I attended a yoga workshop this past weekend with a wonderful instructor who I really connected with. She had the class talk about how yoga has changed us, and she told me that my students need to hear my story. So, this is my yoga story.
The short version is this: yoga helped me stop being so mean to myself. However, it took years for me to get there. I think it was in teacher training that I really learned how to be gentle with myself. Even when I was starting out with yoga, I would force myself into poses that felt uncomfortable and bash myself when I didn’t think I was doing them ‘right.’ Once I was introduced to the yogic principle ahimsa, or nonviolence, I realized that I wasn’t playing for my own team at all. I was punching myself in the face all day long. I finally stopped forcing myself to do uncomfortable poses, and that translated into my life off the mat. I stopped taking the hardest classes, I stopped trying to work three different jobs, I stopped pushing myself to the point of burnout. It sounds so simple but was so difficult for me to wrap my head around: being successful doesn’t necessarily mean making life as difficult as possible for yourself. Once this idea finally clicked, my life got exponentially better. I became happier than ever with my decisions, and was even more successful than I had been when I was punching myself in the face.
The long version is this: I went to my first yoga class when I was eleven years old, after my first week of seventh grade. I’d had a terrible first week of school because I was struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. When I left that yoga class, I felt lighter in my heart. I felt like I’d had an escape from the constant war I was at with myself in my brain. So, I kept going to yoga classes. Other kids thought it was a little weird, since not many seventh graders did yoga. But, I did convince some of my friends to try it with me during middle school, and they enjoyed it, too.
By the time I reached high school, I’d been practicing yoga for a while. I was actually able to take yoga as my P.E. credit freshman year, which did wonders for me mentally. I decided to help start up a yoga program at my school, with the help of some enthusiastic teachers, and even led a two-week long intensive course all about yoga. About fifteen students joined, which accounted for about one-fifth of the school’s population (the school had a little under one hundred students!). My teachers told me that my passion for yoga was contagious.
During that time, though, I was struggling with a food obsession and body dysmorphia. I started to become focused on the fitness aspects of yoga and started doing more intense workouts like running, HIIT, and lifting. These behaviors eventually led to a full-fledged eating disorder.
In the fall of 2015, I was at my sickest, but there were some moments that gave me a reason to keep getting healthier. One of those moments was the day I taught yoga to my sister’s Girl Scout troop. We went outside and I taught a basic yoga class to the girls. I remember watching how much they enjoyed it and feeling inspired. I knew then that I wanted to become a teacher someday.
I practiced yoga on and off throughout high school, and finally, at the end of my senior year, I decided to finally put my yoga first. I took a semester to live at home and go through my 200-hour training. It was the first time in my life I’d made a positive decision for myself that wasn’t based on getting the best grades or making the most money. And it didn’t feel indulgent in the least, because I knew it was a stepping stone to getting to help share my passion for yoga and help others.
I’ve written a lot of blogs about teacher training, so I’ll link some of them throughout this post. But as I mentioned earlier, the big theme that I took away from it was being kind to myself and others. That gentleness is more powerful than aggression.
So this brings us closer to the present. I was hired by the Kent State rec center as a yoga teacher in March and have been teaching ever since. I’ve had some classes where no one has shown up. I’ve had some classes that got crowded and I had to move furniture around to accommodate. I’ve had some students come once and never come again. I’ve had some students who have come every time I’ve taught. I’ve had some classes I was proud of, and other classes where I wish I’d done it better. It’s been an ever-changing experience, and I have become a better teacher with practice. There are hundreds of reasons why I love this job. Some are simple: I get to wear comfy clothes to my work, I’m paid well, my hours are amazing. But my favorite things about my job are that I get the time to be fully aware of the present moment while I’m teaching, and I love making a positive difference in people’s lives. Even if my class is only one hour out of their week, I have the privilege of making that hour one where they can relax and feel better. And when people tell me they enjoyed my class, my heart bursts with joy.
Teaching yoga is truly my dream come true. I am endlessly thankful for this job and everyone- EVERYONE- who has helped me reach this goal.
So that’s my yoga story. 🙂