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Can You Be Addicted to Yoga?
Once an addict, always an addict. Right?
In this lifetime, I have been an addict.
I have been addicted to cigarettes. I started at 13 to fit in and control my weight and eventually quit 20 years ago to get pregnant, but I still miss them. They were little friends I could count on 20 times per day to either rev me up or wind me down. They kept me skinny and hid my shyness behind billows of sexy and exotic smoke. I have also been addicted to seeking approval from others, alcohol, food, exercise, mirrors, work, shopping, gossip, and Facebook—not necessarily in that order. I know. I know. Addict is a strong word, so full of drama. But I used all of this stuff, at one time or another, to either feel my way around in this world or to escape it.
One of my yoga teachers said something crosses over to an addiction when it becomes the answer to everything. When he told us this, I was a newbie to yoga. I had been practicing for 10 years, but that length of time still made me a child. (I have now been practicing for 18 years and am more like a stormy teen.) I was sitting in the front row of the lecture, a good girl, my legs and ankles wrapped up tight, in Padmasana (Lotus Pose). My knees were feeling a tiny but painful twinge and it did occur to me that maybe I shouldn’t be sitting in Lotus, but there was no way I was coming out and unwrapping my thighs. I needed to stay in what I thought was a superior position to hear his words. I needed him to not see me bail.
I shouldn’t have been sitting in a pose that caused pain to my knees. Knees injure easy and forever and, as far as the aging body is concerned, healthy knees are liquid gold. But here I was, a yoga teacher, putting up with pain in my precious knees and ignoring Ahimsa (non-harming) 101. On that day, I didn’t care. The truth was I wanted my teacher to notice me. Pick me out of a crowd. I wanted him to think I was special because I always felt like I was not. I believed I had all this potential to be something but I failed at it miserably. I was never enough or I was too much. Both were painful. But I would never show my weaknesses. In my childlike mind, vulnerability meant I had given up and that life had beaten me.
Today I was accused of being addicted to yoga. I ask myself, is this possible?
It’s possible to abuse anything. Just like my teacher said. When something crosses the line and becomes the answer to it all.
Right now, yoga is my answer.
My answer as I try to find myself, once again, at 48 years old, without creating a path of destruction that is wider than a tweak or discomfort here and there, and keep my body and most precious relationships intact.
When I go to my mat, my body is strong. It has been practicing daily for a long time and with abandon. It’s sometimes a wild animal ready to hunt, a goddess ready to play, or a lump of shapeless clay ready to be molded by forces unseen. Controlling my breath is easy for me now and no longer something I have to make happen. My breath is wiling to move through my more stubborn areas like the back of my heart. It has learned how to come in softly and touch the edges of my ordinariness with understanding.
My breath is me. There is no separation and, once in a while, on my mat, I have learned how to let go of needing to be something I am not, and immerse myself into paying attention to this moment, without wavering or creating a story, and this becomes my path to the divine. And by divine, I don’t mean God exactly, because I don’t know about something so big and lofty. I mean divine as an understanding that life is raw and unpredictable and it gets painful when we think our own unique brand of self-imposed suffering makes us separate or special.
We are all separate and the same. We are all a sea of water, connective tissue, bones, muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, neurons, and hormones working in a similar fashion. Yet we all have our unique stories. They’re what make us who we are. They give us texture. Like the stars to the sky, waves to the ocean, and the sound of our breath moving gently in the back of our throats, each one of us has a unique texture to add to this world. It is our breath that gives us a road map of where and how to pay attention.
An addiction keeps us navigating on the boat of fear. It doesn’t allow for vulnerability. It doesn’t allow for breath. If you really look at it, our addictions are guided by a big lie, that we are completely and utterly separate, and they make sure to keep us that way. We keep taking that last hit of whatever we think it is we need, and it reinforces the lies we tell ourselves. It doesn’t make the world more tolerable, instead it makes the world more harsh and unknowable.
When I go to my mat, I learn how to be with what is real. Am I escaping my day-to-day grind? Sometimes. But whether I am choosing to escape or not, my yoga practice makes me a better person. When we are choosing an addictive behavior, if we stop and ask ourselves if this behavior is consistent with the person I want to become, the truthful answer would be no. This behavior is keeping us from the person we want to grow into. This behavior is knocking down our spirits and playing harmful games with our self-esteem. Carolyn Myss says, “Self-esteem is our spirit in action.” Participating in our own addictions plays havoc with our self-esteem and stunts our spirits.
A consistent yoga practice helps me to make choices that are guided by reality, love and understanding and not ignorance or fear. When I drop my stories of separateness and guide my choices and actions by kindness and love, and not fear, this is not weakness. This is strength.
So for now, I go to my yoga mat. A lot. Sometimes twice a day. Maybe someday, when I have been practicing for 25 years, there will be no separation between my mat time and my living time. But for now I practice asana, breathing, and locks. May the posture be both steady and comfortable. Not everyone is going to understand my choices, or the time I dedicate to this practice, but I will. I will shine a light of compassion on the naysayers and maybe even ignore them, which might make them uncomfortable, which will then make me uncomfortable. But I can be with the discomfort of the world and myself from an open place. At the very least, I can say I am honoring my spirit and trying to live from my own integrity.
Anne Falkowski has been teaching yoga for over 15 years. Currently she is obsessed with what happens underneath the surface when we practice yoga, especially as women. She owns a yoga studio in CT and leads yoga workshops and a 200 hour YA certified yoga teacher training. Her book Namaste Fat Girl is being released in 2017.