Why I stuck with yoga even when it got ugly

Recently, a very dear friend and fellow survivor introduced me to Linda Sparrowe, yoga teacher, former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine, and past managing editor of Yoga Journal. She’s a participant on the upcoming panel discussion, “Yoga Continuum: Facing Challenges with Courage and Compassion”, as part of a collaboration between Naropa University and Yoga Journal. She kindly asked me to detail my experience with yoga as therapy. I share her questions and my answers below:

How have yoga and meditation helped you in your own journey through diagnosis, treatment, remission, and even recurrence?  

When I began practicing yoga 4 years ago at the age of 39, I had no idea how much of me was broken. At 18, I experienced intimate partner abuse at the hands of my boyfriend, who was also 18. The relationship didn’t last more than 6 months, but my life and outlook on life changed forever. 

For 2 decades, I suffered from, without realizing I was suffering from them, depression, alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). My inner world was out of control, but I thought I could compensate by controlling my outer world. My perfectionistic tendencies ran the gamut: I had to look perfect from head to toe; I had to get perfect grades; I had to perform perfectly in my jobs; I had to have a perfectly clean and ordered house; I had to look like I had a perfect life despite the fact I hated myself. I didn’t even understand why I hated myself, which made hating myself that much more intense and burdensome on my mind and spirit. I became obsessed with food and acquired an eating disorder. I feared criticism and didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid. So one degree wasn’t enough. I had to go for advanced degrees and certificates, anything to prove my worth and value. Just being me wasn’t enough.

At 39, I escaped another short-term abusive relationship. I was lost. I wanted to kill myself. Luckily, I had family who loved and supported me. But even that didn’t seem like enough.

Then I discovered yoga two months before my 40th birthday. Within a few weeks of practicing, I overcame my binge eating and bulimia. Within 6 months, I quit drinking and was finally diagnosed with PTSD. For good and bad, my yoga practice opened the pathway to all of the repressed memories and denial I had been trying to bury for years. All the harm inflicted upon me by myself and others surfaced. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I thought I was going crazy, because, for the first time since I was 18, I was facing all of myself head on, and I couldn’t look away. Yoga unveiled my inner being, and my inner being wouldn’t allow me to look away. This process of going inward and seeing myself “naked” was painful, humiliating and shameful. Initially and despite practicing yoga almost daily, I fell even deeper into the pit of darkness and self-hatred. 

Fortunately, the side effects of my bottom were short-lived, because yoga helped me find my voice. I wrote and self-published my first book in 2012, “Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath”, which highlights my last abusive relationship. From there, I created and maintained a blog on which I purged myself of more “stuff” and connected to others in the process. At the end of 2014, I self-published my second book, “Unashamed Voices: True Stories Written by Survivors of Domestic Violence, Rape and Fraud”, which features 38 first-hand accounts of abuse submitted to me by visitors of my blog.

And I feel like that’s only the beginning of my life’s work. 

Last year, I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training, because I not only wanted to deepen my practice and understanding of yoga, but I want to give others the gift yoga gave to me: my life. 

I teach yoga twice a week and yoga nidra guided meditation once a week. Over time, I plan to transition away from my corporate job as a web content developer and trainer and into teaching yoga and being a health coach full-time. My deepest heart’s desire is to help as many people as I can escape their pain, shame, and humiliation and awaken as I awakened.

How are yoga and meditation sources of healing, understanding and acceptance? 

Yoga taught me acceptance and letting go. At the heart of yoga, I learned:

1. Compassion for all living things. The first I had to master was compassion for myself. 

2. Being perfect is unattainable, because nothing is permanent except change, so there is no such thing as a state of being perfect. 

3. How others treat me is about them and not me. How I treat myself is what matters, because how I treat myself is how I will treat others. I want to be good to people, not indifferent, mean, or nasty. It’s a daily exercise to elevate my levels of self-love and self-trust. 

4. The humiliation, shame, and pain I experienced doesn’t mean I’m weak or unworthy of love; it means I’m human. I’m perfect just because I’m me. Yoga taught me that.

And, what would you put in your own yoga toolkit that you could draw upon as you face aging, illness, or even death?

To never stop. To keep going. It’s never too late to live or take another breath toward a more fulfilling life. Life is the absence of the fear of growing old and dying. Life is love. Death just happens.

