Narcissistic Recovery: Yoga

I stayed in downward dog today for the entirety of the time the instructor asked. I took each deep breath. I centered myself physically and emotionally. I felt the stretch in the backs of my shoulders and my hamstrings. And my left shoulder, for the first time, did not give out on me.

This is an achievement that has been years in the making.

 

The past month has been a challenge. I joined a yoga studio and hated it. I cried during almost every class. I judged myself against everyone else and found myself wanting. I cried as I not only failed at maintaining poses but failed to achieve the basic mental and emotional tenets of yoga.

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“Yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists.”

In yoga as in life, it is important to accept where one is on their journey. This does not mean one should ignore challenges or refuse to accept them, but the path towards success starts in the present moment. One cannot change where one is at present. One can only work towards being somewhere else at some future moment.

The yoga studio I first joined was not an environment where this was possible for me.

I felt unwelcome and uncomfortable there. I do not know if this is because of my current state of physical fitness, but in my current mindset, it very much felt that way. My body is not taut, toned, and fit. Everyone else’s was.

The yoga studio was walled in mirrors. I had no choice but to see myself during every single class. All I could see in the mirror was how out of place I looked compared to the rest of the people in the room. I was an elephant among gazelles.

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“Yoga is not about self improvement, it’s about self acceptance.” – Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa

Being in an environment where everyone but me was perky, energetic, and fit, and, to make matters worse, where it seemed nobody wanted to talk with me or exchange greetings, quickly prompted what I now know to be the beginnings of a depressive cycle.

I am grateful I have people around me who practice yoga and could speak to this. I am also incredibly grateful I live in an area where yoga studios are plentiful. There are many to choose from and I was encouraged to give a different studio a try.

I quickly realized most studios in my area provide introductory offers, so trying one on for size does not involve a large monetary commitment. The studio I initially joined offered a two-week introductory package, which allowed me to attend unlimited classes over a two week period for a minimal fee. I was able to try a variety of the classes they offered. I did not realize this was common until I did more research.

Thus, shortly before the two weeks had expired I signed up for a similar two-week package at a different studio. I did not feel I was wasting any money by not sticking it out at the first studio for the entirety of the two weeks. The dollar amount was trivial.

I was delighted to find the experience between the two studios was night and day.

I arrived at my first practice at the new studio early so I would feel more comfortable. I was the first person there. I set up my mat, hoping I was orienting myself correctly (I wasn’t sure where the instructor would be). I grabbed props.

As people started coming in, I noticed many of them knew each other by name and greeted each other fondly. A few recognized me as new and introduced themselves, sharing a little about their yoga background and their experiences with this particular studio. They made me feel welcome and at home in this new environment. When the instructor joined us, she greeted people by name, introduced herself to me personally, and asked how we each were doing. She remembered individual people’s physical and emotional challenges and inquired about their status with genuine concern. She asked if anyone had anything specific they wished to focus on during the day’s practice.

There were no mirrors on the walls. There was no judgment. There was only warmth and kindness.

As we engaged in our practice I made sure to not look around me. I didn’t want to know how others were doing; I wanted to focus inwards and on myself. But at one point, I happened to inadvertently glance around the room.

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5 things yoga has taught me

It was while we were in a standing twist. I saw that only about half the attendees were attempting the pose. A few people were in child’s pose. One was in shivasana. A few were in different poses entirely.

I had a rush of recognition. I had found my people. I had found my studio. Whatever I needed to do on any given day, wherever I was at any moment, I knew I would be accepted.

Finally, after years of attempting to form a regular yoga practice, my yoga mat has become my haven. Finally, I am realizing the benefits I’ve heard others speak of and I am enjoying yoga not as a chore, but as a relief from chores. It is my space of freedom and acceptance. It is where I am most myself on any given day. It is where I best understand all I am feeling and all I am surrounded by.

I still cried during a few classes, primarily when I wasn’t able to hold downward dog. I have been impatient with myself. But, I have been able to accept that these are two different challenges; a physical challenge and an emotional one. I have been encouraged to be kind to myself as I address either or both of those challenges on any given day.

And then I’ve tried again. And again. And again.

