On Feb. 25, 2009, Will Hommertzheim realized he had two choices: swallow his pride and ask for help or check out.
For the previous decade, Hommertzheim had lived in Topeka, abusing alcohol and drugs in an attempt to drown out the thoughts that crowded his brain. It was his way of self-medication.
Hommertzheim grew up on a farm in Cimarron with his parents and three sisters. After high school, he went to Washburn University in Topeka but dropped out after nearly completing a degree in criminal justice.
It was during those ten years in Topeka that Hommertzheim said his alcohol and drug use spiraled. After trouble with the law, he said his drug use became heavier because he stopped caring.
“I used to have the philosophy, ‘try everything once,’” he said. “I don’t go by that anymore.”
On that day in February, he made the choice to ask his family for help. He had pushed them away out of shame and embarrassment but he said that when he went to them, they were nothing but supportive and loving. “Not everybody gets a second chance,” he said. “I am extremely grateful to them.”
Hommertzheim checked into rehab and then moved back home where he farmed with his uncles and got his feet back underneath him. “After ten years of hating yourself, your self-esteem is at all an all-time low,” he said.
He decided that he wanted to go back to school but he wanted a clean slate so he chose a new major and a new college.
About two years ago, Hommertzheim moved to Manhattan to attend Kansas State University, majoring in software engineering.
In Manhattan he discovered a new way to self-medicate: yoga.
“You spend your life having a crutch to lean on and you take that away and it’s very frightening,” Hommertzheim said. He has been practicing yoga at Orange Sky Yoga for about a year and a half now and it’s become a crucial to him.
In yoga, he likes any pose that turns the world upside down, any pose where he is on his hands. Right now, he is working on improving the handstand scorpion pose.
To position your body into this pose, you begin with your hands and feet planted firmly on the floor and your body arched into a ‘v’-shape. You then walk your feet as far as you can toward your hands and lift your right leg into the air.
Once in this position, you bend your left knee slightly and come into a handstand. After you’ve found your balance, you slowly bend your knees, arch your back and lower your toes toward your head, mimicking the tail of scorpion.
It’s not an easy pose but Hommertzheim has made vast improvements since he started. He can remember his first day when he unintentionally took the hardest class offered at the studio. “I was lying in a pile of sweat,” he said.
But something about yoga appealed to him. He credits the studio’s owner, Jessa Baxter-Voos, and the supportive yoga community with helping him along the way.
Hommertzheim has lost about 50 pounds since he started and he said he’s amazed every day by the poses he’ll see other people perform.
He said there is no place for ego in yoga because you’ll only get better if you come from a place of humility, of knowing what your body can and can’t do. “Sometimes you push yourself and your ego gets in the way and you push too hard and end up hurting yourself,” he said.
Hommertzheim takes time to train his body to learn new poses and said he tries to improve even on the poses he hates. One is the reverse Ardha Chandrasana, which involves twisting your body into a half-moon pose. He said his right hip is not a fan.
Hommertzheim has been sober for three years now and said he is focused on finishing school, preferably before his youngest sister, who, he said, is a traditional college student.
He said that he has given up on planning his life out.
“In the long run I just want to be happy and doing yoga.”