beating addiction through yoga

Esther Nagle joins us today on The SHAIR Podcast.  Esther is the founder of Balance and Breathe Recovery Support through Yoga.  Esther spent most of her adult life living with addiction and mental illness and has come out the other side older, wiser, happier, and free.  She is also the Author of Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction through Yoga.

Esther Nagle spent years of her life waging war on herself and blaming the world for her unhappiness. Numbing her pain and hiding in alcohol, drugs, loud music and other self-destructive tendencies, her life was a constant battle between the identity she had created for herself, and the real Esther that she had occasional glimpses of, a happy, relaxed, joyful person full of love and peace.

Esther’s battles started to end the day she realized she was falling apart. A long dreamed of Yoga teacher training course showed her that there was a different way she could live, and she stepped gleefully into a life of happiness, healing and recovery. Sober since October 2014 after 20 years of addiction, Esther now uses her experiences and wisdom to help others through writing, speaking and teaching.

Esther loves Yoga, music, walking, learning, being with her beautiful sons, and reflecting on how much her life has changed for the better. She home educates her youngest child and enjoys the time that they get to spend together exploring the world.

Clean Date: October 2014

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Omar: Esther, take us into your normal daily routine, including recovery.

Esther: I’ve got a bit of a routine less life in an awful lot of ways. I’m a home educating single mom. My son goes to his father on erratic days. We’re on a shift pattern with his father, so I don’t have normal routine days, but there are certain routines that I like to have every day.

Omar: Okay.

Esther: I do try and make sure that I fit in my regular routines. I like to get up early in the morning and do some yoga, first thing in the morning.  That will normally involve some sitting quietly, so meditating, and doing some exercises to release all the tension from my body that I’ve accumulated over the night. Some stretching. Maybe I try to do about six, up to ten rounds of Surya Namaskar, as well, to give myself a bit of aerobic exercise. Then a relaxation at the end, so that’s about an hour, normally most mornings of yoga that I try and make sure I do. I don’t always manage it, because as you can imagine, life as a single mom, single self-employed woman, it gets a little bit unpredictable at times, and I don’t always manage it, but I know that life works a lot better when I get my morning yoga done. I tend to not function quite so well when I don’t, so it’s very important.

Omar: Right.

Esther: It is a very important part of my day. I like to be in bed by nine, ten o’clock at the latest, in the evening to make sure that I can get up in the morning, and have the energy for the day. Have my eight hours of sleep every night, because that is really important to me. I need plenty of sleep. I know now that I need a lot of sleep, which is something I didn’t used to get when I was drinking.

Omar: Right. Was there something in particular that brought you to the realization that you were not sleeping enough, or there was … Was there something that happened that prompted you to investigate what it was, and then it was the sleeping? Is it just that, in general, you need to get your sleep?

Esther: Well, since I stopped drinking, I stopped drinking, obviously, I talk more about this later on, but since I stopped drinking, my life has changed completely. I started wanting to get up earlier in the morning, so that I could get my yoga practice done while I was doing my training, because we had quite an intense schedule that we had to do every day of yoga practices, that he we had to do every day as part of the training. I realized very quickly that if I didn’t do this yoga practice in the morning, it probably wasn’t going to get done, because it was too hard to fit it in at any other time in my day. I started trying to get up early, and realized really quickly, really, really quickly, that I actually need a lot of sleep. I thought I could go by, get by on very little sleep, because when I was drinking, I was getting by on very little sleep, but of course, my days were fueled by caffeine, and chocolate, and junk food then.

I was also trying to cut all those things out of my diet, so I wasn’t getting myself through the day using artificial stimulants, really, to get me through the day. It was just a real realization that actually if I wanted to do this get up early in the morning, I have to be in bed early. For a little while, I thought, “Oh, seven hours. There’s that idea that every one needs seven hours,” so I was trying for seven hours, but I was still tired in the morning when I was waking up. Then I realized, because I did a webinar myself recently about sleep, so I’ve done quite a lot of research around sleep recently, and realized that the seven hours is sort of like the minimum of what most people need, rather than what you should be aiming for. I started trying then with eight hours, and I realized that eight hours is more my number, so I need to try and get eight hours sleep every night. It’s been a combination of experimenting now and just the drastic lifestyle change that I went through, as part of my recovery and teacher training.

Omar: What was keeping you from getting clean or staying clean when you first got introduced to recovery?

Esther: When I first … Well, like I said. I kind of became clean accidentally, really, but before when I’d try it in the past, I had tried before to sort of control my drinking. Even though I was in complete denial that I had a drinking problem. I had tried on several occasions to control it, so on some level I totally knew I had a drinking problem, but whenever I tried to control my behavior before, I’d always just manage to completely get in my own way. I would justify. I could always find a way to justify drinking, so if I decided in the morning, “I’m not going to drink today,” by lunchtime, I could have probably found a reason to be stressed, or a reason to … I could have had an argument with somebody. I could have fabricated a reason. I could always create some sort of reason why I needed to have that excuse to drink.

