Yoga: A Gateway Drug

I remember when I was a freshly minted Yoga junkie, filing out the doors of a Hot Yoga class in my spandex shorts completely soaked in sweat. I’d slump over to my car, plop my slimy ass down in the front seat, and drive home while basking in the residual “work-out high.” I’d get home and scarf down the closest thing to food that a microwave meal can provide, and then I would sink into an exercise-induced coma while mentally preparing to attend another class the next day.

From a distance, I may have seemed like any other 17 year old girl with excessive physical energy who was hungry for an outlet. But in reality, I was physically addicted to my Yoga high, and I would tear down any obstacle that stood between me and getting my fix.

What’s the problem with Yoga, you may ask? The problem is not inherent in the tools or techniques that I was learning. The problem was that I was experiencing a rapid transformation that I was unprepared to handle, so I fixated upon this thing that made me feel better, and I was blind to everything else. I remember times where my mood would flip like a switch and I would blow up at my family if I missed a class, punishing myself and those around me for a dent in my regimented 5 classes per week. All I could focus on was the aspects of myself that I wanted to change, and I felt that Yoga was the road that would take me there. But in desperately grasping for my Yoga high, I was feeding a toxic obsession.

Addiction implies that someone is dependent upon a certain substance, thing or activity. While Yoga is significantly different than sugar, alcohol, or opioids, a dependent relationship is typically associated with negative behavior or undesirable outcomes.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I started to peel back the layers of my relationship with Yoga, not willingly I might add. I found myself in a town with zero access to a heated Yoga class (despite my incessant searching and personal requests to the local recreation centers.) I also found myself at a University offering multiple free Yoga classes every day – a Yoga junkie’s dream come true. Although I was disappointed by the change in my familiar Bikram Yoga routine, I decided to soak up the bounties of new teachers, varying philosophies, and foreign techniques. While I would sometimes attend two classes per day, this time I was approaching my practice from a different angle. It felt as though I was slowing down and finally sinking my teeth into what Yoga was all about.

Both students and teachers still boast about the high feelings you can achieve from a great Yoga class – that feeling of invincibility and the sensations of lightness, as if you are floating. While our limited English language would describe this as “high,” in reality this is simply the experience that intrinsically lives within each of us, all the time. It only feels high because we are consistently operating the majority of our lives in a seriously “low” state, which most people will deny until death.

I discovered Yoga when I was heartbroken, and it gave me life again. It has brought me up when I’ve been down, but it has also brought me down when I could have been flying high. Basically, I’m trying to say that anything can be a drug if you are using it to fix something. But when your aim is to learn something, grow, and expand more into the person who you already are, then anything can be a gateway.

For me, Yoga helps me tap into the reservoir of highness contained inside me already, providing a set of tools to support my ever-expanding self. So the choice is up to me:

I could get high off my Yoga practice, or I could get real. I could try to fix myself with Yoga, or I could try to embrace the vast perfection of the person that I already am.

I don’t know about you, but the last one sounds way more fun to me.

Maria Borghoff is an artist, yoga teacher, and curator at GROOVE Studio. She shares the practice of harmonious living with people who want to create positive change in the world, combining movement, meditation, art-making, nutrition and daily rituals.