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Beyond the Physical Practice of Yoga, guest post by Chelsea Chapman

First, I brought yoga my broken body.

Then, I brought yoga my broken heart.

I came to yoga in the fall of 2015 after a second bout of rhabdomyalysis, a form of lactic acid poisoning brought on by the overworking and extreme use of a particular muscle.

After that second hospital stay, my doctor told me that I had to stop; the running 3-4 miles a day, the cross training twice a day, the absolute abuse I was putting my body through day after day in the form of my workouts.

My life depended on the immediate cessation of the lifestyle that was killing me.

Despite the fact that it wasn’t working, I couldn’t imagine stopping. As difficult as it is to admit this now, I was literally obsessed with getting back to my ever-allusive wedding weight. After bearing 2 beautiful baby girls, I was desperate to lose the extra 30lbs I was carrying. I was pretty much willing to do anything it took to lose it.

My patterns were awful. I’d starve myself, and then relish the feeling of having power over my body, forcing it to train without nourishment, believing I was doing what was best, what would work, what would get me back to the girl I had once been. I relished the feeling of being hungry, out of breath, and sore, believing that I was exhibiting control and working hard. In short, I was in a cycle of self-abuse that, despite my unrelenting commitment, never worked.

I couldn’t lose a pound.

Hearing that I had to stop was terrifying to me.

“All you’re allowed, Chels, is yoga,” my doctor had said, “but you can do as much of that as you want.”

I had never tried yoga. I was never a dancer, nor was I flexible or even graceful.

I was an athlete, through and through, and had been my whole life.

How in the world was I going to become a yogi?

Still, it was my only option.

I started at home with youtube videos because I was too intimidated to actually go to a class. It didn’t take long for me to feel the benefits of breath and intentionality; the beautiful act of caring FOR my body, rather than working AGAINST it.

Eventually, I got up the courage to go to a class, and my life was never the same. My first yoga teacher, Angie, had the most beautiful accent. I loved listening to her as she cued the class, leading us from one pose to the next, but more importantly, I loved the culture she emulated; one of smart and loving work, rather than hard, abusive work.

I started learning about nutrition rather than diets, and I threw myself into a yogi culture, which taught me how to listen to my body rather than ignore it.

Oh, and I lost the weight, but I did it peacefully, tenderly, and with kindness toward my body. Through yoga, I achieved my goal and got back to my wedding weight. More importantly, though, I learned to love and care for the body that’s served me so well throughout my life.

At the time, I thought that yoga had given me such a precious gift. Little did I know how much I was going to need my mat in the coming months. In the spring of 2016, my beloved father’s cancer, which had been in remission, came roaring back in the form of spinal tumors. Despite being the strongest, most persistent and committed warrior I’d ever seen, he declined quickly. As the months went by, my sweet Papa endured extremely painful radiation treatments, difficult surgeries, and more bad news at every turn. After years of riding the rollercoaster of cancer holding my father’s hand, I was now facing my worst fear: that we would lose him far too young. He was 56.

It was during these months that yoga became more than a physical practice to me. The only way I know how to describe it is to say that I was driven to my mat. Being wholeheartedly involved in the chaos of my dad’s health, mothering 2 small children, and maintaining a home and community responsibilities meant that my yoga mat was my only haven. I found that my mat was the place where I felt the most free to feel and to cry. I was alone there, even in a classroom full of yogis, at the altar of my heart, surrendering my desperate need to hold on to my best friend in the world, even as he was slipping away. There, I could feel all the fear, devastation, and anger. I didn’t have to hide anything or sugar coat anything. It was just the practice and I, and it was my lifeline.

After my dad passed away, I brought my broken heart to my mat, and I continue to bring my broken heart to my mat over and over and over again.

Yoga continues to be a lifeline for me, both emotionally and physically. Through yoga, I’ve met amazing people who I dearly love. Through yoga, I’ve learned that my body is capable of things I never imagined it would be strong enough to do, and with yoga as a tool, I faced my worst fear and came through the darkness out into the light on the other side.

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