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Yoga and Sobriety

I have been asked many times how long I’ve been practicing yoga. The truth is, that’s a bit of a long answer. I started practicing yoga back in 1997 in my final year of theatre school. My movement teacher incorporated an hour and a half of Bikram yoga every Friday morning. It was my first experience with asana and I fell in love right away. I continued to practice after college. I found a Bikram studio downtown and practiced regularly. I also started to branch out – I started practicing at Downward Dog with Diane Bruni and tried to get to class at least twice a week. But something else was brewing in me. Something that, at the time, I thought was relatively normal. I mean, everyone was partying. Drinking and drugging were part of my social life and it all went together like tea and cookies. I was a waitress in a fast-paced supper club where everyone was drinking and drugging. Cocaine, ecstasy, weed and copious amounts of booze… It was everywhere and accepted as par for the course. What does this have to do with yoga, you might ask? Well for me, it pretty much has everything to do with it.

As my alcoholism took hold of me, my yoga practice dwindled. I thought about yoga often, and the odd time I dragged my hungover ass to a class I spent half the time wondering where I would have “lunch” after class. “Lunch” being code word for: where is there a decent LICENCED place as close to the studio where I can get a glass of wine with food. Not exactly the thoughts that should be coursing through a yogi’s mind while in savasana, but it was what it was. I think I even went to class a few times half in the bag. I mean, who doesn’t have a couple glasses of wine after work and go to yoga? I was a smoker at the time too. I seriously apologize to anyone who practiced beside me back then. Who doesn’t love a stale wine and ciggy-reeking practitioner? Seriously, I am sorry.

Needless to say, my practice fell into the background of my life. I thought of it often but alcohol and drugs had me in their clutches – cunning, baffling and powerful. I honestly didn’t see it coming and then it was too late. All of a sudden 10 years had passed and I was full blown. I was a desperate, depressed, barely functioning drunk with a very bleak outlook on my future. I knew I needed help. I desperately wanted to stop but I didn’t know how. I couldn’t see my life without the wine glass in my hand. I had built an identity around wine and as much as I knew I was an alcoholic, I kept thinking that if I REALLY wanted it badly enough that I would be able to stop. But I couldn’t. The insanity and obsession were so embedded in me that there was only one way out. I had to quit. There wasn’t any other way.

I was very fortunate to have met a few alcoholics in the restaurant industry. As you can well imagine, there are a few of us in the business and with the help and guidance of one particular friend I found my way to a detox centre and AA. I made a commitment the day I walked through the door of the Glendale House at St Joseph’s Hospital. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I couldn’t take the stress, the shame and the embarrassment any longer. I was ready to quit and get on with my life. I just had no idea what that looked like or how I was going to get there but the important thing was that I was ready.

Three months into my sobriety I decided to give myself a gift. I had been desperately wanting to go on a yoga retreat that my friend Grace Van Berkum was holding out of Nicaragua. I thought, what a better way to kick-start the “living” part of my sobriety than getting healthy and start doing yoga again! I went on that retreat and to say it changed the course of my life would be a massive understatement. It changed everything…

I came back from that trip with a different spring in my step. My body started to change. After all the years of abusing my body with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and poor eating habits, my body, skin and hair started to reflect what was happening to my insides. After that trip, I started to feel stronger and people started to notice weight was falling off of me. My skin started to look brighter, my eyes were clearer. I joined a yoga studio called Kula in the Annex and practiced everyday. I went to the studio with as much fervour as I did when I had done my 90 meetings in 90 days. I couldn’t miss a day. Some might say that I became addicted to yoga. In hindsight I would have to agree. But in my opinion, becoming addicted to yoga, health and wellness was a whole hell of a lot better than the alternative. Having an addictive personality like mine, you have to be careful about everything but I truly believe that my crazy attachment to yoga back in the early stages of my sobriety helped catapult me to where I am today. I know that for sure.

Last year I decided to take my love of yoga to the next level. I had been practicing religiously in between running a restaurant and had come to a point where I wanted more from my practice. I wanted to be a teacher. I was terrified of taking the plunge, but nobody ever achieved greatness by playing it safe so I did it. I applied to the Yandara Yoga Institute in Baja, Mexico and after being accepted, I started to plan a journey of a lifetime. I decided to take a journey beyond the training to Bali, Thailand, India and London, England. A little Eat, Pray, Love, if you will. It was amazing – it was a solo journey that took 5 1/2 months to complete. It was scary, exhilarating, lonely, satisfying and exactly what I needed to put my life into perspective.

Four months back and I am teaching at Iam Yoga, subbing at Kula and saying yes to as many teaching opportunities as I can. Yoga opened up a world to me I never thought existed or if I did, I didn’t think I would be privy to it. I know now that I can do anything I want or set my mind to. I am a strong, beautiful, talented, compassionate woman who has been to hell and back through the world of addiction. Yoga and sobriety has given me a life I only thought other people were allowed to have. I’m excited for my future with all of the unknown possibilities. My head is clear and my heart is open.
Yoga means the world to me. It saved me during a very dark time. It provided light and breath when I needed it most. I love the fact that I get to share this ancient practice with those that are open to its potential. I believe I have a calling to give back to my AA community by bringing yoga to people who were just like me. I know I am supposed to be on this path. I know God has a plan for me. I am a very grateful sober yogi today. That is what yoga means to me.

By Teri Carty
Find Teri’s blog at Terianncarty.com.

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