How Yoga Saved My Life and Shaped Who I am Today
"Yoga does not transform the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees." - B.K.S. Iyengar
Earlier this week, I was asked to share my “Yoga Saved My Life” story for Fierce Calm’s Instagram page. It is always a liberating experience when I can share my yoga journey and how it has shaped my life. I credit yoga for giving me the tools to manage my depression and anxiety. Yoga also helped me to establish strong communities who have been my rock through some of the hardest times of my life. It is through yoga that I continue to grow into the woman I want to be.
I am happy with the story I shared on Instagram, but there is so much more to the story. In my opinion, there is a profound need for more people to start sharing their stories. It is therapeutic to wrote down or speak your story out loud, but it goes even farther when we share publicly. There is a hope that in sharing stories in a public way, we can help inspire or connect with others in some way.
It is why I encourage my friends to really pursue their dreams when they jokingly mention wanting to write a book. I think we all should. We all have personal experiences and lessons that we should be sharing with the world. In fact, writing a book is one of my top goals for 2018.
I wanted the opportunity to take you further into the story and share my vulnerabilities with you too. I am fully in love with who I am now and am embracing the journey. It has been a fucking battle, but a beautiful one.
Adolescence and Depression
As a child, I was carefree and happy. I was commonly known for being the girl who chatted happily among strangers at the grocery store. My family would tease me for always smiling so hard that I would force my eyes shut. I was on stage, center of attention, and happy to be in the spotlight.
During this time, I felt like I never fit in, but was truly pleased with it. My heart overflowed with compassion and I cared about the people around me so much it hurt sometimes. I was loudly passionate about the things I loved. There was no doubt of my potential to do big things one day with my ability to love people.
Then, around eleven or twelve-years-old, adolescence hit. Hard. I started to experience a new surge of hormones and emotions that I rarely experienced before. Sadness flooded me for little reason and I began experiencing anger in a whole new way. I also started awakening sexually and noticing new things about my body and other people’s bodies. Having been raised in the southern Baptist community, I quickly became fearful of my own thoughts and behavior. I felt horribly guilty about little things, like thinking curse words or feeling something while watching couples make out on TV.
I became a fragment of the girl I had been. I began to hurt myself as punishment for my “wrong doing.” The bright colored clothing was exchanged for dark, baggy pants and too much eye makeup. I didn’t understand who I was and felt like I needed to hide under some new persona. My friends at church no longer understood who I was and I was shunned in the place that once felt so good to me.
My family is incredible, but they have their own struggles too. They did not really know what to do with me and quickly sent me to a Christian counselor. I was also put on anti-depressants. I know anti-depressants really help people, but it was not the right path for me at all. I would spend the next few years dealing with mild split personality and an increase in hostility. This just fueled my anger with the world.
I started to hang out with a rougher crowd. Smoking cigarettes became my new way of proving how little I cared about my own life. There were nights I would sneak out to the park and stumble my way home after drinking random booze stolen out of parent’s liquor cabinets. I no longer cared about punishing myself. God was a bunch of bullshit. What god would allow me to do this to myself anyways?
My public persona still needed to stay intact. That is one thing I knew. I would “fake” having it together every day, leading school organizations, being part of the honor roll, and worked as a nanny a few nights a week. This persona continued through high school, where things got even worse. Sure, I was working multiple jobs, involved in many clubs, a cheerleader, and managed to graduate a year early. But I was spending most nights with a terrible group of friends, getting stoned or drunk more nights than not.
It was in early adolescence that I started to judge my body as well. I had this huge fear of never being good enough, smart enough, but more importantly, pretty enough. Teen magazines got me interested in my first taste of fitness. I remember doing my mother’s Pilates DVDs and doing 100 crunches a night because I read that’s what Britney Spears does. I was terrified of putting on weight and would spend the next decade of my life constantly scrutinizing my body.
I am partly grateful for this, however, because it was at this time that I picked up a book called “Skinny Bitch.” I wanted to be a skinny bitch, so I grabbed the book and dived in. Little did I know, the entire book was based on veganism and opened me up to a whole new world. I have been mostly vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian, a conscious eater, or whatever you want to call it since then.
