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Yoga as a Spiritual Awakening

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Yoga as a Spiritual Awakening

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They say addiction is a spiritual malady. It’s not a matter of choice, or weakness, or even necessarily hereditary, but an actual soul sickness. Which is precisely why it is so complicated and difficult to treat. Believe me, I know.

As a teenager, I was so completely scared, insecure, and unsure of myself that I reached for any means I could find to make myself feel somewhat normal.

Unfortunately, that resulted in addiction, depression, and anxiety - a black hole that seemed to swallow me up. After months of digging myself deeper and deeper into a mess, I ended up at the age of eighteen living in a recovery house and going to twelve step meetings.

There they talked about things like a higher power and meditation and prayer, but these concepts seemed absolutely foreign and uncomfortable to me. I was not interested in spirituality, thank you.

I began to realize, however, that I could not get well unless I really went deep into myself and took a good, hard look at what was there. I received some guidance at these meetings and made a beginning, and low and behold, I began to feel a little better. Enough to stay sober, anyway.

Fast forward several years. Now I was pregnant and physically uncomfortable. In an effort to find some physical relief, I found a prenatal yoga video. I turned it on, and what do I see but a woman wearing all white and a turban, chanting and meditating.

Almost completely scared away, I somehow managed to look past all that spiritual stuff and followed along with the asana. It made a huge difference in how I felt, so I kept up. Not with the chanting or the meditating, mind you. That was just weird.

The asana - that’s what I kept doing; every day, all throughout my pregnancy, and even after I gave birth. My trusty little prenatal VHS tape was my daily reprieve.

Eventually I decided to try a real, live yoga class. I found Vinyasa Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga and fell in love. My body grew stronger and more flexible, and I felt calmer than ever. I kept going and even began a home practice for when I couldn’t get to class. It all seemed to work...for a while. Suddenly I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was missing from my yoga practice. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I knew there must be more to it than all these great new postures I was learning.

One day in a yoga class, a song came on that grabbed my attention. After class, I asked the teacher the name of the singer, and promptly went home to buy the album. It must have been that very night that I sat down to meditate with this music playing, and suddenly I was chanting and crying and my heart was bursting wide open in a way that I had never experienced. This was it. This was what was missing.

Yoga is meant to be a spiritual practice. It is what heals our spiritual suffering, if we open ourselves up to its many tools. Asana is just one piece, and not even the most important one. If we stop there, we deny ourselves so much opportunity for growth.

Through mantra and meditation, I have had the chance to really go within; to clean the subconscious and learn how to be comfortable in my own skin. I’ve seen the Divine, all by looking right within my own heart. I’ve experienced a perfect understanding of my truth - who I am, why I am here, and how it all fits together. In short, I have experience healing at a soul level.

Do I believe that yoga can get someone out of the grip of addiction? Not initially; a more precise treatment is needed in the early days of recovery. One must directly treat the problem at hand before yoga can even be a possibility. However, yoga allows us to get familiar with and eventually be at ease with our thoughts and emotions. It can help us to connect to our soul, and ultimately heal the hurts that are held so deeply. Those hurts are what drive us to drink and drug in the first place.

Looking back, I now realize that I had to go to hell on earth to be able to recognize the absolute beauty that is available right here, right now, if we can only open our eyes to see it. I had to touch the center of my pain in order to ultimately understand it, heal it, and be free.

About the Author: Lexa Chernin

Lexa is an ERYT-200, RYT-500, Integral Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist, reiki practitioner, and co-owner of Yoga Secrets in Kennett Square, PA.

Certified in Vinyasa, Kundalini and Ayurvedic Yoga, Lexa Chernin brings an extensive understanding of the many methods of these profound practices to every class she teaches. Through asana, pranayam, mantra, meditation, and Ayurvedic living, she offers students a wide selection of tools that foster deep healing, allow for a shift in consciousness, and create the possibility of living from an expanded state.

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Yoga Saved My Life

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Yoga Saved My Life

Everyone who has suffered psychological trauma in life has a choice: You can let the pain completely destroy and eventually kill you. Or you can fight so hard to pull yourself out of it that you develop the warrior-like inner-strength to transform yourself into an unbreakable survivor.

The very circumstances which once made you feel so powerless could be the catalyst for your future empowerment. You can decide right now that you will no longer allow the past to detrimentally define you. It's never too late to make this resolution. Every moment is your metaphorical fork in the road. Which path will you choose?
         

                                                                  
After being born into an abusive biological family, I spent a large chunk of my formative years being shuffled around between youth shelters, residential treatment centers and a foster home. I finally got out of that system at the age of 15 and was living on my own by 16. I had to drop out of school because I didn't have a stable home or family and subsequently resorted to a life of crime to support myself financially. 

The dehumanizing environment in which I was raised was a veritable lightning rod for dysfunction. The abject humiliation of the sexual and emotional abuse I suffered during the earliest years of my childhood caused me to devalue myself immeasurably. I had no idea how to form (much less nurture) healthy relationships. Probably because I never experienced that at home. As a result, I debased myself in ways it repulses me to remember now... all because I just wanted to be accepted and loved so desperately by someone, anyone. 

