My journey of self-discovery and healing through yoga practice

Anyone who has been practicing yoga for any amount of time knows that the practice of yoga is a journey. For many of us, a yoga practice contains joy, frustration, self-discovery, painful realizations, and transformation – sometimes all in the same hour! One of the most difficult and beautiful things my practice has brought me is self-acceptance and the ability to be vulnerable with all the pieces of myself, including the ones that aren’t so easy to face. So, in the spirit of vulnerability, I figured I should share some of that with you and let you get to know me.

My mom did yoga since before I was born, and she began to share some of that with me when I was in elementary school. We did some simple poses together every now and then. She gave me a deck of cards with yoga poses on them and I would spend hours in my room going through the cards and trying to mimic the poses. Looking back on it now, it was probably not the safest way to learn yoga because I’m sure my alignment was totally off, but thankfully my young muscles were pretty forgiving! As I entered middle and high school, I started attending classes with my mom when she would go. The classes she went to were mostly power yoga, which supplied a pretty hard workout and a good sweat. At the time, the strong and sweaty nature of the power yoga classes was really appealing to me. I grew up playing sports and was used to pushing my body as hard as I could. In fact, if I wasn’t too exhausted to move after a workout, I was convinced that the workout wasn’t even worth it. Toward the end of my time in high school, I started going to power yoga classes on my own a few times a week during the winter (between soccer season and track season) as a way to cross-train. It wasn’t until years later that I even knew yoga could be still and peaceful, too.

My body and I didn’t always have the best relationship. I grew up in a culture that focused on how bodies looked on the outside and attached value to people based on their appearances. I developed early and was the tallest and largest girl in my class in 5th grade (I know, now it’s hard to imagine me ever being tall!). I was teased constantly for living in a bigger body compared to my peers and I began to internalize that. I believed that my identity was my appearance. This led to unhealthy patterns throughout my teen years, starting with seeking approval from the popular girls in my classes, comparing myself to everyone around me, and eventually trying to gain control over my body by exercising too much and not eating enough. Most of my actions as a teenager, especially when it came to eating and exercise, were motivated by a hatred for how I looked and a desire to change. I decided that I would never be good enough until I reached a certain weight or looked a certain way. That was all that mattered to me for years. 

Of course, no matter what my body looked like, this mindset would have stayed the same. The problem wasn’t in my appearance. It was in my mentality. This cruel voice inside my head had greater impacts in other areas of my life as well. I was friends with people who didn’t care about me at all, and I craved their attention and approval, hanging on to any crumb of praise I could so that I could feel worthy. I eventually started dating someone who saw this weakness in me and took advantage of it. For 2 years, I was stuck in an abusive relationship and I believed that it was exactly what I deserved.

When I got to college, I made new friends that were so different from those from my childhood. They were loving, selfless, and kind, and they always made sure I knew exactly how much they cared about me. I loved so much about the friends I made in college. And none of it had anything to do with how they looked. This helped me realize that the reason people liked me wasn’t because of how I looked, either. I began to understand that who I am is so much more than that. I started actually eating when I was hungry, eating foods I enjoyed, and not stressing so much when I skipped a gym session. This was a slow process at first. At the beginning, I was terrified to relinquish control. But each day, it got just a little bit easier.

After my first year of college, I finally ended my abusive relationship and began nurturing my spirituality. I found a community that shared my values and surrounded myself with people I truly cared about and admired. All of this helped me turn a corner and realize that I have inherent value, and nothing can take that away from me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t exactly being nice to my body during my first few years of college. I was stressed out of my mind most of the time because of a rigorous course load. I studied chemical engineering and biochemistry for 4 semesters before eventually switching to social work, so I had a lot on my plate. I wasn’t sleeping enough or investing in my recovery. I was still completely ignoring my mental health. And I was eating almost every meal at dining halls – not exactly nourishing, nutritious foods! 

During my sophomore year, my habits started to catch up with me. I was sick for about 3 months and exhausted constantly. Because my body was so worn out, the only exercise I was able to do was gentle movement, usually in the form of yoga. The first time I stepped onto my yoga mat that year, it felt like coming home. I began to rediscover my love for yoga and started to finally own my practice. I practiced mostly from the comfort of my bedroom, sometimes following videos online, or sometimes just making something up as I went along. That was the time in my life that I realized I wanted yoga to be more than just something I did every now and then when I wanted to work out but didn’t feel like going for a run. It became an essential part of my self-care and something I craved each day.

Over the next few years, my practice became much less rigid. What started out as a yoga routine to supplement my other workouts turned into therapy. I began exploring different types of yoga, like yin, restorative, and meditation. I realized how much my body needed a passive stretch sometimes. As I transitioned into my social work major and started to understand more about psychology and mental health, I was able to use yoga to help heal some emotional and physical wounds from residual trauma. I stopped pushing so hard and started listening to what my body was saying. I began eating intuitively, taking cues from my body about what it needed. And that eventually translated to exercise. I started asking myself each morning: what movement do I need today? How is my energy? What parts of my body need a little extra attention right now? Yoga became a mindset for me. A way of being in my body. A way of investigating and responding to my needs. It even started to permeate into other areas of my life, like work and relationships.

This part of my practice has only intensified over time as I’ve begun to settle into a loving and kind relationship with myself. It’s allowed me to do the same with the other people in my life as well. I have healthy relationships with people that I love and who love me for who I am. I’ve been married to my favorite person in the world for 2 years, and our relationship is equal, honest, nurturing, caring, and selfless. I think the reason this became possible for me was because, through a lot of healing, learning and unlearning, and self-examination, I finally realized that I’m worthy of all of it.

I became a yoga teacher in 2020 and I have absolutely loved sharing this passion with my students. It’s already immensely deepened my practice as I’ve continued on this path. I don’t know exactly what lies ahead from here, but I’m so excited to find out. 

Can you relate to my journey? Tell me something you’ve learned about yourself through your yoga journey in the comments.

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