The obsession with having the right kind of body only grew worse as I matured. The more I felt like my body was being “used” by the people around me, the more I grew unattached to it. I often felt danger within my own body and hated it. This only added to my depression and anxiety as I entered college at the age of 17.
Luckily, it was in the first few years of college that I got my first real taste of yoga and mindfulness practices.
At my university, we had access to the local YMCA to use as a gym. They had a variety of fitness classes we could attend, and I was eager to get started. I cannot remember what class I thought I was going to, perhaps Pilates, but after I got all situated in my spot, I realized I was not in the right class room. When the teacher welcomed us to yoga, I nearly sprinted out of the room but was too embarrassed to leave. I stuck it out.
It was freaking hard. Not only was I shaking in every pose, but I really had to focus and think about each movement I was making. I had to concentrate on breathing at the same time and relaxing my face. The entire class, I was moaning to myself about how much I hated it. However, when class ended, I was disappointed. I wanted to keep going. I just found something that made me truly focus, anxious brain quieted. It was a miracle. I was hooked.
Just after this time, I moved to Florida briefly with an ex-boyfriend. I found myself looking for something more than yoga and sought out a Buddhist church that taught meditation on Monday nights. While I only ever visited about five times, it changed something within me. I found that I could really calm my anxiety and find happiness within myself easier than I ever thought was imaginable.
When I came back to Arizona, I would spent the next few years in and out of yoga classes. While I did not have a consistent meditation or yoga practice, I now had the tools I needed when I found myself overwhelmed or depressed. I had been off medication for years by this time but was finally feeling like I was fully in charge of my mind. If I found myself getting dark and twisty, I had ways to correct it.
This is also when I found myself a counselor I truly connected with. Together, we helped heal some of my deep wounds, sexual traumas, and disconnection with my body. In all honesty, I may have eventually worked these things out on my own, but I’m glad I didn’t. I suggest therapy to friends and family all the time. The right therapist will help you to heal yourself and teach you the steps. It is much harder to teach yourself.
My “Checklist” Life
It’s May of 2013 and my life is working out exactly how I wanted it to. I am graduating from Arizona State University, I am engaged to a handsome man, and we just purchased our first home together. I happily began to mentally check things off my life’s to-do list. I was making it. My “I have everything all together” persona was truly alive and well.
Except, I really didn’t have anything together at all. I had a short marriage of only three years and it was a constant battle. My husband worked nights and we were living in a small town away from my friends and family. I was depressed again and needed more from him than he could give me. There was a lot of heavy drinking in my house. There was so much pain and hurt throughout our time together.
Less than a year into our marriage, I lost my grandmother who was very dear to me. I’m not sure if you believe in spirits or anything like that, but I felt her presence when she passed and still feel her every day. Shortly thereafter, a friend of mine passed away in a car accident. I was devastated. I was so alone at this time and completely disconnected with my husband. I cannot really explain what was happening in my head at this time, but I felt my grandmother and friend guiding me. It was suddenly clear to me that I needed to get my ass to yoga teacher training and begin to build my yoga community.
Becoming a yoga teacher was the best freaking choice I have ever made. It is clearly my passion and something that feels so natural to me. I soaked up the teachings. While the work was challenging and it was a lot to learn, the four months in teacher training were some of the best months of my life. I was in such a wonderful head space and knew I was where I needed to be.
I had the pleasure of completing my training with some of the most wonderful people I have ever met, many of which I am still friends with to this day. I got to be open and vulnerable with this community of people who were not judging me at all. They weren’t rolling their eyes at me to having a young marriage that was failing. They were supportive and loving. It was exactly the people I needed to hold me together as I fought for my “checklist life” for the next couple of years.
I began teaching students during the roughest years of my life. My home life was in shambles, but I would walk into class and all of that would go away. I got to be the person I wanted to be, serving others and being a light for those who needed it. I built incredible relationships with my students, some of whom have now become teachers themselves. Teaching became my haven, my sanctuary.
