How Yoga Taught Me Genuine Self Acceptance
No pretty yoga shapes required
I first got into yoga because of anxiety – well anxiety is an understatement, it was actually more like crippling panic.
My life as a law student in Oxford was fraught with pressure and so the contrast of lying calmly on the floor for the first time in savasana totally shocked me. I distinctly remember what it felt like – there was a cold church hall floor – and someone was instructing me to just ‘let go’.
I can never remember being given permission to relax before. My exhausted body sank into the ground and I felt a sense of peace that I had not experienced before. I couldn’t get enough. In fact, I ended up skipping law lectures to attend morning yoga. It made more sense to me.
But this isn’t the end of the road. I still had this hard-wired need to succeed. I blame it on a strict upbringing and academic parents. I applied the same approach to my teacher training as I had done with my studies. I took a 200 hours Yoga Teacher Training before I was ready. Then I put pressure on myself to undertake yet more ‘advanced’ training, knowing my body couldn’t cope.
I felt so disappointed that my body couldn’t glide with ease into the shapes a teacher was ‘supposed to make’ – how could I teach if I couldn’t even demo some of the key postures of yoga?
This ego-driven drive to push my body into shapes it wasn’t designed for came at a price. What started with an occasional twinge in my right hip turned into three years of hell – chronic pain, extensive surgery, and learning how to walk properly again after 3 months on crutches.
The injury I had sustained and the surgery I undertook meant a full year of recovery.
I truly thought that was the end of yoga for me – being told I have a physiological ‘mis-shape’ in both my hips and a 50% chance of it happening on the other side had me accepting my fate of a yoga-less life.
I did not take it well – in addition to recovering from a surgery that had broken me physically and mentally, I did not believe I would ever step back onto the mat again.
And yet – here I am a few years later planning my next retreat. It all came down to changing my definition of what yoga is. For me, it became healing and therapeutic – a restorative practice with bolsters and blankets. A deep breath before bed. A Yoga Nidra when I hadn’t slept well.
Slowly, I started attending yoga classes again. But this time I was not ashamed to put props under my hips and give my body the support it needed. I will never make the shapes of a physically advanced yogi. And that’s ok. Because I still get all the benefits of this amazing practice.
I now use yoga to make the most of my body the way it is. Not to punish myself for not being flexible enough. And this feels more powerful somehow. I practice in a way that suits me and can now help others to do the same.
Without the ego – yoga is pure magic. It can transform your relationship with daily life. Help you to meet your potential and fulfill your wildest dreams. But it starts with self-acceptance. You don’t need to look a certain way. Or make any special shapes. Sitting quietly focusing on your breath is more than enough.
I want my students to feel like it’s absolutely ok if all they do is show up at class, sit comfortably on the mat and take 5 deep breaths. If they return to child pose, use as many props as they need, or just take a savasana – it’s all good. This is all yoga after all!
At the end of the day, yoga serves us most when we can utilize its infinite wisdom into our lives off the mat – judging a little less, accepting a little more.
Whilst there is and may always be a part of me which wishes I could make beautiful shapes like other people, I feel it is through the deepening of the breath, the relaxing of the mind, and the loosened grip on what ‘should be’ that the real magic happens.
If you have a body, if you have a breath, then you can do yoga – remember that just because someone can make an ‘advanced shape’ doesn’t mean they have an advanced state of mind – if they are too attached to the outcome, or if they can’t laugh when they fall, then they would benefit from going back to the beginning and simply learning how to sit and breathe with a ‘soft’ and non-grasping mind.
So please allow your own unique life happenings to help you find the real yogic gold – no pretty shapes required.
Who is Julia?
Julia met Julia in her yoga classes. From a student teacher relationship started a wonderful friendship.
Julia is a yoga teacher and educated nutritionist with a MSc in Nutritional Medicine. She works as a health coach and health writer in Copenhagen. Julia also completed a 200+ hours Yoga teacher and has over 8 years experience. Together we are offering the Love your Body Retreat – with yoga and nutrition to more self-love and -acceptance. Sign-up for the Newsletter and be among the first to hear more about this fantastic retreat.