LET’S GET PERSONAL!
LET’S GET PERSONAL!
How yoga changed my life and how it can help you too
When people ask me about my “yoga journey”, how I got into yoga and how I became a yoga teacher, there’s many stories I could tell. I could tell about the first time I did a headstand or a handstand and how I trained my body to become strong enough to do that, or about the hundred times I’ve cried on my yoga mat and why, about my first teacher training in Costa Rica that really opened me up to love, or about how yoga has healed my broken heart, my injuries and helped me deal with anxiety. I could tell all those stories, they’re good and important stories. But the first one I want to tell is how yoga made me open up to who I am, who I really am. Made me, yes.
Looking for something that could ground me and create some peace and tranquility in my life, I started practicing yoga for real when I was 20. The pressure and stress I was experiencing in ballet school at the time, drove me to look for something that could create balance. I started practicing Ashtanga Yoga, with no real clue what I was doing. All I knew was that it made me reach a place in myself I had never touched before, a place that was real and that didn’t get affected by the chaos in my life and in my head. A place I could seek when life felt like too much.
In the beginning and first years after I started a regular practice, I could sense this inner space maybe for a minute or only a few seconds at the time. The experience wasn’t really pleasant, because it always made me cry for no apparent reason, but it felt good afterwards, as if the pressure had been lightened a bit, so I kept going back to the mat- it was enough to spark my curiosity. Could it be that I was more than my thoughts and feelings and circumstances? I steadily kept practicing yoga and meditation, if not every day then at least a few times every week. It was a slow process the first few years. Nothing major happened, but still it made me feel a bit different, a bit better; more connected with my body, a bit more alert but also calm, I became aware of my breath for the first time, and other small things like that. And slowly Yoga started to change my life. I can honestly say that Yoga is the main reason I’ve been able to stay sane through the challenges that life has offered me. And I say offered, because I can look back at those challenges today and be truly grateful for them. Everything happens for a reason, and they have helped me grow. I try to remember that every time some challenge comes a long, that they are there for me to learn something. Every process of change is usually quite uncomfortable, but rewarding in the end.
A few years later, someone tipped me that I should read a book called “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. I had never heard of the book or the man before, but I’ve always loved to read, so I decided to give it a go. I opened the book and read the name of the first chapter: “YOU ARE NOT YOUR MIND”. Underlined, capital letters. That book deeply changed my relationship with myself. The thing with yoga, or life really, is this: if we are not willing to look within and sit with what’s there, the change we are looking to make may take a long time. Everything we’re looking to change, even outside of ourselves, begins inside. We have to be willing to change, and in that also be willing to pick ourselves apart before we can heal back together. In the “picking apart” process we can rid ourselves with the things that are no longer serving our purpose, our growth and wellbeing. This is not a pleasant process, but it is freeing, and necessary.
This process for me truly started when I read this book. The first chapter explains the word enlightenment, a word I had never really understood or cared to understand, it all sounded like mumbo jumbo to me. But the book explained it simply, the way The Buddha explained it: “enlightenment is the end of suffering”. Ok, nothing supernatural about that, so I kept reading. I realized after a few more pages that there were suffering in my life. And this book told me that it didn’t have to be. It told me that suffering happens inside and is never really caused by anything outside of us. Horrible things happen, yes, but ultimately, long term suffering is about our reactions and judgements toward those things or situations, not the thing or situation in and of itself. Grief is different than suffering. Grief or anger is an emotion, an energy that calls for a release, an expression. When we give it one, it dissolves and move on into another energy form. Suffering is a state. And we have a choice, we can choose to change the state we are in. So that’s what I chose.
Slowly I started to identify and name the judgements, feelings and emotions as I noticed them. This may sound easy, but trust me; in the beginning it is super hard! Everything for me just felt like a whole big chaos of pain. If you who read this is familiar with anxiety, fear, nervousness or depression, I’m sure you can relate to this. Everything is just painful, and it’s a surprisingly physical experience. I would go as far as to say that anxiety is something largely physical, or at least the experience of it. Of course, all feelings and emotions begin in the head, with our thoughts. And that’s how I started to identify my feelings.
I started to notice which thoughts were connected to specific feelings. This is when I started journaling, to write down what came up. I’ve always hated the concept of a diary, just the thought of someone else reading it always made me censure everything I wrote, which kind of ruins the whole point. It just became another thing I had to be good at, so I dumped the whole diary all together. But this time, there was a bigger reason for me to write everything down, cause I was starting to connect the dots of who I am and why I am that way.
(Uncensored journaling is an amazing exercise by the way, I now do it every day, if only a few words, and it really helps me to stay aware of what’s going on, in my head and my body. I would recommend it to everyone, but you have to give yourself permission to write unfiltered- let all the ugly, gritty, unpolished out of you and onto the paper, it’s the only way it will work. Don’t criticize or judge or be shameful!)
