“As my practice deepened, it ignited many things, including my path of activism. An activist is simply a person who sees a need for large scale change and begins personal action to move toward it.” ~ Nikki Myers, creator of Y12SR, The Yoga of 12 Step Recovery
My practice today is basically a rotation of different types of physical movement. I'm hypermobile in a few key areas, meaning I have connective tissue that tends to allow my joints to move beyond healthy, stable end-range into risk for injury. So simply practicing deep asana after deep asana is not great for me. I'm also an addict in long term recovery, so I have to safeguard against the unbridled pursuit of "bliss" (read: high). Simply put, anything I use to avoid, deny, hide, gloss over, or mask physical, energetic, emotional, or mental pain, discomfort, or dissonance can become an addiction. I have to stay honest in practice. And that's how I injured myself some years and years ago, before learning in teacher training how to properly support the body and that "sensation" is not always the end goal of asana. However uncomfortable or difficult, any action taken to properly employ structure, stability, awareness, and integrity, for me, goes a long way toward supporting boundaries, and ultimately, growth, on every level. So I have to practice asana, pranayama, meditation-- but also, run, pedal, squat, pull, press, and lift.
Boundaries and structure have been murky territory in my life, from early on. My family of origin was characterized by severe alcoholism on one side and varying degrees of mental illness on both sides, along with a tendency to squelch authentic emotional expression, and frequent bickering-- often leading to verbal and physical violence. In short, I rarely felt 100% safe, so as a child I had to take instinctive action to protect myself from danger-- including shutting up, looking good, playing along, keeping secrets, constant external monitoring and vigilance, and lowering expectations around love and acceptance from others. This was a lot of pressure for a young person aged 7-16, as you might imagine!
Something had to give. We learn from what we see every day, and what I saw was that social consumption of alcohol was fun. It felt good. It made people laugh. It brought friends together. And I was a young person who desperately sought connection and acceptance (not to mention had easy access). Over time the day-to-day stress of these confusing family dynamics on my developing self resulted in what might be characterized as misalignments among my own physical (annamaya), vital life (pranamaya), mental/emotional (manomaya) and value-driven (vijnanamaya) levels or koshas. The Sutras speak of this and science is backing up that recurrent, chronic stress leads to adverse health outcomes. Until fairly recently, I was largely unaware of how much an effect this had on me-- not to mention the genetic predisposition that I now understand was a major factor in my own addiction. As adulthood set in, the patterns around self-managing became so deeply engrained that I no longer saw them, if I ever did. And of course, I lost my conscious contact with Spirit.
In my mid-twenties, yoga began to help with that a bit, but my addiction was so strong it overwrote any impulse or instinct toward health in any lasting way. It also overwrote my own value system.
The tendency to turn from one's values and sense of integrity is perhaps the main focus of this post. Over time I forgot what was most important to me. I'm a Libra, and we are characterized by a deep need for balance, homeostasis, love and acceptance, and especially, justice. Our symbol is the Scales. We are constantly weighing our inner and outer worlds. But as an addict, I lost the ability to find balance and harmony. Or rather, it was inconsistent. On one front, I was able to articulate a sense of purpose, even starting a non-profit to share what I had so easily been given. On another front, I could barely stand to look at myself in the mirror anymore-- I couldn't even accept myself. And once my relationship with myself was gone, every other relationship suffered.
Of course this evolved over decades, but once I became aware of it, I could no longer ignore my own disease and the immediate, critical need to begin to treat it. And so I took action. I will forever be grateful to my yoga practice for eventually granting me the sensitivity and awareness necessary for me to see what I could not see before. My life was saved by yoga and by the numerous others I found in the recovery community. We save each other, daily, as Spirit works through us.
"We can't keep what we have without giving it away." This focus on service in Y12SR (The Yoga Of 12 Step Recovery-- more on that later) has, in the nearly five years since I began the recovery process in earnest, become incredibly important.
As I became an activist in my own life, I became reacquainted with my own values and my own sense of justice. Looking around, what I see today affects me at a deep level, and I now know why. I frequently hear suggestions from some in so-called conscious communities that "we're all one" and that social justice movements create separation and "that is not yoga"-- or something like that. I'd like to offer the teaching I received, that we are multi-dimensional beings, we are spirit, embodied-- in fact we are spiritual beings living a human existence. If I deny your humanity I have also denied your spirit, and vice versa. If you suffer, it affects me, because we are tied to one another through Spirit. Your liberation is tied to mine.
This makes for harder work-- it necessarily means I will need to take action, I will need to admit to myself the nature of my own bias and privilege (privilege simply means inborn or acquired qualities that offer one a cultural, physical, and/or economic advantage over someone else), and I will need to take a hard look at how my being in the world contributes to suffering or eliminates it. Do I need to be perfect at all times, say the right thing every time, know everything I need to know right now? No. As we say in the 12 step world, "We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection." All that is required is a willingness-- willingness is like a key in a lock. I'm more willing than ever to make mistakes, to admit weakness, to seek new information and to learn, because I no longer fear for my safety and there is nothing to protect, at the personal level, but my values. My experiences will come and go-- one day I will feel fired up and take action; the next, I'll be exhausted and needing a day of rest. One of the great practical applications of my own personal evolution with yoga is that it has helped me discern where my energies are best spent "just for today" and what is beyond my reach. But every day is a chance to move in the direction of my values and to "grow along spiritual lines." This gives me great hope for my life and especially for the future.
I feel today that there is a great opportunity for so-called "conscious communities" to call up one another and to support one another in doing the deep work of self-discovery. If we employ the values and principles of yoga the path becomes increasingly clear and the work increasingly possible. More on that in a future post.