The first yoga class I ever took was in an inpatient treatment program in New Jersey about ten years ago. I was intrigued, but it definitely wasn’t love at first pose. From age thirteen to nineteen I was severely depressed.
Including outpatient, inpatient and residential – I was treated a total of thirteen times. My inner angst first manifested as an eating disorder, followed by self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse and finally suicidal thoughts and actions. I spent more time in hospitals and the offices of health care professionals than I did in high school or college.
When I had a free moment away from my rigorous treatment schedule, my dad and I would attend yoga classes at a studio nearby. I was envious of yoga students who radiated peace and tranquility. No matter what I did to prevent it, a dark cloud followed me onto the mat.
I often left classes prematurely because I couldn’t stop obsessing and worrying. I’d close my eyes and look away so no one could see that I was fighting back tears. The negative voices in my head were always louder than the instructor’s. I gave up on trying to quiet the voices, on trying to be in the present.
The idea of treating my body like a temple was laughable when it seemed like the only thing I knew how to do was abuse it. By the time I ended high school and prepared to go off to college my life was spiraling downward towards irreparable misery.
After five suicide attempts I found myself in a series of different treatment programs for about six months. When I finally returned home I knew that something inside me was beginning to change. My undeniable lust for death had subsided and my days were getting a little easier. I was learning that I’d rather live than die. I learned that I could not run from my demons, only face them head on.
I returned to my mat in hopes of healing myself from all of the pain and suffering I’d known for so long. Yet, I had no idea how much it would change my life when I was finally able to let it in. Yoga has reunited my mind and my body, formerly two separate entities, each miserable in their own right. More importantly, it made my body a place where I could stand to be.
I have left behind all of my self-mutilating habits since returning to yoga. I can now look in the mirror and see myself, see my scars, and accept all of it with a greater sense of understanding, and a little bit of love. I believe that time healed my external wounds, but it was yoga that healed me internally.
Energetically, yoga classes made me feel lighter. All of a sudden the weight of my burdens didn’t seem so impossible to bear. No matter how bad of a day I had, I knew I could walk into a class and leave feeling better. It was hard to believe that there was a place out there where I could go that was guaranteed to make me feel better about myself and my situation. This was unlike anything I’d experienced before.
Yoga opened my eyes to the fact that things didn’t always have to be so dark. If you attend yoga classes at studios, you’ll commonly see the teachers and the students end the class by taking their hands to their hearts and bowing to one another. “Namaste,” they’ll say. Roughly translated this means, “the light in me honors the light within you”. Each time I practice, it becomes easier to accept the darkness within me, as well as the light.