Finding Clarity: A Short Memoir of My Yoga Practice
At age twenty seven, I found myself in the psychiatric ward of Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California, on suicide watch. I had been addicted to drugs and alcohol on and off, though mostly on, for about a decade. My issues with depression, anxiety, self hatred, insomnia and substance abuse had brought me to the edge of an emotional cliff, one that I was ready to plunge off of and finally end my suffering. Stanford was a last ditch effort on my part to help me survive: before I killed myself, I wanted to know that I had done everything in my power to save my life. If it didn’t work—well, at least I had tried.
I was put back on medication at the ward; I took all the meetings and classes on cognitive brain therapy, I began to meditate for a few seconds (any longer than a minute and I’d unravel back into the abyss of my fractured mind), and I took a yoga class. The class was seated, in a very basic and introductory style. Still, it calmed me, and it brought me back to my high school days, a decade earlier, when I first fell in love with the practice of yoga.
I wrestled in middle school and my freshman year. After that, I was completely turned off to the world of athletics. I’ve never cared for sports, and I refused to play them. Junior year, I walked out of gym class on the first day, went into the office and told them that I wasn’t playing sports. Whatever else there was for PE credit, I’d take.
“Well,” one of the academic advisors said. “There’s a yoga/walking/cardio class.”
“Perfect.” I said.
I went in with no expectations whatsoever, and I fell in love with yoga almost immediately. My upper body strength from wrestling led me to advance in my personal yoga practice almost effortlessly, exponentially. I was one of the only guys in the class (the ratio was about one to ten, something that I still enjoy about the practice), and I began to do yoga regularly. Still, my home life was in flames, and I had started using drugs and alcohol as a way to both rebel and cope with my life. I left school at the start of my senior year, barely graduating, and began to pursue a life of music, drugs, writing, drinking, and an overall reckless abandonment of a conventional lifestyle. My yoga practice faded as I grew older. At age twenty four, a catastrophic, near death collision with a drunk driver sent me into the depths of my darkest and most dangerous downward spiral. All my life I had struggled with depression, a vicious cycle of self hatred and narcism, and by the end of my twenty seventh year, everything had built up to a volatile and deadly crescendo.
Now, in the psychiatric ward of Stanford, the medications were beginning to take hold again; I was learning techniques to effectively deal with my thoughts in a healthy way, and I once again felt the calming, grounding, comforting effects of yoga, something I had nearly forgotten. I knew then, that if I was going to survive, if I was going to turn everything around, I had to stay sober, I had to stay on my meds, and I had to start practicing yoga again. I seemed to recall that there was a studio near my house, and I promised myself that once I was released, I’d go check it out.
I got out of Stanford and a day later I walked half a mile down the street to Bright Heart yoga studio. I picked up a schedule from the information box and walked back home. The following day, I took my first yoga class in nearly ten years.
The day after class, I felt a healthy soreness in my shoulders and my obliques—and I was once again hooked on the practice. I began to go to the studio three times a week. Then, as my body began to adapt, to lose weight and slim down into lean muscle, I progressed to five days a week. I began to work the front desk at the studio in exchange for a membership, and my obsession with yoga sustained for over two years.
Since day one at the studio, people had been asking me if I was a teacher. When I told them no, they asked why. It had never occurred to me to teach, I told them. My yoga practice was extremely personal and deeply introspective to me. Still, as a male practitioner of yoga, the question of teaching came up quite often. It was a mild irritation. I told myself: let me do five hundred yoga classes, then I’ll think about teaching.
Five hundred and seventy yoga classes later, I received an opportunity to partake in teacher training. I hesitantly agreed, and within three months, I had nearly completed my 200 hour training, sans teaching a full class. Still, the thought of being a yoga teacher seemed too daunting to take on. I was still wrapped up in remembering my past: years of impulsive, careless, and dangerous behavior had me anxious that I wouldn’t make a good teacher; I felt that I lacked a kind of purity to really teach. Months passed as I refused to complete my training; teaching one class was just one too many for me.
During this time, my meditation practice had grown quite expansively. I began receiving therapy from an amazing psychologist. Slowly I started to come to terms with my past, realizing that who I once was did not define who I am now. Seven hundred and fifty yoga classes later, I taught my first yoga class. After watching the video recording of my first class, I know that I am, truly, a yoga teacher. I realize now that my entire journey is what makes me a good teacher.
I believe in yoga. I believe in the practice; I believe in the results and the benefits. And because of this, I now believe in my ability to teach. To guide others in the practice that helped save my life is an amazing honor.
It is the start of a beautiful journey.
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