Yoga is a path for healing for many people, but it is far more than healing the body. Yoga can heal the mind and heart as well. Read Flo's Story to see how yoga led her to grace, hope, and sobriety.
Speaking frankly with this calm, graceful, and joyful woman, it's hard to believe she was ever not sober.
And yet, just three years ago, “I had hit bottom,” says Flo Sheffield, a mortgage industry professional and part-time yoga instructor from Atlanta, GA.
Looking back, Flo finds it easy to pinpoint where things went wrong. Growing up, Flo was the self-described “normal one.” While her parents were busy attending to her siblings’ physical and emotional challenges, Flo stood quietly in the background, never acting up, never causing problems...never needing.
At least that's the way she tried to make things appear. But years of holding things together and fearing for her parents' own happiness took its toll. In an effort to escape the bottled-up anxiety, Flo began drinking.
She was 16 when she discovered that the occasional drink lifted a little of the turmoil she constantly worked to hide. “As a teen...partying was a way to blend in,” Flo says now. At first, she only consumed alcohol on weekends. “But a few years later, as job stress increased, I dealt with it the only way I knew how...to hide and detach through drinking.”
Amazingly, Flo has a positive outlook on her past and a no-pity philosophy that belies her calm demeanor. “It wasn't my parent's fault,” she says. “I don't blame them.”
At the same time, looking back, “[I realize] that as a teenager I wasn't given the tools I needed to process what I was feeling.”
In her late 20s and early 30s, the reality of her drinking issues began to sink in. She realized that drinking wasn't the answer – and worse, that it was taking over her life.
Realizing she was in trouble, Flo began her journey toward sobriety. It wasn't easy, nor was it a straight line. Several times, she managed to stay sober for up to a month, then slipped back. “[Each time I tried again,] I thought I had a handle on things,” she says, “but I definitely didn't.”
At what she now calls rock bottom, in her 30s, tired, overweight, carrying a frightening new liver diagnosis and handling a failing marriage, Flo discovered something that finally put her on the track to healing: yoga. Researching different disciplines, she discovered that yoga wasn't just a physical practice. Yoga seemed to reach deep within her spiritual core, to places she'd been afraid before to uncover.
“I both loved and hated the classes,” Flo laughs. “They helped me deal with my personal trauma. But I was surprised to discover that yoga is NOT easy [even though the pros make it look that way].” She was also forced to confront and, at last, conquer lurking demons.
Embracing a new philosophy, which included her veganism (Flo has been either vegetarian or vegan since 2007), animal rights advocacy, her own marriage, and yoga, Flo found a new life – and new sobriety. She also discovered a passion for helping other people struggling to balance and come to terms with their own lives.
“As yoga began to change my life,” she reveals, “I wanted to try and help others as well.”
She soon found a following. Discovering that there wasn't enough in the way of quality yoga instruction in her area, Flo experimented with several disciplines. She settled into Ashtanga yoga because “It is not only physically demanding, but it is a practice that helps you become emotionally and spiritually strong,” something that encourages healing, she says.
Ashtanga encompasses all eight limbs of yoga and can become a vehicle for true transformation if taught and approached correctly, Flo notes.
Putting it all together, Flo has found a new life – and new purpose.
“I struggled to find where I 'fit' most of my life,” she reveals. “I didn’t really fit into my family unit; I didn’t fit into one clique in school, I didn’t fit into any specific job/career. But with yoga, I feel so at home, sharing and helping others as little or as much as they need.”