Last summer I got dumped, unceremoniously and without warning. Within five months of moving to New Orleans to start our new life together, my beautiful future bride had moved out and into the suburbs. I was left alone in a big house with a lot of pets and a lot of self-pity.
I had some really great friends from grad school and knew a few kind people through yoga, but mostly I spent my time alone. I was desperately seeking companionship. I went from being that standoffish girl in the corner to the girl who texts you at midnight, “I know I don’t know you that well, but I feel like my soul is dying. Can you come over and sit with me while I cry/fold laundry/cry?”
Within a week, I had lost eight pounds. Fourteen within two weeks. By the time a month had passed, I had gone from a healthy 140 pounds to under 120. As small as I felt, I was getting smaller. I knew that nothing I put into my body was going to make me feel any better, so I put in as little as possible. I drank vegan protein shakes to keep from withering.
I felt like I couldn’t do anything without emotional outbursts. Movies made me sad and music made me sadder. The only thing I could listen to was Nirvana’s In Utero, which I played on a continuous loop and sang at the top of my lungs. My facebook status usually said something like, “Only Kurt Cobain understands me.” Seriously.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was actually handling things remarkably well, minus the weight loss. Unlike other intense times in my life, when I turned to alcohol, drugs, and other hedonist forms of escapism, this time I had turned to yoga and angsty music.
The day after my girlfriend left me I drove to Baton Rouge and stayed with a yoga teacher friend for a week. We talked about letting go and being whole from a dharmic point of view. None of it made me actually feel better, but it made me remember that all feelings are temporary and in the future I might feel something other than totally pathetic.
The only times during those first few weeks that I was sure I was still alive were during my yoga practice. I practiced constantly. I went to classes every day and sometimes twice a day. I cried through every savasana (corpse pose). Teachers got used to it. Some of them played songs to help me release and some of them gave me space. No one made me feel weird for being emotional. Yoga was the only safe space I had.
I didn’t know if I was going to stay in New Orleans, if I needed a roommate, how I was going to pay the bills, or what was going to happen next. The only thing I knew was I had to get out of bed and get on my mat so that I would remember that I was not dead. I poured every tiny bit of my tiny self into every pose and crumpled to an exhausted heap at the end of every class.
Does that all sound really over-dramatic? It should, because that’s how it felt. Like the saddest Lifetime Network mini-series ever.
When my ex finally removed her belongings from our formally shared home, my teacher Michelle came over to do a fire puja with me. I remember saying to her, “It’s easier for her, she’s young, so she can just come up with a whole new plan for her life. I’m older, and I can’t just reinvent myself.”
She did not look at me consolingly and say, “poor baby.”
She did not sympathetically pat my cheek.
She said, “That’s bullshit.”
“You think you know who you are, but you’re wrong. You have no idea who you are. You could change at any time. You’re clinging to old ideas about yourself and it’s not helping you.”
She went on. “Just feel this. Deal with this. Do the work. Walk through this fire and you will come out on the other side totally transformed.”
So I did.
I spent every moment that I wasn’t practicing asana meditating and cleansing. I did daily compassion meditations; for myself, for my ex, for the girl my ex had a crush on. If I had an especially hard day, I went home and chanted and walked my dogs and chanted more and then practiced until I passed out in a tub full of Epsom salts. I emptied myself daily, and if I woke up in the morning feeling full (of anger, regret, sadness, heartbreak), I emptied myself again.
For two weeks, I practiced backbends obsessively, trying energetically to tap back into the space where I knew my heart had once been. After one week I started feeling things. Good things. Love. First, I started loving small things: sunshine, flowers, the sound of high school band practice drifting through my neighborhood. Then I started loving bigger things again, like people. I stopped just feeling grateful to them for helping me and started wanting to help them, too.
One day in a pigeon backbend my teacher said, “You look like you’re going to explode!” And I felt like it. I felt bursting with love and (drumroll) happiness. I loved myself and my life and the next thing I knew I was totally giddy about it. And then I knew I had not just recovered, but had been totally transformed.
I became more compassionate, loving, generous. As a teacher, I learned how to walk my talk. And I began to treat the practice not just as a fun metaphysical, philosophical diversion, but as a matter of life and death. Because it can be. This practice can and will save your life if you let it.
But you have to invest in it. You have to invest your time, your energy, and sometimes your whole soul into this practice. And you have to start investing as soon as you can because you never know when you’re going to need it.
Tracey Duncan is equal parts teacher and student. She studied yoga at Satchidananda Ashram-Yogaville (Integral Yoga) and Swan River Yoga. Tracey believes that each class should be a journey, complete with a hero (you) and a life lesson. She strives to offer her students a class that balances effort and release, exertion and relief. She has been a massage therapist for almost twenty years and loves bringing her knowledge of anatomy to her students by way of hands-on adjustments. She believes in interpreting the dharma in a jargon-free way and is always down to talk philosophy. Tracey is also a writer and community builder, and you can learn more about her at www.moreyogalessbullshit.com.