How Yoga Taught Me To Love Myself.
If you asked me six years ago if I was a yogi, I would have said yes without hesitation. After all, I practiced a vigorous asana practice every day, I wore bright Lululemon leggings, I said “Namaste,” I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being a yogi. For the first three years of my yoga practice I would walk into the 105 degree room, place my mat as close to the mirrored wall as humanly possible, and spend 90 minutes yanking my body in directions in which it did not want to go, while the instructors voice was drowned out by the booming sound of self-criticisms running through my head. I became unhealthily obsessed with the calorie burning and hated every inch of the 15-year-old girl bending in the mirror in front of me. At one point, I was on crutches for a knee injury, and after 3 days I threw aside the crutches and hobbled back into the yoga studio. I couldn’t even kneel, but that didn’t stop me. I would rather have hurt myself than invited the possibility of gaining weight. I used yoga to fuel my eating disorder and self-hatred, spiraling down a dark path. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I came to the realization that nothing about the way I was treating my body was yogic. It took hitting a point of rock bottom to get me to my first Vinyasa yoga class on a Saturday morning at 9:30 A.M with Mary Catherine Starr. I remember lying in savasana, allowing the lavender that Mary Catherine had sprayed over my head to dance through my nostrils, and feeling something I hadn’t felt in a long time; peace. There are a handful of moments in life that when you look back you can say “that’s when everything changed,” and that morning marked the turning point in my yoga journey, when I discovered I could use yoga to help and love myself, when I realized, that was the whole point.
There is a reason that asana is the third limb of yoga, it’s because without the Yamas and the Niyamas, asana is irrelevant. People often ask me if I would do things differently if I could go back, and my answer is always no. Because although I tortured myself and went through suffering, I needed to go through all of that to learn that touching my head to my knee didn’t matter if it was coming from a place of self-loathing. That’s ahimsa. Ahimsa is the first Yama because it builds the foundation for our entire yoga practice. Not harming ourselves, others and the world around us forms the roots in which our practice grows, without those roots, there would be no tree. You can do the most advanced asana, but if you aren’t doing it from a place of love for yourself, then it’s not yoga. Sometimes it’s easy to take this practice for granted, it’s easy to go through the motions, it’s easy to skip class because you’re not in the mood, but it’s important to remember how powerful this practice is. Whenever I get in a rut in my practice, I remember that 15-year-old girl filled with so much hatred for herself, who used yoga as a weapon against her own body, and I remember that yoga had the power to teach her how to be kind herself, how to be kind to others, and how to accept kindness in return.
Being a yogi doesn’t mean you can do every single asana flawlessly, being a yogi means living in a way in which you avoid causing harm. It might seem obvious at times, don’t punch someone, don’t yell at them, don’t litter, but the self-harm, that’s where the work usually is. The greatest thing yoga has ever taught me is how to be kind to myself. It’s not something I’ve mastered, it’s something I work on every single time I step foot on my mat, that’s why I keep coming back, and that’s why I want to share it with others.