The “This Is What a Yogi Looks Like” series is a collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices.
From as young as I can remember, I hated myself. The violence at home only added confirmation that I was despised and disposable. The terror of the unpredictable violence was inextricable from the fear of knowing I was a boy but believing that to voice that truth would have been the last straw. The only way you can make sense of being beaten in a fit of rage as a little kid is to take it personally. The only power you have in those moments is to believe that it is happening because of something about you and if you could just change, it would stop. If I could just be a girl, if I could stop asking why, if I could stop embarrassing my parents, the violence would stop. But it never stopped.
I spent more than thirty-five years trying to die in all kinds of active and passive ways. I drank. I drank not to feel better, not to feel looser. I drank to die. One particular night, when I was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, I was full of rage. Rage that I wasn’t dead yet. I had made a serious effort, having consumed thirty shots of vodka in four hours. That deep agony just called out to be held. If only someone had wrapped their arms around my teenage self and rocked me. Instead I got strapped to a bed and lectured by a priest on how in my queerness I was aiding the devil’s work.
My healing began in my early 20s when I entered twelve-step recovery. Somehow I could again hear that small voice that had spoken to me in childhood, that soft voice of the divine that told me I was loved and wanted, and this led me to seek a new spiritual path as a means of climbing out of the dark pit of despair that I had lived in for so long. From a grounding in twelve-step spirituality, I went on to find Buddhism. The idea of a spiritual practice rooted in compassion and kindness resonated deeply with me after a lifetime of isolation and anger. When yoga came into my life, it tied in with so many of the spiritual principles of Buddhism and twelve-step work that it felt familiar. And when I heard yogis such as Seane Corn talk about embodied activism, and also about light and shadow, I felt like they were speaking my language. These yogis came from dark places but didn’t hide that darkness, so when they said they were alive today because of yoga I could believe them.
The gift that gender transition offered me was the possibility that it could be safe to be physically present in my own body. What yoga offered me was an actual pathway to get there. Because of the way that trauma shows up for me in my body, my primary response is to freeze—I get locked down, I get numb, and I can’t think clearly. Physically, emotionally, and cognitively, I can’t move. Finding ways of being present, as someone who has all the reasons in the world to dissociate, was a huge task.
It didn’t have to be pretty, because my life wasn’t pretty. The idea that I could just breathe and move allowed me to start to unlock my frozenness. Continue reading >>