At home, I was doing everything I could to fight for what was supposed to be my perfect life. I was going back to church and attending a church-led marriage class once a week. I was giving my husband space, encouraging words, etc. I put my needs aside each day to fight for the concept of us.
It was exhausting. In fact, I can remember a night where my panic attacks were so extreme, I had to call my dad in the middle of the night to remove me from my own house. I’d had enough.
I had a community of people who would love me whether I failed at my marriage or not. I had friends and family who knew my struggle and were there for me. In fact, when I made the phone call to a few of my friends that I was finally moving out, they immediately made the time to help me pack.
I could finally breathe again. I moved into my new home and created an oasis for myself. My front room became my home studio and the energy of my space finally matched that of how I felt when I was teaching.
On Finding Courage
It is hard to find the bravery needed to walk away from something that you once desired. There were days I felt strong and independent, but there were often many days that I cried myself to sleep for being such a failure. Even though I took the steps to freedom, I still had a lot of work to do to rebuild myself, to be courageous and self-assured.
I started to host some women’s yoga events at my house, looking to build a supportive community and share my passions with others. In doing research for a more feminine teaching style, I stumbled upon Bizzie Gold on YouTube and fell in love with the concept of Buti Yoga.
According to their website, Buti Yoga is a dynamic asana practice fused with primal movement, tribal dance and deep core engagement. It is also much more than that! It is a style of yoga that helps us reconnect with feminine energy within us. The movement builds confidence, empowerment, and some serious strength.
I immediately signed up for the next teacher training and expanded my yoga community even more. Buti yoga instructors are some badass women. They are strong, make no apologies for who they are, and understand how important it is to have a tribe. They are true wild women.
This practice led me to connect with my wild women nature as well. I quickly brought the practice of Buti Yoga back to my own yoga community and watched the women around me flourish. I was miraculously attracting women to my yoga classes who were really battling self esteem and their own issues at home. In fact, many of the women were going through their own divorces or separations. What joy it was for me to watch these women transform in front of my eyes.
When practicing yoga, we start to move our bodies in new ways. Buti Yoga flips that on it’s head. Everything is new and feels silly in the beginning. We feel disoriented with our own bodies as we start to move in a true feminine nature. Hips are spiraling, hands are waving, our bodies becoming fluid. It feels odd, but then something clicks. I see the glow on a woman’s face as she starts to own her body and movement, feeling sexy and powerful in her own right. We all grew together, on and off the mat.
As incredible as my community was, I started to feel the need to leave my small community. I was at my limit with what I had to offer them and my soul was aching for something bigger. My inner guides were telling me it was time to move on, I had more to do.
At first, I was really scared to tell my students that I was leaving them. During this time, I was teaching yoga about eight times a week and had really established a following of dedicated students. I felt guilty for leaving them.
The most beautiful part of the community we built together was their unrelenting support of me and my personal growth. They were ecstatic for my choice to leave and travel the world. They knew my pains and hardships I had struggled and were cheering me own. My students helped me pack, bought tons of my belongings, and celebrated with me. How freaking lucky am I?
In travel, I am continuing to build my yoga practice and what it means to me. I am continuing to connect with students from home and around me, continuing to cheer each other on. Sometimes, you have to move on even from the good things to truly flourish.
My yoga community continues to build as I get to share my teachings with more and more students. I am becoming more confident in who I am every single day.
I am good enough, smart enough, pretty enough. I am enough. Period.
Yoga has given me the tools to heal myself and coach others. There is no greater gift in life than to be of service to those around me. It is my greatest blessing to continue to teach close friends, dedicated readers, and new strangers that stumble upon my work.
Yoga and its community saved my life. I know it could do powerful things for you too.
Let’s chat about it in the comments. How has yoga saved or improved your life? Do you feel connected to any part of my story? I would love to continue the conversation with you.
If you are struggling with depression, anxiety, or just need someone to chat with more privately, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am not a therapist, but I am a great ear and would love to support you in any way that I can.
Thank you for letting me share my story.
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