What brought you to yoga? It’s a common question amongst yogis and the answers vary widely. While some come to the mat seeking physical transformation, others come seeking mindfulness and peace. For me, being on the mat chases away the storm clouds.
My journey to the mat began many years before I ever stepped foot inside a yoga studio. When I was sixteen I suffered a sexual trauma that set me on a path of shame, self-hatred and a number of bad choices from toxic relationships to eating disorders. I continued trekking down this path of self-destruction through college and then law school.
In college and into law school, I blew through relationships at a steady pace. Sometimes I was mistreated, other times, I was the one doing damage. I didn’t seem to care who I hurt or why. In an effort to deal with my emotions and leave the self-destructive behavior behind, I began running. However it didn’t take long before that too became an un-healthy form of escape as I would often lace up my running shoes, after a night of studying, around 10:00 pm and run until well past midnight. In those days I would allow myself to eat no more than 800 calories a day. If I got careless and consumed more, then I either ran longer or made myself throw it up. It wasn’t pretty. By the time I had finished law school and passed the Bar exam in 1999, I had lost 30 pounds and was exhausted.
After law school, things seemed to get better. I began to focus on my career and had less time to dwell on my past. I sort of swept it all under the proverbial rug and considered myself cured and happy. Then came marriage. You see, I was never the girl that sat around dreaming of her wedding day. I didn’t fantasize about the dress, walking down the aisle or how many bridesmaids I would have. I wanted to be an attorney and I certainly didn’t want to “belong” to anyone. Of course I always thought I would eventually find a partner that I wanted to spend time with, but at that particular time I wasn’t really pursuing it. Then all of my friends began to get married and I turned 29. The big “3-0” was looming and I somehow convinced myself that getting married was the next logical step. So I found myself a nice guy and married him. Little did I know at the time, how I would struggle with married life.
Let’s face it, marriage is tough. I know some of you find great joy in your marriage and that is really great. For me, marriage often feels suffocating. I am a bit free-spirited and not very good at following rules. I don’t like being told when to come home and who is appropriate for me to spend time with. If I want to jump in my car and disappear for a few days, I don’t want to have to explain it to anyone. I hate the lack of privacy and I’m a neat freak so I struggle with sharing space with other people. Despite all these things, the marriage seemed to work until it didn’t.
About three years in, I could feel the deep, dark clouds of depression begin to descend upon me. By the way, this is the best way I have found to describe the feeling of how my depression just sort of sinks down on me, no notice, no warning. Starting at the age of sixteen it has come and gone most of my adult life, always the same, sinks down like a storm cloud, leaves a path of destruction in it’s wake, then magically lifts. I suppose when its not sitting on my shoulders causing damage, it hangs out somewhere in the clouds above my head always ready to sink down if I make the slightest wrong turn.
So depression came, along with a sense of dissatisfaction with both my job and my marriage. It got so bad that one night I drove home from work, opened a bottle of wine and crawled under the dining table where my dog, Watson, was hanging out. I sat there drinking wine, talking to Watson and crying for hours. I felt lost, sad, and uncertain. I told myself that I wasn’t coming out until I made a plan to change my life. I truly felt that I had hit bottom. Unfortunately I didn’t make any changes to my life that night. Instead, accustomed to just pulling myself up out of the muck and persevering, I finished the bottle of wine, kissed the dog on the nose, crawled out from under the table and went to bed. I woke up the next morning and went to the office as if nothing had happened the night before. I continued this pattern, on auto-pilot, for several months.
Then in May of 2005, my husband and I took a vacation to southern Spain. It was beautiful, warm and magical. I fell head over heels in love with Spain. I could have stayed there forever. I could totally see me living there. I would buy a boat and keep it in Marbella. For work, I’d paint and write. For fun, I’d drink Sangria and learn to make awesome paella. My husband, on the other hand, had other ideas. He wanted a baby and thought that we should start trying. My gut told me that I wasn’t ready. My husband however managed to convince me that we should try before we really felt ready because “these things generally take some time.” Well…not that much time. Reluctantly, I consented and the very next month I was pregnant with my first son.
I was apprehensive in the beginning but pregnancy grew on me. Yes, literally and figuratively. By the end of nine months I was feeling really happy. So happy in fact that the idea of leaving the baby in daycare and returning to work was inconceivable. My marriage was working again and I told my husband that he needed to find a new job that doubled his salary so I could quit my job and stay at home with the baby. Always happy to please, he did just that. His new job however required us to move to Colorado. So in the course of about three months, I had a baby, quit my job, and moved away from all my friends and family.
It was a major adjustment for me but I embraced life as a stay-at-home mom. It was time consuming and exhausting and I absolutely loved it. Once again I was so busy that I didn’t have time to dwell on anything from my past. I threw myself into building a new life in a new state. My husband’s job was going well and he had received a promotion. There was no financial need for me to return to work so we decided to have another baby. Our son was only 18 months old when we made the decision. Again, thinking it might take some time, we started the process. Well, guess what? Pregnant on the second try this time!
If you’ve ever been pregnant at 35 while chasing a toddler around then you know how exhausting it can be. Add in that I was two states away from my family, most of my friends and lacked a support system and you’ve got the recipe for a big ol’ dose of postpartum depression. I could feel the storm clouds descending yet again and felt helpless. I was hormonal, exhausted, and lonely. I was once again feeling disconnected from my marriage and with two small children and endless days of feedings, diapers and baths, I sunk into myself and pulled away from almost everyone I knew. Although I had started running again to lose the baby weight and had joined a very supportive playgroup, I suffered in silence for nearly two years after the birth of our second son.
Then one evening in 2009, when my husband was traveling for work and after I had put the kids to bed, I found myself once again, opening a bottle of wine and joining Watson under the table. This time I was too tired to sit so I lay there on the floor, crying and wishing I could just run away. Run away to Spain. Live on a boat. Paint, write and make paella. Fortunately, this time I knew that I couldn’t crawl out from under the table until I had a plan. My children needed me. They needed me to pull myself up out of the muck. This time, I made a plan. I decided that night that I would find a counselor and find a way, once and for all, to deal with my past and the person I had become. I had to effectively “deal” with the feelings of shame, failure and low self-esteem that had followed me since I was sixteen.
As luck would have it, I began working with a counselor who I connected with right way. She suggested I try yoga as a supplement to our therapy. Curious to try anything to feel better, I started going to a class with some friends. Between the behavioral counseling and the yoga, it wasn’t long before I was working through the shame and guilt of my past and beginning to accept myself. I began to find things about myself I actually admired and even loved. Gasp! Yes, I was healing. My imagination blossomed and I began writing again. It felt so good. I finally felt good.
Even after I felt “healed” and stopped going to therapy, I continued practicing yoga on and off for several years just to keep the storm clouds from descending. Then last May, I planned an end of the school year, pre-summer, self-care get-away just for myself up in the mountains. I attended a 2-day yoga workshop taught by Julia Clarke and was blown away. By the end of the workshop I felt really, truly, fiercely alive and inspired beyond my wildest dreams. I came home with a feeling in my gut that I needed to be on the mat. I needed to be practicing consistently. I started going to classes three times a week and before the summer ended I knew that I wanted to become a yoga teacher. I wanted to share my journey and share the healing and inspiration I had found through yoga.
So the next time you roll your mat out to practice, I challenge you to pause and ask yourself why. Why do you practice? For the workout, or are you looking to chase away your storm clouds? We all face storms from time to time. Chances are, yoga can help you chase the clouds away.