At 37 years old, I can still do some pretty sick yoga moves. I say that tongue in cheek, but from the outsider’s perspective it is true. I often joke that I was blessed with genetics that made me dumb strong and ridiculously flexible. Not to mention, I started gymnastics at three years old because I was also fearless and my mom was tired of me recklessly tumbling on, around, and off the furniture. Despite my devastating anxiety, fearful of jumping, kicking, flipping, swinging, climbing … I was not. Not ever. So, yeah, nearly 17 years into my yoga practice, I can do some sweet shit.
Photo Credit: Hayden Steinbough
The problem with all this and the reason I have always been hesitant to post asana on social media is because it actually tells you nothing about what yoga has done for me. It doesn’t tell you the story of me; you miss the whole journey.
I started yoga at 21 years old after destroying my shoulders playing rugby in Detroit. I was a nanny, finishing my undergraduate degree at Wayne State, in a constant war with my body, and mostly a hot mess as most twenty-somethings are. What I knew after my first yoga encounter, without a shadow of a doubt, was that I was home. Yoga felt like the safe haven I desperately needed; it was my sanctuary after church no longer fit. It was the first place I felt connected to my body in a safe and positive way and connected to my spirituality free from the inconsistencies I experienced within Christianity. These were two things I desperately needed back in life.
I would love to tell you that my relationship with my body and my mat was a linear one. That I immediately fell in love with my body, that all of my woes were cured, and that eternal bliss was reached, but you know that would be utter bullshit.
I have struggled with debilitating anxiety from the time I was five, and that anxiety became very disruptive by the time I was eight. At five, I didn’t speak a word the entire year of kindergarten. My only memories are flashes, mostly fearful ones. By eight, I would miss math class every day. I was terrified of being called on and not knowing the answer. I made myself sick over it. It transformed from one fear to the next. From fires to lightning, then ghosts or burglars, you name it, it kept me up at night. As I got older, it essentially turned into the fear of loss or immense separation anxiety. Doctors told my parents I was smart and sensitive and to keep me away from the news. Thank you, super fucking helpful. By high school I found my drug of choice, food. Either binge eating crap, deprivation, dieting, simply not eating or obsessing over various body parts. By graduation, I shifted from bottomless anxiety to depression as the main event with a side order of anxious.
What is so interesting is some days I forget how hard it all was. In fact much of my life is a blur. Just this week, I spent time with an old friend and her family. Her mother said to me, gosh, isn’t it incredible how far you’ve come from fifteen? At first, I was like, what do you mean? In that moment, I truly forgot how turbulent my inner world was; she had to remind me.
Here is some truth and perspective for you, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t hate my body. I don’t remember my strong, light frame. I don’t remember what it looked like or felt like to need my dad to take in my size 0 homecoming dress at fourteen. I already was sure I was fat. I don’t remember what it felt like to be the girl who did the most pull-ups in middle school. I don’t remember my body before I began to judge it.
I do remember being thirteen, standing in my underpants, staring in the mirror comparing my thigh fat to the girls in the YM magazine. I do remember being measured by the mean girl’s mom who instructed us to compare our measurements to that of the supermodels, 34-24-36. Or that same mother telling us we were supposed to have three diamonds between our legs when we held them together, one between your thighs, one below your knees and one near your ankles. I remember this happening before I even left middle school.
I remember being certain I was fat and ugly. I remember my worth being measured against my tall, thin best friends. Why did I always have tall, thin and ridiculously gorgeous best friends? I remember that my mom said I was deceivingly heavy, even as a petite child (again because I was always strong) but when I stood on the scale, all I knew was no matter the size of my pants, I weighed more than my friends, therefore, I was less worthy. I remember being every size from a 0-14, up and down at least 100x and despising my body equally at every.single.size.
What I have come to understand now is that focus on the exterior of my body, focusing on calories, what I ate or didn’t eat, how much I weighed on any given day, how much I exercised, what size my pants were and on and on. These were ALL the ways I buried myself, my needs, my light, my ideas, my joy, my pain, my life. I numbed it all. You cannot selectively numb, so I numbed it all. Because it was ALL.TOO.MUCH.
I am telling you all this because I want to know that asana doesn’t tell you anything. It doesn’t tell you the story of my endless injuries that have come at cost of my hypermobility and athletic endeavors. It doesn’t tell you the story of my transformation. It doesn’t tell you the story of my life.
This practice slowly, ever so slowly allowed me to peel back the layers of protection I had built around my sensitive self. This practice taught be how to breathe, how to trust myself, how to be present with my discomfort, how to live in my body, how to live in my spirituality, how to be.
There were countless days I drove to yoga, parked my car and didn’t go in because I was certain I was too bloated or too fat to be seen. When I tell you I understand how you feel, chances are I do, and so do many others on the mat. When I tell you that I truly believe we are ALL worthy of belonging on the mat or any where else in your life you feel called to be, you are worthy.
This practice has slowly invited me to heal. It has slowly allowed me to wake up to myself, to trust what I know, to listen ever so closely. This practice reminds me daily that I truly am a spiritual being having a human experience and this human experience is frickin’ hard sometimes. But I still, I try.
This practice has brought me back to myself. I am not done. My anxiety is still very present in my life. My maladaptive coping mechanisms are still alive and kicking. I would still choose cheesecake over doing hard shit any day of the week. But I am on the path. I am in the flow of growth. I a
m doing the work. I am showing up in my life. I am the healthiest I have been so far and I hope to keep growing better.
Stop judging the asana: not my asana, not anyone else’s you admire, not even your own. Your asana doesn’t deserve your judgment or your praise. It only deserves your presence. Stop judging your beautiful messy self against the asana of Instagram. Let’s get real. Stop comparing your life to anything you see on social media or anywhere else for that matter. Stay in your lane. Do your work. Heal your own wounds. Show up in your life and stop hiding. We need you. We need your light and you can’t give it if you are drowning in life.
You are a beautiful mess. This yoga is messy, hard, and uncomfortable, that is the true beauty and art. So please, show up as yourself in the world, unapologetically, allow yourself to be seen. It is liberating. Come back to yourself, you are dearly missed. And if you are so inclined, get on the mat. There is always a place for you there.
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