How I Fell in Love with Yoga

Yoga was one of the practices I found in my first several years of recovery. Not only did it help me through the ups and downs of the early stages, but it also became a nonnegotiable staple in my life. How I found yoga—and fell in love with it—is somewhat serendipitous. Basically, in 1991, I walked off the street into a yoga class in San Francisco. I had a bit of a problem at first: Most yoga classes are 90 minutes, nearly the length of a movie, and I was stuck in a difficult relationship with time. I was terribly impatient. No matter where I was, I would try to bring the future here faster. How would I possibly get through such a long class? I’d be in those first yoga classes looking for the clock in the room. How much more time? The postures were very difficult for me. I had so much tension and tightness in my body. I’d be at my edge after only five minutes, trying to find my breath and listen to the teacher’s instructions. I remember one teacher walking over to me with considerable empathy, assuring me that someday soon Downward-Facing Dog would become a rest pose. All I could reply, as a waterfall of sweat poured off my head, was, “Well, not today.”

Yoga was a thrilling challenge. I loved the athleticism and physicality of it. It made me feel something intense. Yes, there is intensity to yoga. You are burning through old habits, opening up channels that might never have been open before. You are stretching connective tissue and adding powerful breath and prana (life force) into the mix. You have to focus, listen, and connect words with parts of your body. A teacher might say, “Press down into your feet in such a way that you feel the earth press back up.” So I would bring my attention to my feet, press down, and begin to feel the rebound of energy up through my body. “Breathe more slowly and more deeply.” And I would bring my attention there. Wherever the teacher directed my attention, I would learn to connect with that area of my body or mind. I would sweat out of every pore, and the detox of that felt amazing. I felt clean inside and out.

Ninety minutes later, having come through an intimate and powerful experience, I would be directed to lie down, relax completely, and let the full weight of my body rest upon the earth. This was Savasana, or Corpse pose. The feeling was electric—energy humming through my body. I felt like blood was pouring into areas of my tissues that it had not been able to reach for some time. It was relieving and healing, a feeling of more ease than I could remember. When had I ever paid 90 minutes of attention to my breath and body? In all honesty, there were plenty of times during a 90-minute yoga practice when I found myself distracted. Nonetheless, over time I would learn to pay better and better attention to what happened on my yoga mat. It was my universe for that time period.

One day, many years later, classes started to go by without me noticing the clock. This was around the time when I no longer desired to use drugs and alcohol. A major shift had happened. My thinking had changed. My relationship to time had changed. I had changed.

This essay is adapted from Recovery 2.0, by Tommy Rosen.