I know now that I created those situations, because now that I don’t drink, they don’t happen anymore. I’m pretty sure that I went looking for reasons. Maybe I wasn’t actively creating them. I was certainly going looking for them. What I would suggest to people who are new in recovery, is start doing a gratitude practice, so they’re always looking for something good, rather than looking for something bad. Try it. If I was, like now, I keep a gratitude practice. I make sure I’m grateful. I’m living in gratitude a lot more than I ever used to before, and so these situations that used to stress me out so much, don’t arise because I don’t notice things that previously would have really, really wound me up. Like other people’s driving, for example.

Omar: Right.

Esther: Somebody could cut me off on a roundabout in the morning and I’d be using that as justification for getting wine in the evening. Whereas now, somebody cuts me up, and I just think, “Oh, well. You obviously need to be there more than I do.”

Omar: Right.

Esther: Which is fine.

Omar: Beautiful, beautiful. All right. Tell us, at what point did you have what I call a Spiritual Wakening? That ah-ha moment when you realize for the first time that you were truly powerless over drugs and alcohol, but for the first time had developed the hope that you could stay sober?

Esther: That moment that I talked about with the Queens of the Stone Age song. That was my moment when I realized that I was powerless. That was quite a profound moment for me. It really was. I remember crying quite a lot after that, because I realized that I was not just powerless over alcohol. I realized that I was powerless over anything. I felt like I realized at that point that I actually had no power over anything. That there was nothing that I could do, other than keep drinking at that point, because I didn’t know what else to do to cope with it. The time when I realized that I was going, that gave me hope was the [front 00:08:00]. There were two separate things, because for me, my higher power is my connection.

Yoga talks about our own personal responsibility, and so for me, that moment when I realized. Because we were talking about connection to the higher self, so but it’s developing your own inner self, so that you can connect to the higher self. I realized. I remember being in my yoga course one day, and I can’t remember what was, what had been said, but my teacher or somebody in the room, had obviously said something about personal responsibility. About we have the resources that we need within us. I mean, I know that is a very different message than what twelve steps gives. I know that there are messages, that you need that higher power outside of yourself. What yoga taught me was that actually I got it in me.

Omar: Yes.

Esther: That was the first time I’d ever, ever realized that actually if I want my life to be a certain way, because I don’t have that connection to any God figure, the only person that is ever going to make my life be what I want it to be is me.

Omar: Yes.

Esther: I remember sitting in this class, feeling like a big light had just gone on in my head. I remember thinking, “That’s it, isn’t it. That’s it. This is all done to me, and I can do it.” I remember thinking that and realizing, that actually I can actually do anything I want.

Omar: Number three, do you have a favorite book that you would recommend to our newcomers, that you read in other recovery?

Esther: Apart from my own book, which I would recommend-

Omar: Please.

Esther: Yes, Bent Back Into Shape was actually written with people in early recovery in mind. As well, I read, I ran a thirty day gratitude challenge. I think this was about, when I was about six months sober, maybe not even that much. I ran a thirty day gratitude challenge on Facebook. I decided that one of the things we should do was have a book for the month. I read Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. I don’t know if you’ve read that.

Omar: No.

Esther: It’s not about recovery. It’s not about addiction. What it’s about is about living, and about life, and it’s, ah, it’s beautiful. It’s such a beautiful book. I think that all teenagers should read it, because I think that if teenagers could read this book, when you think you’re young and you’re going to live forever, to read this. It’s about the last few months of a very brilliant man’s life and about the wisdom that he imparted to one of his students when he knew he was dying.

Omar: Number four. Esther, what is the best suggestion you have ever received?

Esther: In terms of recovery, when I was … I think it was probably in the first class of the teacher training course. My teacher told us that the teacher that she follows has three rules for life. Don’t judge. Don’t compare. Don’t beat yourself up. I talk about this at every opportunity I get, because I think that they’re very, they’re amazing rules for life, but they’re also a fantastic little motto to carry with you through recover. Because when, I mean, when we’re in addiction and when we’re in recovery, we can be so judgmental of ourselves.


“…don’t judge yourself harshly.”

We are so cruel to ourselves, and to others as well, but particularly to ourselves, so don’t judge yourself harshly. Just accept what has happened and what you are now. Don’t judge yourself for that. You just are where you are, and that’s okay. We should never beat ourselves up. Just learn. Learn your lesson, move on, let it go. Don’t compare. If somebody’s doing … Everybody, we’re all on our different paths in life, so comparing your life and your recovery to my life and my recovery, is like comparing a pound of tomatoes with a cabbage. They’re not the same thing at all. Don’t compare, because you either compare yourself and think, “I’m worse than that person,” or you compare yourself and think, “I’m better than that person.” Neither of those judgments are helpful to anybody, so you just accept who you are. Accept who other people are. Just know that your life is yours and keep moving forward. Just let it all go.Thanks again for your SHAIR, Esther!


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Disclaimer – The opinions shared on this show reflect those of the individual speaker and not of any 12 step fellowship as a whole and though we discuss 12 step recovery and the impact it has had in our lives we do not promote or endorse any 12 step anonymous program.