Becoming My Own Ally

One of the biggest things I’ve realized since starting yoga teacher training is how much time and energy it takes to pay attention to yourself. It has seriously been the most exhausting thing to pay so much attention to myself, from what I eat to how I think to what I’m feeling to the water I’m drinking. It’s also really hard to realize just how much I was neglecting myself by not paying attention.

I used to spend so much time actively avoiding being with myself or recognizing my needs, whether that has been choosing to spread myself too thin over too many commitments or not staying adequately hydrated.

It sucks knowing how much I avoided taking care of myself because I wrestling with whether I was “worth” care or whether I “deserved” compassion or whatever other mental games I played to avoid treating myself like an actual person. It sucks confronting all the crappy things you allow your mind to tell you and recognizing how much they affect your relationship (or lack thereof) with yourself. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to be forced into awareness of those deficiencies and be given space to grow in those areas.

It goes without saying that my physical practice has deepened immensely since starting training in January (but I’ll say it anyway). I’m no longer as intimidated by balance poses or unfamiliar poses like I was a few months ago, and I’m no longer afraid to try to go deeper into a pose even though I might fall or need to try a few times to get it right. I’ve noticed a major reduction in how much I compare my practice to others’ in the room, like when someone in front of me can go deeper into lizard or take a full inversion.

It’s easier for me to recognize those differences as representative of the unique and deeply personal expression of practice, and that someone might need to take a pose deeper or to a different place to feel the benefits. That’s not to say it’s never challenging to see a beautiful forearm stand when you can barely keep your butt up in crow. But there are also things I can do now that I never thought possible, like something as simple as being confident in my half moon or being able to jump back to chaturanga.

I’m grateful for the depth of practice I’ve achieved so far, but more important is the repair to my relationship with myself. I’ve had to confront a lot of shit over the past six weeks, including the fact that I still rely heavily on my relationship with food for comfort or control, which still makes it easy to give into urges to binge eat for comfort (or punishment) or try to restrict what I’m eating for control (or punishment).

I’m slowly strengthening my ability to set aside those urges to make more mindful, nourishing choices, whether that’s not eating a whole box of Girl Scout cookies or choosing a salad and soup combo instead of more pasta from Panera.

I breathe more to regain stability in the face of stressful situations (which kept me from stress-crying over campus parking on Monday) and I take the stress and frustration of others less personally. As an intensely empathic person, learning how to protect my energy (and also how to not project the insecurities my brain tells me to harbor!) has been really valuable, not just in thinking of teaching but also as a human in general.

Training is helping teach me how to rely on myself and my strength for stability and comfort instead of looking for it in food (whether that means binge-eating everything or actively avoiding food even when I know I need nourishment), in others, or in some external stimuli that will magically fix the stress pinging around in my brain.

It is really hard to make space for that growth because life is full and busy and stressful and fast, but it’s helping me recognize the importance of fitting myself onto my to-do list if I want to truly  be present and build a life that is meaningful and fulfilling for me. I didn’t realize how much potential I was stealing from myself because I didn’t believe I was important enough (or because I believed I had to do X, Y, or Z before I would “become” worthy enough).

Even over the past couple of weeks as I’ve settled into the “yoga bottom” of physical, mental, and emotional fatigue because of the sheer amount of work that goes into training, the skills I’m taking from training are helping me build a foundation that’s so much more than preparing to be a great yoga teacher. They’re teaching me to be a better human, and reminding me that even on the days when I struggle to love or even like myself, I can always find ways to be my own ally.

Often self-allyship means something as small and seemingly insignificant as drinking more water. Sometimes it’s something as major as rescinding a commitment because I’m stretched too thin and don’t want to steal my own peace or the peace of others. Being an ally to myself means challenging all the self-negative thought patterns I’ve learned, unlearned, and learned again over the course of my life, so I can treat myself more like I treat the people around me: with compassion and love.

I wish loving myself was easy. I wish being on the same team as myself was easy! Some days, it is. On the days when it’s not, I try to remember to breathe in the same way I breathe when the teacher has me in warrior III just a breath longer than I think I can handle. If I can get through a tough balance pose, I can get through finding a parking spot.