{Below is an article written by Sarah Sowards which was published June 21, 2021 on the Club Fit website. Original article can be read here.}

On December 11th, 2014, the United Nations recognized June 21st as International Day of Yoga. The idea, proposed by India and introduced by their Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, was supported by 175 other countries at the 69th meeting of the General Assembly. “Yoga is not just about exercise; it is a way to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world, and nature,” Modi proclaimed. Clearly, the impact of yoga on people’s health is recognized worldwide. Not only has yoga been shown to improve physical health, but research has established there are many mental health benefits yoga offers as well. On International Yoga Day, I would love to highlight a real-life story depicting how beneficial and life-changing yoga has been for some. Data can communicate a great deal, but sometimes hearing it come to life is more impactful and I hope that will be the case here. To begin, a special thank you is owed to our very own Carl Vreeland, who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this piece. Carl has practiced yoga for twenty-one years and has served as an instructor for fifteen years, seven of those at Club Fit. In all transparency, Carl granted us a thorough examination of the relationship between his health and yoga, and his journey from a divided sense of chaos to a calming and united recognition of peace.

As many do, Carl encountered trauma early in life. As he described his trauma, he referred to a “spiritual brokenness,” a sense of being detached from something greater than himself, a sense of emptiness. As young as four years old, Carl began experiencing panic attacks, anxiety, and fear… A need for perfection arose, and high expectations were set in place for himself and others. He was hard on himself. There was no patience, no insight, no connection… Depression and anxiety drained the energy out of him, and Carl slept for up to twelve hours a day. In behaviors not unfamiliar to those suffering from mental health disorders, the use of drugs and alcohol crept into Carl’s habits. Addiction subsequently emerged. Carl remained stuck in his head. He was living in the past, and worrying about the future: “I was out of touch with my emotions and feelings, very cerebral, I didn’t know how to cope with my own emotions, and I didn’t know how to engage with others.” Twenty-two years ago, at his first AA meeting, Carl recognized and admitted to himself he was an alcoholic. As AA helped guide Carl into sobriety, he still felt something missing, but he didn’t know what. Yoga helped change that. Through the yoga practice, he was able to get to the spiritual through the physical. Today, nothing is missing.

From the Sanskrit meaning “to join or to unite,” yoga has helped improve many areas of people’s health. Carl’s experience was no different. In his practice, Carl learned to form a connection with his breath and body. In addition, yoga helped Carl connect his body and mind. He learned to become more comfortable experiencing what can sometimes be uncomfortable: from physical sensations to emotions. He learned to find comfort in discomfort. For the first time, Carl gained a sense of insight and wisdom. He faced his feelings of anxiety and fear, he stared down the existential angst of humanity, and he was able to understand, accept, and make peace with feelings and memories that had long haunted him. Then a sense of spirituality set in. Carl began to feel in touch with his inner self; he felt more connected to others, to the world, and to something greater than himself. He was sober and clean, and he was finally able to see the connection between his addictions and mental health struggles. He was able to take a step back and realize we are all flawed, and we are all struggling. He recognized that life is hard, and we are all humans who are trying our best to do better, and that’s okay.

Currently, Carl seems happy. He meditates for at least five minutes a day and makes every effort to remain in the moment. If you speak to him, you are speaking to him. You know he is listening to you, not making a to-do list for the day while presenting some façade of focus. His time is filled with teaching, writing, and blogging. Carl also hosts a podcast titled “Close to The Bone: A Podcast About Uncovering the Uncomfortable Truth,”  where he discusses tough topics in the hopes of serving as a sense of comfort to those who may themselves be struggling (visit the link below!). To top it off, Carl is also a talented musician, and if you’re lucky, he may grace you with his gift during one of his yoga classes, so I very much encourage you to attend one – it’s absolutely worth it. If you get the chance, I also recommend speaking to Carl. In the short time I have known him, I have found him to be a very caring individual, one to really open to vulnerability and connection, something I feel we find rarely these days. And in part, we have yoga to thank for that. As it guided Carl through his recovery and ventures into happier states, it has also granted him a healthier view of the world, one less negative and less cynical. It opened him up to connection, to the human experience – an experience he is now whole-heartedly embracing. I wonder if a similar journey might be in store for you?… I hope it is – we’ll see you soon!

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