This is the fifth article in the series, “The 12 Healing Tools“. These articles outline the things that I have found most useful in my journey to overcome childhood trauma and abuse, drug addiction, and debilitating depression.
I put off writing this article because it’s a pretty deep topic for me. There are so many reasons why yoga helped me, some of which I continue to learn about based on scientific research1, 2; and the ways that it helped me are vast and continue to unfold every year I practice. So I suppose I will start at the beginning, even though the beginning was pretty boring. 😉
One of my friends suggested we sign up for a series of Wellspan Health yoga classes around 2003 (don’t quote me on exact dates). I remember it being a struggle financially for both of us. We were single females in recovery and it seemed like there was barely enough money for the basics, much less something frivolous like a yoga class. But somehow, we found a way.
I don’t remember feeling like much was happening in the beginning – unlike during the free Buddhist meditation classes we were also attending around the same time. If anything, I felt self-conscious and really out of place! But for whatever reason, I kept trying to find affordable classes to attend.
Around 2005-ish I had a little more expendable income, so I started to amp up my yoga practice at a couple of small studios in York. I would go to classes up to three times a week. The teachers were very encouraging, unlike most ‘authority figures’ I had encountered in my life. Because of them, I ended up going to yoga teacher training in 2010.
Yoga was helping me feel empowered physically and I was starting to feel good at something other than ‘just’ being an artist, which I took for granted since I was artistic even as a child.
Practicing yoga also connected me to sensations within my own body that I had never paid attention to before. I began to sense the lower half of my body! (It sounds strange but many people who experience trauma are disconnected from this area.3)
I also had the opportunity to slow down more frequently, catching the automatic thoughts running through my mind. These thoughts ran rampant, usually unnoticed but apparently always in the background. I came to see how I was my own worst enemy, constantly beating myself up on – and off – my mat. I still have to work with these voices, maybe not as loud and harsh as they used to be, but still there at times nonetheless. Meditation was, and still is, an invaluable tool to soften these voices.
Yoga also showed me how to decompress through guided relaxation techniques. I never realized how surviving an abusive childhood and heroin addiction had me constantly on edge. My nervous system was a real wreck back then and I still have to be very cautious about what’s “too much to handle”.
As time went on, I began to dive more deeply into the practice of Yoga Nidra and using the power of the subconscious mind to relax and heal. It is still one of my easy ‘go to’ techniques whenever I start to feel stressed.
Once I went to teacher training, I began to study Vedanta which helped me make sense of some of the non-sense in life. It helped to explain away many of the things that made me sad and depressed, and gave a reason for existence. This is a whole other topic!
Today, I mostly use my asana practice to get rid of physical aches and pains. It amazes me how just simply focusing on the breath and being mindful can release the tension that I’m holding! I love studying the chakras and working with these subtle energy centers for even deeper healing. I am truly grateful to have come to this practice – physically, mentally, and emotionally!