To find out who you are and why is a lifelong task. And we change all the time, so it is not a one time job. But the better you get at knowing yourself, the easier it becomes to also be honest with yourself about why you do the things you do, feel the things you feel and what you need to be happy. Try answering that question honestly and from the heart: “what do I really need to be happy?”. It is very hard, and it is very scary. This is the question I was left with after months of meditation, yoga and journaling after reading this book. This one little question, that contains so much. Why it’s scary to start answering this question honestly? Because you may not like the answer at all! The consequences of answering a question like this from your heart and not from your mind, is that it may lack logic and you may have to make major changes in your life, that most likely will affect other people as well. It may reveal that you have made choices based on other people’s expectations and opinions instead of your own. And there’s no way back. If you truly, wholeheartedly commit to answering this question, it’s very hard to turn your back on the answer once you have it on paper.
It took me about 6 months to answer this question. Seriously. That’s how important this question is. I realized that there’s of course many answers as well, because what I need to be happy in a relationship is different from what I need to be happy with my job. For me, this became a major reckoning, the reckoning. I started looking at where I was in my life, which choices had gotten me there, and the motivations behind those choices. (I believe that many young people know themselves much better than I used to, and many reading this may not recognize themselves in this part of my story. But I also believe that many will. And I believe there is no age limit to making changes in your life, just to have that said.)
What I realized is that I had given myself no room, no freedom, no space to actually explore who I was, to actually be who I was. I had been very good all my life at pleasing everyone else, and forgotten myself in the process of making sure everyone else was happy. I remember how this discovery made me feel. It made me feel very sad. I guess that’s what you call feeling sorry for yourself, but there was something beautiful in it. I felt sad the same way you would feel sad for a child who is all alone. And it was an important feeling for me to have, because it was the beginning of the development of self-love. I had been running my life from a place of fear, because I felt lost and unable to figure out what I really wanted with my life, in a world and time where feeling lost or not knowing equals being a failure. Where very young people are expected to have the answers and know themselves well enough to decide what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Let’s be real, that’s insane! I can look back at my 18 year old self and let you know I was nowhere near being grown up enough or ready to take on that kind of responsibility. I also don’t believe that the choice we make at a young age is necessarily the right choice for the rest of our lives. It can be the right choice at that time and maybe it will be right for some years, but we change. That’s why life is many journeys, many choices, and to change direction doesn’t necessarily mean that the other thing was wrong or that we failed. It just means it’s not right anymore, which is why it’s so important that we are willing to change and be fluid and open to new ideas!
At the age of 18 everyone asks all the time what you plan to do with your life, if you have a boyfriend yet, what you want to study. And of course it comes from a good place. But for a person who has no clue whatsoever, it’s exhausting. Not only because I didn’t have a good answer for people, but because I kept beating myself up internally for not knowing, for being such a failure when everyone else had everything figured out. I think I’m an actress at heart, because I was very good at faking it, and I always had a backup cover story. But in my soul I was suffering, because it wasn’t real. The story is still the same: I got so caught in the pressure of making all these big choices that I chose wrong. Many times. Wrong relationships, wrong friends, wrong jobs. So for me, this became a big clean up job when I finally decided to master up the courage and answer the one question of all questions: What do I need in my life to be happy? There’s a reason it says need and not want by the way. It’s not a question of whether or not a brand new fancy car would make you happy. Of course it would, it’s something we want, but the happiness is temporary, as is the truth with all materialistic things. It’s a question of need, because the exercise is about figuring out your core values and the truth of who you really are and has nothing to do with nice cars.
I divided it into four sections:
These areas, I realized, was the most important ones to me at the time. They may look different for you.
Then, regardless of what I had or didn’t have at the time, I started listing necessities that made me happy or would make me happy. Long list. And I sorted everything into the four categories. Then I went over it again, and again and again, until I had a few things listed under each point. This was not in any way a mental process for me. To be able to get to the heart of things, I needed to be very honest with myself, which is never easy. In order to do that, I practiced yoga, I breathed through everything that was difficult, until the pain dissolved and there was only breath. I meditated, I sat with the question and tried to really feel it in my body instead of thinking about it. I allowed the answers to come to me, while I was tending to my body, my breath, and tried to stay in my heart more than in my mind. This was a process of traveling from the mind back to the heart. To undo what I had learned, undo what I thought was right and what I thought was wrong, to start again.