Is it possible to explain why yoga? Or, maybe more precisely, what it was about yoga itself that allowed you to trust the process? That allowed you to stick with the pain of investigation and self-inquiry? What can yoga do for us that, for instance, talk therapy can not? How did yoga help you find your voice and feel comfortable and safe sharing it? How did it help you find more compassion, courage and perhaps patience with yourself?

First and foremost, my teachers, their patience, and their spirit of acceptance kept me motivated. I felt safe with them. I didn’t feel judged in their presence, which allowed me to be less critical of myself. Reciprocity of energy and vibration. If I fell out of a posture, my teachers would either encourage me to try again or encourage me to let it go for the night and try again the next night. No need to become frustrated or angry with myself, they’d say. It’s only yoga, and tomorrow is another day. Wow! That was a lot for my perfectionist nature to handle and accept. But my teachers made it effortless for me. I was never made to feel like I failed, like any attempt was a poor attempt, or like I had to attain a certain level of expertise or experience before becoming a yogini. I was permitted to be a yogini the second I walked onto my mat for the first time. Being accepted and respected without the need to prove myself worthy…that’s a powerful motivator. 

And because my teachers were so good to me, I wanted to be good to me. I found myself surrounded by acceptance, and peace washed over my hypersensitive nature which was normally agitated and accustomed to being preoccupied with seeking acceptance from others. This unconditional acceptance from my teachers on the outside allowed me to be focused inwardly on my journey into a new frontier of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-love. My entire perspective shifted because my teachers showed me so much love and acceptance, and they didn’t even know me outside of the classroom.

Despite how tough my inward journey became at times, I refused to give up on myself. If I gave up on myself, I saw it as giving up on my teachers and all the love and kindness they freely and generously bestowed upon me. If I felt like giving up, I’d grab my mat and head to the studio. I always had my teachers, my breathing, my asana, and the collective energy of the studio to ground me. And for me, an introvert and highly sensitive person to rush to people rather than away from them for energy and motivation, that’s heavy.

Today, I’m more inwardly motivated and look to my personal transformation the past four years as proof that this thing called yoga works…for me. So why give it up? Why stop? I keep learning more and more and getting healthier and healthier. I’ve been 100% medication-free for over three years! No therapist would be able to do that for me, because 1) people on drugs keep therapists in business; and 2) no therapist understands or would believe that medication acts as a band-aid and blocks the user from finding their inner power. Medication couldn’t cure or heal me; medication kept me numb and lifeless. With yoga, I learned that being in motion and being in tune and aware of my body, mind, and spirit is the only path to resurrection, renewal, and an authentic life. Disease and sickness don’t stand a chance against the detoxifying power of perpetual motion, which keeps the mind open and the body successfully moving in the direction of health, homeostasis, and balance. 

Om Shanti,

Paula Carrasquillo

Rebirth is coming soon! New and improved website and recovery services

You will emerge into the light and discover true peace and joy, and I want to help you on your journey. In the coming weeks, I’ll be launching a completely new website. Essential information will be easier to find, and the posts you’ve come to rely upon will remain. 

Read this week’s newsletter to learn more about new support services designed for your journey toward recovery and transformation.

Read this week’s newsletter now!

Survivors Continue to Share and Inspire

Love. Life. Om. Survivor Newsletter – Volume 2, Issue 4

Alana (not her real name) submitted her story to me earlier this month through my online submission form. I attempted to respond and thank her, but the email bounced back. So I am sharing her full submission in this newsletter in hopes Alana sees that it’s been shared and contacts me…again…in order to properly thank her.

Also this month, I was contacted by another survivor and author, Holly, who asked me to share her book with everyone. Follow this link to Amazon to download Holly’s book, Escaping Abuse: An Autobiography about Love, Marriage, Abuse, and Perseverance.

Enjoy this issue and pass it along to your network of supporters, survivors and fellow warriors!

Paula Carrasquillo

Enter the Transformation Giveaway to win 3 FREE months of Health Coaching!

Paula Carrasquillo - yoga teacher and health coach

Are you ready to transform your life from the inside out? Enter the  Transformation Giveaway today!

I want to be your health coach. Tell me why you are ready and committed to take on a 3-month transformational journey, personalized to meet your specific needs. Even if you don’t win the grand prize, I’m also offering everyone who enters a 20% discount on my 3-month and 6-month programs.

The deadline to enter is April 3, 2015. Enter here. I’ll announce the winner on April 7, 2015. Good luck, and I can’t wait to work with you!

Paula Carrasquillo
Yoga Teacher & Health Coach

This week’s Love. Life. Om. newsletter is now available!


