Diary of a Yoga Teacher: The Experience of a Woman
When I moved to New York City, I was 19 years old and was certain I had found my place. Yet after a few short months I found myself in a dark spiral, battling myself and my thoughts of inadequacy daily. It wasn’t long before I internalized the belief that I was not “enough” in most aspects of my life. I wasn’t smart, pretty, athletic, funny, thin, or popular enough, and the obsessive pursuit of perfection left me empty. As a result, I turned to depleting myself through rigorous study and exercise, trading in sleep for longer workouts and obsessing over the food I ate - and eventually stopped eating. My need to control was all-consuming, to the point where my best friend and roommate at the time sat me down to ask me who this stranger was that had possessed my waif-like body. At the most “successful” point in my struggle, I hadn’t gotten closer to perfection, but I had worked myself into an entrapping sickness.
This anecdote about my past is not to gain sympathy, but rather to be honest and open to my students who may be going through similar struggles. Almost every woman I have had intimate conversations with about the topic admits to entertaining debilitating thoughts of personal inadequacy. We, the women, are threaded together in our battle for self-worth. I also share this story because it is yoga that picked me up then, and it is the deeper exploration of the practice that continues to be a rock, a solace, a light, and a mirror for me today.
Yoga asana can be physically demanding on the body, which is what first drew me to the practice. It was another way to sweat and to move. However, what kept me coming back to the practice was the discovery of deep, comforting breaths. The soothing wave of inhale and exhale allowed the onslaught of mental chatter to temporarily cease. It was folded over myself, eyes closed, that I was finally able to let go of the tape inside my head. In the beginning of my journey as a yogi, that hour dedicated to me on my mat became my sanity. It was my chance to nurture myself through deep breathing; to hold myself and feel, if only briefly, that I, Erin, was okay just as I was.
The practice never stops evolving, which is one of the reasons it has been around for thousands of years. The postures, or asanas, are an access point but the power of yoga transcends shape and form. When we step on the mat we find a meditation in motion, a chance to return to the simple beauty that we are alive and we are breathing.
Being active - whether it is yoga, dancing, running, biking or any other form of movement will always be an essential part of my life, as it churns inspiration and makes me feel like the most vibrant version of myself. The tricky part is listening to when my body is asking for stillness, rest, and to be a bit more nurturing to myself. Some days my yoga needs to be child’s pose and full belly breaths. And that is good enough.
I invite every woman to take a few moments to step on a yoga mat. Know that when you do you are connected to the millions of women who have found a slice of contentment, an acknowledgement of their ability to expand and be proud. And when you find yourself in that dark space, try this simple meditation to invoke loving-kindness:
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Come to a comfortable seated position. Place your hands, palms face down on your legs. Close the eyes and lengthen your spine, imagining there is a light shining out of the top your head up towards the ceiling.
Bring your mind into the center of the chest, your heart center also known as your solar plexus. Imagine that your breath is moving in and out of this area, as if the heart itself was breathing for you.
Now repeat the following mantras silently to yourself.
s you say this mantra to yourself, picture yourself as a young child, holding your child self with love and tenderness. Repeat it a few more times while paying attention to the feelings and thoughts that arise, acknowledging them, and then letting them go by coming back to the mantra. It is important to let yourself feel and think whatever comes up for you while not attaching to particular emotions or thoughts.
After a few sessions of directing loving kindness inward, the meditation can be expanded to include others. You can start by replacing the “I” in the mantra with someone in your life who brings you joy. Gradually focusing your loving kindness on those who have caused you pain or with whom it is hard to get along. Eventually you can expand the mediation to include all beings everywhere, whether you know them or not. By participating in the loving-kindness practice, you are first building a solid, compassionate relationship with yourself, and then cultivating an ability to consistently radiate love and positivity.
- Erin Ward
You can follow Erin on INSTAGRAM on @ErinRose43