Hello! I’m Carson Smith and I am a grateful recovering alcoholic/addict and yoga teacher! What does yoga have to do with recovery? It had a lot to do with my recovery and I’d like to share my story with you.
Growing up, I felt I was trying to fulfill the expectations of family and society, but never felt like I fit in. I was told I was too sensitive, too idealistic, and too much of a ‘dreamer’. Also that I needed to become more thick-skinned and assertive if I was ever going to be successful. I also experienced psycho-emotional trauma.
I couldn’t figure out how to be my true self, nor fit the mold my upper-class parents groomed me for: prep school, the expectation of an Ivy League alma mater, and finally a professional career. I attended a state university, much to the chagrin of my family’s Princeton legacy, then flip-flopped between white collar and blue collar jobs.
I had attempted to fit into what the world seemed to be telling me to be. That led to alternate periods of what is considered outward ‘success’, followed by bouts of depression and continued sense of worthlessness. Decades of a chameleon life going between these two worlds, along with becoming increasingly separated from my authentic self, resulted in becoming an emotionally disconnected, spiritually adrift man with two failed marriages, a third on the rocks, chronic pain from a work-related injury, and an addiction to alcohol and prescription pain medication.
It’s sometimes said that things get worse before they get better, and that was true in my case. I tried yoga in a desperate attempt for anything that would relieve chronic pain from a back injury. While it seemed to help the physical ailments, it was the spiritual and meditative aspects of my practice that began to help peel back layers of my armor, walls of defensiveness, and the many masks I had worn throughout my life.
Yoga both soothed me and healed the spiritual void in my life, as well as healed my earlier emotional traumas. Though it was a scary and painful process because I was finally able to feel, yoga practice supported me in dealing with the wounds of my past and at the same time discovering my true self. I don’t think without this support I would have been able to brave the journey.
After practicing yoga at home for four years, my former wife led me to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health for an R&R weekend. I felt very guarded when we arrived on a Friday, but didn’t want to leave by the time we checked out on Sunday! As it happened, one of the most profound classes I sampled during that weekend was Five Element Yoga and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra with Jennifer Reis.
Still battling my demons, the R&R weekend I had at Kripalu convinced me I had found something profoundly grounding and centering that was missing in my life and I wanted more. I had a compelling desire to attend yoga teacher training! I enrolled at Kripalu, not really anticipating becoming a yoga teacher, but wanted to deepen my own practice through the training. I knew this would nurture the seed planted by the amazing faculty there.
At 50 years old and a bit out of shape both physically and spiritually, I didn’t expect to get accepted. I was! I took a deep breath, said “Okay life, here we go!” and leapt into my future! Kripalu Yoga is the yoga of compassionate, non-judgmental awareness, and that was exactly what I needed.
The month-long training was the most rigorous, challenging, scary, yet also fun, nurturing and empowering experience of my life. It was great to spend an entire month living and training at Kripalu which allowed me to practice and learn from amazing teachers. By the time I graduated, I knew I was destined to share yoga with others and felt driven to attend more trainings.
While at yoga teacher training I had the opportunity to reconnect with Jennifer. Her Five Element Yoga and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra gave me the most profound sense of calm and relaxation I had ever experienced. I was eager to learn more! Just three months later I was back to take her Five Element Yoga teacher training. Then a couple years later I returned for Jennifer’s Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra teacher training. It changed my life!
Besides how good Five Element Yoga and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra made me feel, I really like the fact that they are both rooted in ancient yogic science, and confirmed by modern western medicine. I found as a person who has wrestled with psycho-emotional trauma compounded by substance abuse, focusing on the five elements became part of my healing process. It works on harmonizing within and bringing one back into balance from the imbalances of modern life with its unruly pace.
Now I not only practice these modalities for my own well-being, but I incorporate them into the recovery-based yoga program I founded in 2015 called Recovery Warrior Yoga – Kicking Addiction in the Asana (if you are interested, ask me about it on facebook).
The difference yoga has made in my life – especially Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra and Five Element Yoga – has been life-changing. Prior to practicing yoga, I looked outwards to people and other socio-economic aspects of life to validate my sense of worth and safety. And since change is the only real constant in life, I found myself forever being buffeted by the winds of change and drowning in the stormy seas of my own inner uncertainty and fear.
Now, with almost a decade of a consistent yoga practice and coming up on three years of continuous sobriety, I have found my true, authentic Self and an inner sense of the Divine which allows me to harness the winds of change in order to sail forward with courage and the ability to surf the waves of life with a sense of wonder and adventure.