People come to yoga for so many reasons. For me, it was the only form of exercise that didn't make me feel like eating another chocolate instead. I was in my mid-twenties, had a great job, a crap love life, many shoes, and a cat. Oh, and massive Daddy issues.
What, you ask, would my Daddy issues have to do with my yoga practice? Everything, as it turned out. I was hooked on yoga from the first class, because that class marked the only time since I was eight years old that I had felt unfragmented, light. Safe. For an entire hour, I didn’t worry where my door keys were, didn’t look for something to eat to battle back the memories of my dad creeping into my room at night. Not EVERY night, mind, just when my door key was missing and he was drunk.
The food and the obsessive compulsive key thing just didn’t give me the kind of relief that yoga did. As class progressed, it was all about my emotional state and nothing about the asana - I couldn’t do any of them, anyway. Either my tummy got in the way, or I wasn’t flexible enough, or I was too weak.
Who would have thought that going to yoga class and being inept could be so great? Not me, I tell ya. I was hooked, hooked, hooked. I did get a bit sidetracked for a while, thinking I needed to learn pretzel poses that hurt my back to feel even better emotionally, but it was momentary.
I was practicing yoga for years before I was strong enough, or, frankly, wiling, to heal from my childhood. I knew that when I did, there was going to be fallout, and I wasn’t sure I could cope with that. I needed to move across the world from my family, get divorced, and have to pick myself up all alone in a foreign place with no old friends first.
Through all these ructions, I knew I had a safe place to go: my yoga mat, and the peace I felt when I again dipped into that secret, safe, inviolable part of me that had never, and could never, be harmed.
I went to my mat, and the eating disorders fell away. I went to my mat, and the obsessive-compulsive behaviours eased. I went to my mat, and my anxiety lifted.
I went to my mat, and I squatted. And I held that squat for a long long time. I held myself up with my own arms, arms muscled with my own power. Arms that could hold people back if they needed to.
I went to my mat and I breathed, the strong oceanic sound of Ujjayi. Long breaths, not timid hiding breaths. No wonder it’s sometimes called Victorious Breath!
Only then did I know I was strong enough to heal. Healing was a pretty sucky process: practically the subject of a book. But, through that too, I had my yoga mat.
Sticky, shredded, foot-scuffed. And safe.
Is your mat a sanctuary for you, too? I’d love to hear your stories!