When I started teaching yoga, it’s safe to say I did not like myself. Not even kinda sorta maybe. There was so much noise in my head. I struggled with being, having, and doing enough. I struggled with body issues. I refused to receive the thing I most craved- acceptance and love. Perhaps because those were the two things I wouldn’t give myself. Defensive, aloof, with a chip on my shoulder, I looked confident on the outside, while inside I was anything but that.
There was a continuous fear that the people I loved would leave and it was up to me to keep them happy, together, and in my world. The problem with that is we are not responsible for other people’s joy. Nor can we help someone who isn’t ready to be helped. I was in a losing battle. As a result, a visceral pain was always present.
Numbing the pain through alcohol, sex, exercise, television helped the tiniest bit, but the thoughts still lingered, even through the fog of distraction. I ran and ran away from myself, yet when I stopped running to catch my breath, there I was.
Reconnecting and remembering
Yoga is like water over rocks; though soft and fluid, over time water will transform even the hardest surfaces. Five years into my teaching, I reached the point where I had to face my self-loathing. Yoga had softened my outer edges, pierced my armor. It had given me tools to start accepting parts of myself I’d previously rejected. As I began to be in my body again, I had a safe space to feel.
Time on the mat taught me that every time I stepped on, I was a beginner, regardless of how many hours I had practiced in my life. Every day, every minute was different. Some days I had more strength, balance, or flexibility than others. Some days it took all my strength just to show up. For a long time if I wasn’t being paid to teach, I didn’t show up.
Yoga is patient, compassionate, and a tad tenacious. It waits for you. And when you do finally show up, it often gives you exactly what you need to go deeper (on and off the mat). The more you show up the more you get to know the truest parts of yourself. Until one day, without fanfare or likely any recognition, a realization dawns that self-acceptance and love are present. You realize you feel good. You feel. And that is good.
Dying to Live
“Corpse pose” is practiced at the end of class. A short period of time where the limitations and obstacles to uniting with your truest self can die. Always we begin again. We surrender, if only for five minutes. We connect to our breath, our wisdom, peace. Perhaps that connection will last longer that the time it takes to roll up the mat and return to our lives. In fleeting moments, we remember how that feels, reconnect, and feel it. During those times, the chaos is quailed. No need to numb.
As more and more of the hardened edges soften, we become more willing to feel. We know it’s not always going to feel good, but the pain is a contrast, a reminder to turn inward, be courageously honest with ourselves, and take action. Numbness brings apathy. Feeling brings change. Life becomes richer when truly felt in its totality.
Ten years after I started figuring out how to stop hating myself, I walked along a nearly deserted New England beach in December. Layered in clothing to combat the frigid wind, I walked along the waters edge. I had just decided how I wanted to feel in the upcoming year, and I was contemplating how I would embody those feelings while listening to music. I felt myself expanding beyond my body. I recall thinking how good the sun felt on my skin, the salty air smelled, and the songs sounded. I felt light. I found myself dancing. I felt pukka. I belted out the Madonna song and I didn’t care who heard. I was making a declaration. I felt audacious. As I watched the waves roll in, some felt like they were chasing me, trying to just touch me for a second, like a childhood game of tag. I played back. As I did, I connected to the waves, the wind, the beach and I felt sensuous. I was embodying my feelings.
It’s easy when you’re in the perfect conditions as I was that day. It takes more effort when things aren’t ideal. That’s why I keep showing up to the mat; to be stronger, more balanced, and flexible, to surrender a little more. It is a practice. One that we have opportunities to engage on and off the mat daily. We just have to keep showing up fully.
Need some help moving through the noise, discovering that inner peace? Let’s talk!