“One day at a time” is a phrase you may have heard before.
In the world of Recovery, this idea is the cornerstone of maintaining long-term Sobriety. When I think of staying sober for the rest of my life; through weddings, funerals and Tuesdays; it often feels like too much. Too hard, too long, too much of a commitment. When I consider the prospect of staying sober for today, just today, it’s possible. Perhaps even probable.
Now don’t get me wrong, there was a time when even one day was too uncertain. Feel free to take this concept in bite-sized chunks, perhaps “one hour at a time”, “one minute at a time”, “one breath at a time”. This is where the parallels between Recovery and Yoga began for me.
Let me take you back to my first 90 minute class: middle of summer, downtown studio, early sobriety. Still in treatment in fact. The idea of taking this “one class at a time” quickly became impossible. In that room, 90 minutes may as well have been a lifetime. The urge to get up and burst out the side studio door was REAL. I learned that day that Yoga can be uncomfortable. I was already uncomfortable feeling things without the guise of booze or drugs. Now I’m asked to pile weird shapes, unbearable heat and what felt like yelling on top of that; oh and while you watch yourself crumble in a mirror. But I had been trying to keep myself “comfortable” for years with substances and it never worked. It had never really worked. I was starting to learn that people are not strong and capable due to a lack of discomfort, it was because of it. Because they allowed themselves to acknowledge, feel and move forward. After suffering for 90 minutes through that class, I emerged on the other side, for lack of a better word, “high”. Not the same kind of high that came from substances, or stealing, or getting away with something. It was the high of accomplishment and overcoming discomfort. It was the high of “trudging”.
A famous line from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous reads: “…as you trudge the road of Happy Destiny”. The definition of trudge is to “walk slowly and with heavy steps, typically because of exhaustion or harsh conditions”. Now this idea of trudging may not sound fun or inspirational, but as someone who had avoided doing or experiencing anything “heavy” for a lifetime, I found solace in this new feeling. I had trudged, endured, and made it out the other side a new person. I was practicing this daily in Sobriety, and now I was practicing it in Yoga too.
Fast forward seven years later, and the trudging (in both Sobriety and Yoga) has lessened. Or I’ve built up my stamina for trudging. Heavy and exhausting days have become fewer and further between, as have heavy and exhausting classes. I’m starting to experience more and more of the “Happy Destiny” promise. Actions that used to require an immense amount of effort are performed with more ease and grace. Does trudging still happen? Absolutely. And that’s when I remember that trudging is a good thing, right? Delayed gratification. Not always a friendly or familiar concept to the Alcoholic.
To this day, I am learning. I am learning how to live a life that follows the path of Recovery and that follows the path of Yoga. Two paths that oddly enough, seem to go hand in hand. Let me express here that I believe most of us are recovering from something. Whether its from substances, trauma, our relationships to people, food, exercise, or even our old ideas about what we are capable of. I used to imagine that “normal” people were everywhere, living perfect lives with ease. But I learned over time (especially as I started teaching Yoga), that “normal” isn’t a thing. We are all special and unique with our own special and unique struggles. I hope that these ideas can be forged into an application that serves your unique experience.
6 Parallels Between Recovery and Yoga
1. “One _____ at a time”.
Break down the task at hand into whatever size you need. It is more than okay to need a smaller chunk than your neighbor. Or than you needed yesterday.
2. Trudging is a good thing, right?
Remember that we are walking through the heavy things in life so that we become stronger and our burden feels lighter. If we are super lucky, so that we may help others along the way with our experience.
3. Observing Yourself without Judgement.
It is a tremendous gift to learn to observe yourself, so long as the practice of observation does not lead to judgment. Think of taking stock in your pantry. Try to throw out the things that no longer serve you with the same emotional attachment you would throw out an expired can of beans. It just isn’t working anymore.
4. The right way is the hard way.
Another concept that may not seem fun or inspiring. Taking short-cuts and the easy way out was all I did in active addiction. Today I practice the concept of “delayed gratification”.
5. Progress not Perfection.
I don’t know about you guys, but perfection is a long way off for me and a great way to manufacture my own misery. I think often of managing my own expectations and trying to be clear with myself and others what those are. A day where I grow in understanding and effectiveness is a good day.
6. It’s nice to have someone next to you.
Self- improvement is great, but sharing your experience with someone else is priceless. Sometimes I can’t see myself or my struggle clearly. As an imperfect individual I often get wrapped up in my own storyline and perception. Inviting someone in to see me through new eyes is a Godsend. Just as having another teacher or student see my posture or alignment can be a gamechanger.