said. You can choose to participate or not. You may find that you enjoy the joined vibration of a group chant. Many teachers teach the poses in Sanskrit. Nobody is a Sanskrit scholar. You will not be expected to know what these words mean and there will not be a test. Most teachers will use a combination of Sanskrit and English while teaching the poses. A good teacher will verbally guide you in and out of the postures. You will most likely hear terms like “root down through the feet” or “send the breath into the hamstring.” This is yoga teacher speak for allowing the feet to really press down into the mat and using concentration as well as your own breathing to allow your hamstrings to release. Expect to hear a few of these unfamiliar terms in your hour long class.
5. Being touched
Many yoga teachers offer physical assists. You will usually be asked by the teacher if it is ok for them to touch you. It is perfectly acceptable to say no. If you agree to the assists, you will receive the benefits of proper alignment. The teacher won’t “correct” you as much as help you gently stretch, fold or twist a little deeper into a pose so you can receive the maximum benefit. A good teacher will not single any one person out, but will walk around the room assisting everyone equally.
Yoga forces us to be completely present in our bodies. We are stretching and opening everything. This can cause unexpected emotions to come up for us. Emotions are a part of the process and it means whatever we are experiencing needs to be felt. Be with it. Explore it. Whatever “it” is. Maybe you will understand where it’s coming from. Maybe you won’t. Just allow it to be there. It’s perfectly normal to cry during a yoga practice or after the practice is over. Yoga is a safe space for this. It’s a release and it is beautiful. Don’t hold back if this happens to you. Let it go.
Leave it behind. Yoga is not a competition. Everyone has their own personal practice. There are no comparisons. No one is better than or worse than you. When you feel the urge to compare yourself, gently bring your attention back to your own mat, your own body, your own breath and your own practice. Let everything else fall away.
The most important pose in the yoga practice. Also known as Corpse Pose. At the end of class, the teacher will instruct everyone to lay flat on their backs arms and legs down on the mat. Like a corpse. Savasana allows our bodies time to rest after our practice. It allows our bodies to fully absorb all the benefits of our practice. Many people have the hardest time with this pose. The mind starts to wander and we have a tendency to want to get up and DO something. Don’t. Just be still. When the mind wanders, gently redirect it back to your breath. Be still and allow this time for yourself.
Don’t forget to have fun. Yoga can seem so serious, but don’t forget that “It’s just yoga.” You are allowed to smile and you are allowed to laugh at yourself if you fall out of a balance pose. You are allowed to laugh anytime you like. It’s your practice. Enjoy it.