I discovered when my list was done, that my life didn’t correspond with the list in some categories, at all. I also realized, and this is important; that the reason I didn’t have those things, or the reason my life didn’t look the way I wanted, was because I had been making choices for myself for all the wrong reasons, so I had been attracting all the wrong things. Which meant, it was no one’s fault, and there was absolutely no reason for me to blame anyone else. It was just the way it was. It is easy, when things doesn’t turn out the way we hoped or simply isn’t what we want, to blame others for being wrong. To want to change others or situations so they would fit us better. That’s not our job, and it’s never a cure. But when we can see that no one is to blame, and take responsibility for our choices and recognize that we have the power to change ourselves and the choices we make, we can start to create the life we want to live.
It became clear to me that particularly two main areas of my life was suffering (or rather I was suffering in them); my job and my relationship. Which, if you think about it, is where we spend most of our time; at work and at home. The problem in my job was not just that I worked for a company where I didn’t thrive or had a boss I didn’t particularly respected or got along with, it went much deeper than that. I worked in a field that was completely and utterly wrong all together. In my relationship with the man I was with at the time, I was unhappy as well. Which wasn’t anyone’s fault, we were just not a good match. And in our case, we were a bad match in the worst way: I was (and am) very sensitive and need to be in a relationship where there’s room to share emotion, good or bad, because it’s such a big part of how I express myself. He was a very closed person who didn’t allow any room for his own emotions, let alone anyone else’s. This is such an important thing, because it roots down into the very way we communicate love and understand each other, so I think we both suffered in that relationship. I can only speak for myself though, and I suffered because I felt there was no room for me there. I felt that he was constantly rejecting my feelings and my way of expressing myself. So what’s the solution? To blame the other person? To make yourself smaller? I did both, for a long time, until I didn’t know who I was anymore. And trust me, it’s not a solution to anything!
So things needed to change. I had figured out what didn’t work, I had taken my part of the responsibility, and I had spent 6 months answering the important question of what I needed to be happy. Problem solved. Right? No.
Because this was the part where I wanted to turn my back on all of this and just stay ignorant and pretend everything was fine. Ignorance is bliss! Cause in the back of my mind one big powerful scary thought was pressing its way to the surface: WHAT WILL PEOPLE THINK!?
From the outside my life looked pretty perfect! I had a good job earning good money, I had a handsome boyfriend with an even better job and more money, we had bought a beautiful apartment together where I had enough space to host my family and all my friends, a nice car and bla bla bla. No one had a clue how unhappy I was, not even my closest people. I was SO good at keeping the façade pretty. Which is another very important thing I learned through this process; it’s critical that we dare to be vulnerable with the people we trust, to ask for help when we need it and to talk to each other! When you haven’t done that, and no one knows what’s going on, it’s no small thing to drop a bomb this big on the people in your life. But this process had also taught me something else very important: To care more about other people’s opinions than my own well-being is dangerous, it’s what got me in this mess in the first place. So I decided to stand in my truth. In my case, and this is just how I am as a person and I’m not necessarily recommending this approach unless it deeply resonates with you, I had to really uproot my life and break everything apart to rebuild from scratch. I needed the feeling of complete freedom, because I had spent so many years tying myself down and making myself small. I told my boyfriend at the time that I had decided to go to Costa Rica for a few months, partly to do a Yoga Teacher Training, partly because I needed to travel on my own and be by myself. I remember that conversation very well. I had expected it to turn into a huge fight, but he just accepted it. Funny how things align when you start following your heart.. The day after I quit my job. I told friends and family that I had quit my job and was going away. I met both support and judgement. Somehow it wasn’t important to me anymore to “explain myself” or to defend my decision. And that is something that’s become a guidance tool for me since then. This was the very first time I experienced this feeling of just being sure about my decision, without having anything to show for it. No way of explaining why it was right, I just knew it in my core. Because it was aligned with my core values. And that’s the magic when we start making the right choices for ourselves, we feel a much smaller need to defend ourselves to others. Being in a position of defense all the time is exhausting. It’s so freeing to just stop doing it, and accept that there will always be people who disagree, and there will always be people who don’t understand. And that’s okay!
I can honestly say I lost a few friendships because of my decision to change these fundamental parts of my life. Some people couldn’t be there to support my choice to “quit my life and leave”. I know that’s how it looked for some, and I can understand that. Also, I know that it changed me as well. I have become more of whom I supposed to be, and maybe some people just decided they didn’t like me that much anymore. That’s okay too. Because what I’ve gained is a community filled with people who get me, and some amazing new friends who inspire me and support me, instead of trying to change me. Which would you prefer? Who we choose to surround ourselves with is so important! What do they give you? Do they help you strive and succeed and think positively? Or do they put you down, try to change you and judge your decisions? This is important, because as humans we rely on human connection. We’re not islands, we’re not meant to operate in isolation, we need community and other people in our corner. When we can make each other stronger, better and help each other succeed and be happy for each other, there’s no limit to how far we can reach; together! So choose wisely, and first: realize you have a choice!
