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How Yoga Helped Me Cope with Childhood Trauma and Loss

"Yoga has been a place for me to address my anger in a way that’s not destructive. It has allowed me to move through my sadness rather than around it."

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As I was sitting in my seventh-grade social studies class, the unmistakable crackle of the loudspeaker interrupted: “Lisa Fierer, please come immediately to the principal’s office.” Trudging down the hallway, I wondered what infraction I’d get busted for this time. Two policemen greeted me and escorted me to their patrol car. The police had picked up my siblings, too. What was going on? Forty-five minutes later, with their eyes downcast, they informed us that our mother had died and our father was in the hospital. Days later, I learned from the newspapers that my father had been arrested for my mother’s murder.

Having witnessed violence in our home at the hands of my father, I had been terrified that something like this could happen. Since I was five, I’d been saving the sweet handwritten notes my mom tucked into my violin case and lunchbox, somehow knowing those could be all I had of her someday. After her death, for the next 10 years, I cycled through various forms of self-destruction: addiction, suicidal thoughts, and blackout drinking.

When I was 22, I said goodbye to alcohol and hello to bodybuilding. It became a channel for my angst until I injured my rotator cuff. Then I found yoga. What began as a path to heal my shoulder turned into a pathway for deeper healing.

Whenever I felt anxious, afraid, and betrayed, I’d practice a quick Sun Salutation to find a sense of grounding within myself. Eventually, my practice evolved to include breathwork, mantra, and chanting. I found that I could always turn to yoga during difficult moments in my life, such as the anniversary of my mom’s death.

Yoga has been a place for me to address my anger in a way that’s not destructive. It has allowed me to move through my sadness rather than around it. Using my body to move energy has been a profound way to process grief. I’ve learned to take everything to my mat—my sadness and my joy. It’s a salve for my system.

—Lisa Fierer, author of Thirst: A Memoir, as told to Caitlin Carlson

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