Keep coming back. It’s a well-known saying in the rooms of twelve step programs, and next to one day at a time might be the most commonly uttered one. At first, it sounds trite, annoying, maybe even condescending. But when you really think about what it means, it is deeply profound and hopeful. It speaks of resilience, grit, and starting again. Starting over. Trying once more. We keep coming back, no matter how many times we leave or “fail,” or try a tougher path, and through this we keep moving forward. Slowly.
The importance and specialness of this occurred to me tonight during an extra delicious yoga class. I started practicing yoga very young – my step-mom dragged me to classes when I was twelve, and by fifteen it had really gotten its hooks in me. I was a dancer, so the movement of it came naturally, and I was flexible enough to do the poses. But what I loved most about it was how it made me feel. There was something about it being both solitary and communal, quiet yet intense and sometimes very challenging, strengthening but not rigid that made me fall in love with it. It was the only other thing during my teenage years, besides alcohol and drugs, that gave me peace and self-esteem. And because it is essentially about breath and presence more than physical ability, it is meditation, and meditation shows you who you really are. It cracks you open to your true spirit, which has nothing to do with all your crazy thoughts, scary stories, and life situation identities. Certain poses brought on tears. Certain sequences made me feel confident and strong. It changed my physical body. It made me feel clean. But even more than that, it showed me that there was a sacred place deep inside of me that could never, ever be broken. It was much more than exercise – it was expansive and spiritual. It gave me tremendous hope and courage. By eighteen, I had become a regular practitioner and had advanced to more challenging vinyasa classes with exceptional teachers here in Santa Monica. I looked forward to every single class and to the magical effects of yoga.
Then I stopped going. My whole life changed. Everything fell apart after high school. Alcoholism, eating disorders, love addiction, and chronic pain took center stage. For the next eight years of my life I didn’t practice. I was terrified something was wrong with my body because I was in so much physical pain. I was angry and confused and lost. I knew yoga was still a solution, but I thought my body was broken and that I was unable to move that way ever again. This belief only furthered my resentment and self-pity. It took a lot of years and dedicated work to overcome the addictions and chronic pain. It was a slow and sometimes infuriating process. But I kept coming back. I wanted recovery.
When I first started exercising again, after finding the solution and healing from chronic pain, I stuck mostly to walking and the occasional run. I was nervous to go back to yoga. I thought it would hurt. I knew I wasn’t as flexible or in shape as I was in high school when I practiced several times a week and danced every day. I was resistant to taking a Level 1 class because of good ol’ ego. But about five years ago I returned. I took the easy classes and moved through the fear and pain. I started practicing more often and began to get a little stronger and healthier. It wasn’t the same, though, for quite a while. I was teaching full time at that point and dealing with a lot of underlying food and body issues. I didn’t feel comfortable going to the classes I wanted, with all the thin and beautiful and extremely fit women (and men.) The same zing just wasn’t there.
So I would go off and on. A little bit here, a little bit there. I was sometimes upset that I couldn’t do certain poses, because my thinking was “well if I had been practicing all these years I would be better than everyone!” Ha. I had to work with that. I had to practice gratitude and humility around the mere fact that I could walk, that I was sober, that my body was healthy, even if it wasn’t all that in shape. I kept walking and occasionally took dance classes and sometimes tried to pretend that I didn’t need yoga or like it all that much. I would go for a week or two and then stop for months. Go and leave, go and leave. It was interesting to be aware of the resistance that would come up around it. Looking back, I think a lot of my intention to returning was to try and get thin. I wasn’t always patient with my body and didn’t give myself enough time to really get reacquainted with the practice. It is hard work and demanding of the muscles. I also didn’t have the energy to go as often as I needed because of my schedule.
But the thing is, despite not going for years, despite not committing regularly when I first went back, I still kept returning, overall. And I keep returning today. I see so clearly that it is never too late to keep coming back and having a new experience. And that applies to so much in our lives. We are not failures for walking away from something or struggling with a practice. We are not failures if we relapse in recovery and have to start again. I have been back at it now for a little over a month, and it is really starting to feel like home. I have been going between two and five days a week, depending on my energy levels and time needed to recover, and I try to commit to that in order to give my body what it really wants. My muscles are getting stronger, my body more flexible. I don’t have the eating disorder behaviors and body image issues that I once did, so it’s not simply a vehicle to lose weight and get strong and sexy. (Although that is a nice byproduct!) More than the physical, it is deepening my awareness, my gratitude, my true nature. It doesn’t feel forced – it feels joyful. I love going again, and I love that I have the time to go again, and I love my very special teachers here in Santa Monica who are so knowledgeable and open. They often speak about how yoga is not just a practice that takes place in a room for ninety minutes, but it is something that we carry out into our lives and the world. What we learn on the mat – presence, strength, gentleness, courage, willingness, stillness, peace, gratitude – we learn to take into our lives. Much like, practicing these principles in all our affairs, as we learn in twelve step rooms.
I remember many times when I felt so hopeless to ever overcome my seemingly insurmountable problems. My plan was to kill myself or die an alcoholic death. I have witnessed many others feel that same hopelessness and fear and self-punishment around perceived failures and setbacks, only to muster up astounding courage and grace to face their demons. It is deeply inspiring, and it’s almost more beautiful, more resonant when we fail, because we are that much more grateful and reverent for the overcome. All we have to do is try again. We keep coming back, and we keep moving along the path, and our lives really do transform.