Thus, today, for the first time ever, I found myself in downward dog and not needing to transition into child’s pose. As we ended our time in downward dog and moved into the next pose, my eyes welled up with tears of joy. Our instructor touched my shoulder as she walked by, briefly making eye contact with me and nodding approval. I knew she understood. I knew my moment was a shared one.

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“Yoga is a dance between control and surrender — between pushing and letting go — and when to push and let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your well-being.” – Joel Kramer

For the first time in a long time, the Narcissist’s voice in my head fell silent. There was no criticism to give. I had achieved something special for me and all I heard were the feelings of joy and relief inside me, shouting and dancing in celebration.

Healing is not linear. Nor is getting better at anything. But today, I achieved an important milestone. I showed myself I’m capable of change and improvement. I conquered a personal challenge and I did it slowly, gently, with love and patience.

Exactly as one is supposed to in yoga.

6 thoughts on “Narcissistic Recovery: Yoga

  1. That is awesome, congratulations on the milestone. I have really bad anxiety so I’m trying to get into yoga but I’m afraid of going to an actual class with people but you made me realize not everything can be done single handed, sometimes you need a little guidance to take on a challenge.

    • This is where I was for a long time, as well. If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you know that my anxiety had me fairly homebound for the past year or so. Joining a yoga studio was a massive hurdle for me. I tried to achieve the benefits of a yoga practice on my own (shout out to Yoga with Adriene on youtube). It took a long time for me to feel confident enough to start looking for a studio.

      However, if I hadn’t talked to people about my experience with the first studio I might have given up. It would have been so easy to let that get the best of me. So, yes, sometimes you need a little guidance to take on a challenge. For me, that not only meant the yoga instructor, it also meant the people I opened myself up to and allowed to provide well-intentioned advice. If I hadn’t listened to them I wouldn’t have found the place that’s feeling so right for me.

      Please keep me posted on your journey. If you decide to join a studio and give it a shot, I’ll be so impressed and so proud of you. Overcoming anxiety and doing it is so hard to do, and if you choose to do it, I’ll be rooting for you every step of the way.

    • I have Ehlers-Danlos, which basically means that in my twenties I was “lucky” enough to be one of those naturally flexible with no work people. I could go to any yoga studio. Of course, the price of EDS is it gets worse, and now that same illness is why I now can faint if I stand up too fast. Oh, and, oops, it turns out that “flexibility” was me hyperextending my joints. If I do that now, they’re liable to pop out. Suddenly after years of being “good at yoga” I couldn’t go to studios without panic attacks when the instructor publicly corrected me or physically manipulated my form in front of the whole class. Until I got diagnosed and learned why everything in my body was falling apart, I used The Yoga Collective’ s online classes to work out by trial and error something that didn’t hurt or make me dizzy. My first ever decent therapist suggested trauma-sensitive yoga. It literally took me until recently, when everything else fell apart, to feel like I had nothing to lose, to try it. By luck the first studio I talked to about it actually had experience adapting yoga for Ehlers-Danlos, too. I definitely think I’ll go back – and probably eventually do a post on it – but until you’re strong enough to go to a trauma-sensitive class with actual *people,* online guided classes can be a safe starting point.

      • “I have Ehlers-Danlos…”

        Ugh, I’m sorry to hear this. Am glad for you that you’ve found a yoga practice that works for you, though, and I’ll be sure to look up The Yoga Collective.

        I agree with your sentiment about online classes. There’s so many and I’ve found them quite helpful as a transition point.

  2. Look up trauma-sensitive yoga if you haven’t already heard of it. It’s good you found your people, but if you ever want more up-front guarantee that the yoga will be more accepting of different physical and mental triggers, yoga explicitly for trauma survivors can be a safety net.

    • Oh wow… I googled “trauma-sensitive yoga” and added my city name, and the studio I’m going to was the first result. I guess I’m not shocked? There are currently signs all around the facility announcing an upcoming workshop for instructors on leading trauma-informed practices, and now that I’ve looked, I see there’s a section on the website about it as well. Oh my. I thank you so much for commenting on this. It makes me feel even better about how right for me this new studio is. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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