I was just 9 years old when I got drunk for the first time. That is what they were serving at my Colombian family get together. I cannot say that I particularly enjoyed the taste of it, but I definitely liked the way it made me feel. Besides, I was doing a ‘grown up’ thing, and that made me feel special.
One thing led to another, which led me to be so used to getting drunk, that I felt like it was not enough. Started smoking marijuana at 13 and eventually end up hooked to meth and a whole cocktail of other drugs.
My choices (which did not seem wrong at all to me at the time) landed me in prison when I was 23. I was sentenced to two years for public intoxication along with a few other drug related charges.
The Initial Shift
While in prison, I joined both AA and NA groups just to get a few hours out of my cell. A few months in, my entire perspective changed when I heard the story of a fellow member. This elderly man shared the story of how his addiction took over his life to the point, where it drove the love of his life away from him, for good. And all I could think about were my incredibly hard working parents.
They were immigrants. They came to America seeking refuge from the dangers of Colombia, their home. They took my brother and I away from the constant terrors of drug cartel activity and civil unrest, so that we could have a better life. And I was throwing all their love and dedication away, by getting myself wrapped up in the very things they rescued us from.
That was the first time I decided to get better, but I went about it in all the wrong ways. When I got out of prison, I found a job and immersed myself in it. I did not actually face my problem and attempt to heal, I just replaced one form of addiction with another. I was addicted to my job along with all the success and recognition it brought me. When the pressure became too much, I relapsed. The relapse was so bad and made me feel so guilty that I almost killed myself.
I was admitted into a local rehabilitation centre in Idaho and I finally started to take steps towards truly changing my life. They taught me how to work through the foundations of my addiction and better myself. They showed me ways to face life in a more positive way, that would help me grow rather than shrink again. That is when I found Yoga.
Yoga And Recovery
I have to admit that I thought it was bogus at first. I found it pretentious, especially with all the strange words that are used to describe the different styles, techniques and postures. But I was not blind to the effect it seemed to have on people, so I figured I would give it a try.
What started out as simple curiosity budded into an indispensable part of my life. Yoga was key to my recovery because it has helped me not only with my physical health but also my mental, emotional and spiritual health. Now I am convinced that all addicts of any kind should give yoga a serious try and here are reasons.
6 Reasons Why You Should Try Yoga
1) It Forces Self-discovery
Yoga is meditation. Whether you are practising simple breathing exercises or trying to hold your body in an uncomfortable position, you are focusing on your mind, body, and spirit, in a way that you normally would not.
I experience this the most when practicing the Kripalu style. It focuses on breathing and holding your body in easy to moderately strenuous positions for extended periods of time. I personally had a tough time breathing at the beginning and really understood the effect that smoking and drinking had on my body. The process of the breathing and the holding of certain positions sometimes caused emotions, that I did not even know I had, to swell up.
Yoga does the opposite of what my addiction did for me. I hid behind the temporary effects of drugs and alcohol to try and escape reality. Yoga helped me to not only face the reality but to accept it and heal from it.
It helped me become more comfortable and aware of myself.
2) It Released Me From My Need For Constant Highs
Even when I was 9 years old I was a thrill seeker. I was always looking for the next thing to excite me or take me ‘higher’. That is why I reached for that first drink, that is why I enjoyed being drunk, and that is why nothing was ever enough.
Yoga makes me feel fulfilled. There is something about the way it forces you to slow down and concentrate on the moment that allows you to appreciate what you have.
With yoga, I still experience highs but not the kind that I get tired of, or the kind that still leaves me feeling half empty. When I am able to hold a pose longer than before, when I improve my technique, when something gets easier than it was before, these things give me natural highs, that make my spirit feel good.
No alcohol or drug has ever made me feel that good, and practicing yoga has made me realize how empty the thrills I got from those things really were.
3) It Awakened A Sense Of Peace And Contentment
After my relapse, I experienced some pretty serious withdrawal systems. While rehab was able to help with most of it, I still had a prominent nervous tick. I would always fidget with myself, bite my nails, I could not stay still. I lived with constant anxiety and mild bouts of depression.
Through yoga, I was able to truly release all of that. In fact, there are various movements and patterns designed specifically to do this. I used Kundalini style to target my nervous system. It is a more strenuous style, but it works the same way lifting weights strengthens muscles. At first, it was a little painful, it brought involuntary tremors and shaking. The fast pace allowed me to release my anger, frustration, anxiety, and all other negative energy in a way that made me feel stronger.
Once I finished my sessions, I felt stripped bare in a deeply freeing way that brought me peace.
4) It Made Me Want To Be Healthier
When you get serious about yoga, it begins to affect other areas of your life as well.
I was always pretty used to a very unhealthy lifestyle. I never really cared about the food I ate, as long as it tasted good, did not pay much attention to my body, and definitely did not do any exercising.
Through yoga, I was cleansing my mind and spirit, but I felt a need to cleanse my body as well. What I mean is that I started paying attention to my food. It was not because I felt forced, but rather because it felt natural. I started to pay attention to the effects that different foods had on my body and automatically began to feel uncomfortable when I ate too much junk or fast food.
I also adapted a better sleeping schedule to ensure that I always get enough rest, and became very interested in finding new ways to be my best self.
Now, I cook most of my food in fairly healthy ways and make sure to eat healthy when I am out as well. I do not deprive myself of sweets and things, but I definitely am more conscious about how much I indulge in.
5) It Gave Me A Tribe
At the beginning stages of recovery, I tried to hang out with my old friends in places that I used to frequent. I quickly came to the realization that I could not stay clean if I was still keeping the same company and following similar routines. My friends never really pressured me but, the temptation to relapse was too strong when I was around them. But when I stopped seeing my old friends, I started to feel alone.
The sense of belonging in the yogi community is really something. Whether you are passionate or just trying it out, everyone is really supportive and inclusive. The best part is the positivity and acceptance in the group. Everyone is focused on healing and finding peace for different reasons, so we do not judge.
It is also much easier to stay clean and live a healthy lifestyle when the people around you do the same. I have experienced deeper connections with the people I have met through yoga than I have with people that I have known my whole life.
6) It Made Me Realize My Strength
Without the comfort of my addiction, I was a very scared person. I believed myself to be inadequate or just not enough without the help of alcohol and other substances.
On the yoga mat, I learned to challenge myself. I had to push my own boundaries to be able to bend myself in ways that I did not even know bodies could bend, and hold myself in uncomfortable positions for longer than I could have ever imagined being capable of. I found myself in the awe of my own willpower and physical strength almost every session. Before, I could not focus on one thing for two minutes, and now I can clear my mind in meditation for hours.
All the strength and power I felt on the mat has translated into who I am as a person. I feel like a whole new being. I am confident, strong and have this incredible feeling that anything is possible.
Something For Everyone
Now, I find that yoga and yogic practices are my answer to everything. If ever I feel tense, angry, anxious, or anything of the sort, I have a few breathing exercises and poses that clear it all up in mere seconds. I turn to yoga to have a good time, to blow off some steam, to celebrate, literally everything. The cool thing is that there are so many different styles and interpretations of yoga that you can never really get bored.
I am convinced that yoga heals and brings out the best in you, so, whether you are in recovery from addiction or just feel overwhelmed by life, it is definitely worth a try.