I was 18 years old when I first started doing yoga. I was working on starting a modeling career and they advised me to start yoga to lose weight. I was living with my fiancé in an abusive relationship, I smoked cigarettes, and I drank alcohol fairly regularly. I certainly wasn't what you would call Zen. Looking back I was a ball of anxiety who was just so used to functioning the way I did.
After my first yoga practice, (a video cassette in an upstairs room of the house), I felt an immediate sense of relief. Like I was in a quiet room inside another quiet room and there was no one around me that could permeate that space. I did it everyday, to such an extent that my fiancé would get irritated with my daily practice. (Isn't it weird how someone who loves you will decide that something you are passionate about and makes you a better functioning human is annoying?) But I imagine my sense of peace confronted his alcohol and cocaine abuse.
At this time I did not have the knowledge of why yoga was impacting me in such a powerful way. I just assumed it was the stretching.
I slowly stopped smoking, I stopped drinking, I went to bed early so that my practice the next day would be enjoyable. Everything I did became a devotion to my yoga practice. Everything I did became a devotion to me. It was profound. In the final moments of my relationship, I remember my ex yelling at me and punching the wall next to my face and I do not even think I flinched. It was like I was watching the events understanding the absurdity of his domestic abuse and how absurd it would be to engage.
It felt like the fuckin matrix.
"A punch slowly passed by my cheekbone while I popped the red pill in my mouth and swallowed it gladly." That was the night I left that relationship. The lessons didn't stop there. They came hard and fast in the following years. Healing from abuse took experiencing more abuse and learning how unhealthy my perception of love had become. It took repeated behaviors and failures that I feel to this day. I would slip and fall, and when I realized I was off track I would go straight back to yoga. It was my place of solace, the place where I could realize myself again. The only thing that changed was that I would catch myself slipping a little quicker each time.
My life slowly became less messy.
In my mid twenties I was signed up for my second Yoga Teacher Training. A few weeks prior to this training I injured my back in yoga and felt a lot of stress about entering a training and not being able to perform at the level I was used to, (as if yoga is a performance).
The training was one weekend a month for 9 months. We were required to create practice sequences according to what we learned in each session, explain our reasoning for the sequence, and log each practice. There was a certain number of practices that we were required to complete. I was uncomfortable at not being able to get the movements in and kept making excuses to my mentor River about how I couldn't do the homework. River took the time to listen and then encouraged me to use the 3-4 postures I could do and breath work to get the homework done, emphasizing that it is not necessarily the amount of postures you do, but your intention behind them that creates a powerful practice.
During the training River said "If you practice breath work regularly, your life will change. We don't know how it will, but it will."
And it has.
This is where I fell deeply in love with breath work. It was like sinking deeper into myself than I had ever gone. I witnessed my discomfort to the stillness and the varying things my mind would create to project the discomforts.
It was only within the last 7-10 years that I really started to understand the reason that I felt so good after my first yoga class was because of the breath. Targeted breath practices regulate your nervous system and create the reaction inside of you that is needed at that moment in time for you to heal, energize, rest, or recover. Practices do not necessarily need to be the perfect every time, but they do need to have the knowledge and understanding of the nervous system behind them... no bro science here please :)
Solace comes in layers. For many in the yoga world, it starts with more intense styles of yoga and as they gradually move through the layers of themselves they are drawn to slower variations of yoga that will, eventually, lead to stillness.
It can start with yoga, going to the gym, hiring a nutritionist, beginning therapy, Wim Hoff breath work, hiking, biking more places, martial arts, or mobility practices. Something that presents a physical challenge that leads you to emotional reactions of all kinds. This is where we can begin to see ourselves and assess what serves us and what doesn't, and then seek out answers to our problems.
I think we all have the ability to live our best lives if we choose the red pill and everything that goes with it. It takes a lot of the right things falling into place to overcome adversity. We need our community, money, access, and a safe place to land within ourselves.
The more tuned in we are to US the easier it will be to find and secure the rest of the things.