Paula’s Pontifications is now Love. Life. Om. I am still offering everything I offered before to readers, including my weekly newsletter on healing and recovery from sociopath abuse; and this week’s Love. Life. Om. Newsletter is now available!

September 12, 2014: Volume 1, Issue 6
Victim Blaming, Domestic Violence Defined, and Breath Work for Stress

Sign up today to receive the newsletter automatically in your inbox. 

Paula Carrasquillo, author of Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath

Synchronicity and Cognitive Bias: Why we suddenly start seeing sociopaths everywhere!

The following is featured in my newsletter – volume 1, issue 3.

There is a natural phenomenon that occurs once we experience or learn something new — we suddenly start seeing repeated glimpses of and frequent allusions to the experience and what we learned from it everywhere.

Many refer to such experiences as coincidences, synchronicity, Baader-Meinhof occurrences, selective attention, or the recency effect.

And we have all experienced this phenomenon:

Remember when you first started to learn how to read and suddenly, as if by magic, words and letters started floating past you everywhere you looked? The stop signs, cereal boxes, and magazines were always there. They simply didn’t interest you before you learned what the symbols meant.

Or you buy a red car and suddenly you start noticing everyone seems to be driving a red car, too?

Or you think about changing your diet, and suddenly you feel like you are getting bombarded by news related to the importance of diet and nutrition.

Even the content of this newsletter could be an example of a startling coincidence for you today, in this moment.

Whatever you call it, it happens a lot in healing and recovery:

We become absorbed in the subject matter and develop a cognitive bias for sociopath awareness and education, and begin to see sociopaths EVERYWHERE!

It’s not like the sociopaths weren’t always there, and we’re suddenly manifesting them due to some type of paranoia. Nor are we sociopath or narcissist magnets who somehow attracted these types of people into our lives. Everyone is surrounded by the 1 in 25 among us. Everyone. We are now the lucky ones who can identify and “sense” them better than others, better than we could before.

Like that line from “Sixth Sense,” we really can see (sense) dead people (sociopaths) now.

We couldn’t before, because how would we know to refer to something as some “thing” if we did not have the knowledge that that some “thing” existed?

Before we learned about sociopathy, we applied what we already knew about ourselves and relationships to the abuser and the toxic relationship. We defined the sociopath in terms of ourselves and the familiar, which is why we failed to understand the sociopath for what he/she was/is.

However, once we became educated and learned about sociopaths and finally understood the dynamics behind why our specific relationship was toxic, we experienced freedom and relief and thoughtfully came to the conclusion that sociopathy awareness might explain other failed relationships from our past and in the present.

So we began the practice of using this new tool of sociopathy awareness and applied it to other situations and relationships as they happened or were remembered from our past.

Many of us, after much time and reflection, determine that our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, long-time friends, co-workers, or even the coffeehouse barista we never liked are sociopaths or, at the very least, highly narcissistic.

But sometimes we were/are not always right in our conclusions of people, and our awareness is on overdrive and acts unfairly and labels individuals a little prematurely. We witness a person doing or saying something that is rude or selfish, and we immediately jump to a conclusion and say to ourselves, “Bam! She’s a narc! I know it!” In our hastiness to judge, we fail to remember that we all possess narcissistic tendencies to a degree depending on the circumstances, our age and maturity level, and our awareness of self.

For example, teenagers are all highly narcissistic. All of them, even the quiet and unassuming ones. It’s unfair and unwise to label teenagers as having personality disorders considering a teenager’s brain has not fully developed nor have teenagers figured out their identity in the first place. Most selfish and disrespectful teenagers spend the majority of the time failing at relationships, romantic and platonic, and become deprogrammed over time to behave better. Being a teenager is a rite of passage into adulthood and a painful time of trial and error. It’s those among us who emerge from their teens and early 20s with that primal brain still undeveloped that we must learn to spot and discern.

Awareness of sociopath abuse, psychopaths, and other pathological types opens up new ways of looking at and dissecting our current, past, and future relationships. We can use the tools to improve ourselves and how we interact with others, and we can also use the tools to determine who is worth the hard work it takes to establish and foster healthy relationships moving forward.

What we learn today impacts how we dissect, deconstruct, and digest our environment and the world moving forward. There is no denying that we will continue to see patterns, coincidences, and red flags of behavior that will immediately lead us to ask, “Could that person be what I think she is?”

The key to forming conclusions about others that are more right than wrong is to continue practicing and applying what you learn about sociopath awareness and to continue nurturing and fostering your intuition.


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