All of the other kids I knew took the kind of affection I craved for granted as the norm. Even if their families weren't perfect, it was obvious that their parents loved them, that they'd never do anything to purposely hurt them. I saw how it was supposed to be on TV shows, commercials, at the park, in supermarkets. I assumed that the lack of it in my life had to be my fault, that there must be something wrong with me. I felt inherently unlovable and I hated myself for it. 

This mindset caused a chain reaction of reactive behaviors. My life had completely spiraled out of control by the time I was 12. I was breaking away from what had broken me by becoming the master of my own destruction. I didn't want to be a victim anymore, so I became my own abuser. Even after years of intense therapy, both in-patient and out, I still didn't recognize that my actions were simply a perpetuation of the cycle set into motion by my biological family. 

The truth didn't fully crystallize within my soul until I became a mother myself. On that day, 15 years ago, when my own child was placed in my arms for the first time, I finally realized that something of value could come out of the turmoil of my childhood after all. I had learned what NOT to do. My journey through motherhood has revealed what I should have known all along; I am capable of loving others in a healthy way and, despite my past, I am worthy of being loved in return. My son is a living testament to that fact. As a dear friend recently told me, "People who had the worst parents usually end up being the best parents. He's a very lucky young man to have such a great mom." 

It's definitely a crazy life story, but it has taken a happy turn. I've been blessed with so many awesome life experiences that I never would've believed possible during the darkest days of my childhood. This is not to say there haven't been emotional struggles and setbacks along the way. The scars from my childhood run very deep. It's something that will always be a part of me. However, instead of allowing the pain to destroy me, I've fought to become a warrior-like survivor. It turns out that the very circumstances which once made me feel completely powerless were actually the catalyst for my empowerment.

Thanks to a dedicated yoga practice, my perspective on so many aspects of the surroundings I once took for granted have been irrevocably altered. To borrow a line from a Fiona Apple song; "...as the scenery grows I see in different lights. The shades and shadows undulate in my perception. My feelings swell and stretch; I see from greater heights..."

                                                                                       Alexis Donahue RYT-200 

                                                                                      Alexis Donahue RYT-200 

Even after only a few yoga classes, I began noticing cracks in the negative mindset I once accepted as an inherent part of my personality. I discovered that the impervious fortress of cynical pessimism which I'd built up around myself in order to survive my childhood may not be necessary in my adult life. The walls slowly crumbled and beams of sunlight started to break through. My self-imposed prison of psychological darkness became illuminated by small, but precious, rays of what appeared to be contentment.

At first, I thought all of these fluctuations were merely a temporary shift in my soul and prepared to revert to my former sinister-self at any moment. As time stretches on, however, I've come to believe my transformation could be of a more permanent nature.

I don't have to shield myself from hope in order to protect myself from disappointment anymore. I've begun to trust that good things are possible for my future due to the paths I'm taking in the present, regardless of the pain of the past. 

Before these changes, I always felt like I had to secret away a part of myself and wear assorted masks for various occasions. It was easier to detach, avoid friendship, and keep to myself. My hermitage was a shell of protection from potential pain. If I never trusted anyone, never let anyone in, then no one could ever hurt me.

Yoga, more than anything else I've ever tried, has helped me to overcome those insecurities. As I melt into a puddle of sweaty, primordial ooze upon my mat, I realize that opinions are all a matter of perception. Once you reach a point of self-acceptance and stop trying to project your own version of perfectionism to the world, you begin to experience the first fruits of emotional freedom.

Freedom - which is defined by T.K.V. Desikachar as "the absence of the consequences from obstacles and the avoidance of actions that have distracting or disturbing effects" - is the ultimate goal of yoga."

My past is a part of me, my mistakes have shaped me, and I refuse to be ashamed of any of it. No longer will I put a veil over my life for the sake of appearances. What others see in me is not up to me. The judgments they may or may not make have no bearing over my fate. My path is my own and I choose to pave it with truth.

To quote Jay Fields- as written in Teaching People, Not Poses - I've come to understand that the very things I used to try to hide are what make me more interesting, and also what enable me to connect with other people in a way that is real and meaningful. I've discovered that the only person who thinks I should have my shit together when I walk into a room full of people is me. And I've come to accept that being myself, even if I'm sometimes needy or jerky or scared or sad, is far more preferable (and less exhausting) than constantly trying to outrun myself.

in 2014, I was granted a full scholarship to get my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training certificate from Arts Holding Hands and Hearts and The Light Within Yoga Studio. Since completing the training, I've been teaching yoga to girls in crisis at a local shelter. As I once was a girl in crisis living at a shelter, the opportunity to serve and inspire others in similar situations means the world to me. 

I realize I still have a long way to go on this journey, but I'm also taking time to stop and express my gratitude for every step of progress along the way. One day, through intense faith and sufficient effort, perhaps I will arrive at the storied gates of some far-fetched philosophical finish line. Perhaps samadhi - the enlightenment of self-realization, the last limb of the eight-fold yogic path, that which B.K.S. Iyengar described as "seeing the soul face-to-face, an absolute indivisible state of existence in which all differences between body, mind and soul are dissolved," and what my teacher Alison Donley simply calls "the rational result of rational behavior" - will be attainable. For now, it's one breath, one step, one moment at a time.

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