by Lexa Chernin: 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.