December 15, 2015

A Departure from Yoga, A Return to Myself.

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Two years ago, I threw myself into yoga in order to overcome some deeply wounding situations including my first heartbreak as well as alcohol abuse.

The minute I stepped into my first class, I thought I would never turn back. I saw myself 30 years later still attending yoga classes four times a week, sweating and meditating and breathing and healing.

But it’s now been nine months since my last yoga class.

Stepping away from my practice was not a choice. A neck injury that refused to mend persisted for months and I could not run away from the truth that yoga was not helping, but hurting. Even subtle movements brought tears to my eyes and even changing my bed sheets would result in me having to ice my neck afterward.

Chronic neck pain turned into 15-day long migraines, and 15-day long migraines eventually turned into a deep depression. Without yoga to help me out of it, I struggled to keep my head above water. Coming home from work every night to just lie on my couch and watch television was not the life I wanted to live. I couldn’t even come up with the energy to play with my attention-starved cat or clean my apartment. As a musician, I would normally write songs every day. I realized it had been several months since I even wrote a single lyric.

Losing touch of my true passions was heartbreaking and I didn’t want to let any more of those parts of myself slip away.

Over the months, I did my best to seek out solutions such as chiropractic work, physical therapy and acupuncture, but to no avail. Taking advice from a family member, I took the plunge and spoke with my primary care physician about my options regarding anti-depressants.

I had never wanted to pump drugs into my system. Yoga had taught me to ride the waves of pain and embrace whatever I was feeling. But at the end of the day, the darkness I was engulfed in was not something I could embrace. I knew this was something that needed to be addressed, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone.

My doctor prescribed me an anti-depressant that also targets pain, and even though I’ve only been on this medication for a short time, I am already feeling such relief. For the first time in months, I have been able to sleep on my stomach without my neck breaking out into spasms. And I’ve even found an osteopathic doctor who I believe is going to do wonders for my neck and spine.

As this all has progressed, I’ve had to remind myself the true lessons I’ve learned through yoga. One of the main reasons I stepped onto the mat was to form a better relationship with myself and realize I didn’t need to judge myself so harshly. I, and probably all of us, always place judgment on my every move, my every thought. Wherever I happened to be was just not good enough.

Yoga showed me otherwise. It taught me to be okay with what I was feeling and to do what I needed to do in order to be comfortable. But without the physical practice, I had lost sight of that lesson. I thought without asanas, I was no longer a yogi. I was no longer honoring myself.

But an amazing yoga teacher and friend of mine reminded me over drinks one night that I am now, more than ever before, honoring myself and still practicing yoga, and I am doing it in every moment of my life.

I practiced my yoga when I listened to my body and gave it what it needed in the form of medication. I practiced my yoga when I didn’t judge myself for needing the help. I practiced my yoga when I recognized the physical postures were not doing anything good for me anymore.

We don’t need a mat to experience the joy and healing power of yoga. We don’t need a studio to prove we can move and live with awareness. If anything, I’ve realized that taking this medication is allowing me to be more aware and to actually be present for the first time in months. And perhaps in the future, I will be able to get back to a physical practice.

But in the meantime, I will continue to practice my yoga in whatever form it happens to come in, as yoga is not exclusive to physical postures. Yoga is how we take every breath, how we listen to our hearts, how we take care of ourselves and how we learn to heal.




5 Ways We Know It’s Time to Break Up With Our Yoga Students.


Author: Chelsey Engel

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Axel Naud/Flickr


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Chelsey Engel