I don't take myself too seriously. Okay, that’s not true. I actually take myself way too seriously. And while I'm being honest, I might as well admit that I have an occasional tendency to rage. It's probably safe to say that I'm pretty far from perfect. Yet, chock-full of imperfections as I am, I can't exactly say I'm beating myself up about it. In fact, I'm in a really good place now, somewhere I don't think I would have arrived if seriousness and anger hadn't shaped my decisions in life. So although I crave the day where I'm actually as light-hearted and peaceful as I strive to be, I am light years away from where I started eight years ago when I first embarked on my journey in yoga.
The journey began shortly after I returned from the 2003 Iraq invasion as an Army lieutenant. During the months following my return, I went a little crazy, stumbling around in a fog of pain and not knowing what was really wrong with me, just that I was in a very bad place. Images of destruction and death constantly flashed through my mind. I couldn't shake the feeling that death was breathing down my neck, waiting for the opportunity to snatch me away. There were times where I felt my heart would explode from an overwhelming flood of adrenaline. Other times, I felt so numb and detached that I wondered if I'd ever feel anything again. I found myself saying and doing things that seemed to be the actions and words of somebody else, as if I were at the end of a long, dark tunnel and could barely recognize myself on the other side. And since I didn’t know how communicate my pain and vulnerability in a language that anyone would understand, I shouted, screamed, and threw fits just to be heard. This deplorable behavior ended up hurting some of the people whom I loved most during what became the lowest point of my life.
Looking back, I realize now that I had post-traumatic stress disorder. Although I couldn't see this clearly at the time, all of the signs were there: sadness, anger, emotional detachment, extreme agitation. I did not seek professional help because officers in the Army do not see psychiatrists. So, left to my own devices, I quietly, yet desperately, turned to yoga. I had practiced yoga off and on since 2002, but it wasn't until early 2004 that I started to get serious. What started out as a novelty exercise and a shortcut to Madonna arms quickly became my saving grace. There, on the mat, I could breathe through my pain, find some relief from the nightmare that was my life, and feel compassion for the monster I had become.
I cannot say enough about how my practice has healed me. I look at who I was at 25 and who I am now, and although the essence of who I am hasn't changed, I am so much more grounded and open than I used to be. Because of my practice, I've been able to find beauty through life's atrocities and healing through my hurt. I still think about death regularly. But instead of being afraid, I’ve used yoga to see its looming presence as a reminder to be grateful for each blessed day that I am alive.
More importantly, the shifts yoga has inspired in me led me down the path to my most healing venture yet: my family. In my freakishly amazing husband, I found someone who chooses daily to love me despite all of my flaws which, as anyone in love knows, makes accepting and loving myself that much easier. Also, my deep and visceral love for my daughter Beatrix has taught me that working through my demons and getting a grip on my attitude toward life cannot wait; change needs to happen now so that I can properly fulfill my role as parent and teacher.
Over the years, yoga has taught me that I'm unequivocally responsible for taking care of my physical and mental health because if I don't take full responsibility for my behavior, I'll continue to wander around in a state of pain and anger and contribute to the very cycle I'm trying to break. My practice continues to help me take some things far more seriously than I used to, like my relationships, my words, my actions, my diet, while also lightening my heart and allowing me to take myself far less so. Come to think of it, I also haven't raged in quite a while. Even though I can't explain exactly how it all works, I can say with absolute certainty that yoga absolutely, deeply, and truly heals.