Some of the judgement I met was things like “Well, yoga is a nice hobby and all, but it’s a bit childish to think it can become a real job”. Or “When you get back and have had some time to be on vacation, you can finally settle down and get a real education” and so on. What’s a “real job” or a “real education” anymore anyways? I think for some people it’s very hard to support something they themselves would never do, and I think it’s scary for some to be supportive of something that involves a lot of risk, even if it’s not their risk to take. We are complicated as humans, we have so much fear of making a fool of ourselves, when really that fear is what limits us the most.
It is hard to trust yourself when there’s judgement and opinions that goes against you, absolutely. In my chase I had made my choice, I needed to go through with it and to open up all possibilities to the outcome. The months I spent in Costa Rica gave me the space I needed to start to piece myself together again. And I started to put one foot in front of the other. I was aligned, I had taken the time and done the work to figure out what would make me happy. I had no job, less money than ever, no apartment, but I also felt better than ever.
Nothing profound will change in a day, or maybe even a month. But to figure out our core values and stay aligned with who we are is the hardest and biggest part of the job. When we have figured that out, every day we can take small steps to get to where we want to be. I took a HUGE step, but ever since then I’ve put one foot in front of the other, always checking in along the way to listen to my heart. To ask myself if I’m still on track, on the right path. Sometimes I’m not, sometimes I make mistakes and I have to take a few steps back, change my direction, but always keep moving. As I said, it’s not a one time job, it is an every-damn-day sort of job. But it gets easier. Also because when you start living aligned to who you are, things have a funny way of falling into place..
By now, if you have been sticking with me through my story, you may be thinking “what’s this got to do with yoga?” Everything! THIS is what yoga is, down to the core. The physical benefits of yoga are great, but in its deep mystic, this is what yoga really means: To check in, sit with what is, be willing to change, to discover your power to create the life you want to live, to take responsibility for your feelings, emotions, choices and reactions, and to peel away all the layers that are not you. To accept who your are, light or dark. That’s where the true power and freedom lies: when you discover that no one else is responsible for how you feel. You are responsible, which means you’re also the one who has the power to change it. You’re not a helpless person dependent on someone else to save you. Yoga can help you, as it has helped me, to understand this. When you understand this, and understand it not only with your mind but in every cell of your body, yoga can become your most important tool to find your way and to build your strength; physically, emotionally and mentally. And whatever it is that is happening, big or small, good or bad, you will always have a direct line of communication with yourself, to your truth, that can help you navigate through your experience.
Everything you seek, all the answers to all the questions, are in you, so be present. Undo what you have learned, undo what you think is right and what you think is wrong. Start again. Break down the walls, the barriers, the conditioning. Step back into your power, start again. Observe who you are in this moment. Not who you were before, and not who you should be in the future, but who you are right now. Are you fully alive? Are you fully living? Are you content? Are you happy?
I don’t believe in perfectionism, even though I would call myself a perfectionist (ha, the irony. I’m working on it..). I don’t believe that anything is perfect, or that anything should be. As soon as something is perfect it is boring. Life is beautiful because it is full of contrast. Without the bad we wouldn’t know the difference, and so on- we’ve all heard the clichés. But it’s true. I don’t want to paint a picture that my life is perfect now because it’s not, or that I’m always happy because that’s an illusion. Nobody has a perfect life, and no one is happy all the time. In these times of social media it can be difficult to remember that sometimes. No, my life isn’t perfect, but in all the major areas of my life I feel aligned. I have a job, a career, that makes me happy and that I love every day. I have a partner that makes me happy and that I love, every day. I have a family that makes me happy and that I love, every day. I have colleagues and a community that makes me happy and that I love, every day. I have a few friends very close to my heart that makes me happy and that I love, every day. I have adventures in my life that makes me thrilled and happy, every day. And most important maybe of all, I love myself, every day! I don’t love all of it all the time, every second, every day. But every day I am thankful for what I have, because it is aligned with who I am. And I would never have had it or found it or attracted it if I had never gotten to know myself first. I would never have gotten to know myself for real without yoga. Nothing comes for free, I have worked to get to where I am today. And still there is many things I want to achieve. But telling my story of yoga is telling this story; yoga helped me to discover and accept who I am and what I need in my life to be happy, so that I could attract those things and give love and happiness to the people in my life. If we all were willing to take responsibility to accept ourselves and love ourselves more, we would be able to spread more peace and love and happiness, again inspiring others. This is how we change the world, and this is why it has to start with each and every one of us first. Yoga keeps me aligned and in my power every day. As it will for you too, if you let it.