I feel like it’s the most cliché story. Girl sucks at sports. Girl is mega introverted and genuinely socially stupid. Girl tries partying for a while, but then in despair, Girl goes to a yoga class and boom: her inner fire is lit and she SHINES.
I mean it when I say I was an anxious child. As one of six kids, I usually just smile and say, “Yep, big family,” but to be honest, it can be overwhelming sometimes. As a twin and a middle child, I found myself starting to reactively shrink: spending more time in my room and acting out at school and at home, just to get attention.
Most of the time though, I found it easier to try and make my presence as invisible as possible. I was content observing my more colorful and outgoing siblings from the sidelines. In high school, I never felt grounded in authenticity and my anxiety manifested itself as I tried to be as chameleon-like as possible. In college I tried to drown out my anxiety by partying. Neither path served me (#shocker).
Since I never really understood what was wanted of me; I never knew how to find the things I really wanted: like community, connection, and love.
Once I found out that drinking mellowed me out, I became a party girl: thinking that if I spent the night with a boy I could at least feel close to someone. I became really drawn to hook up culture. I simmered down senior year (that thesis wasn’t going to write itself), which is when I traded in my party pants for yoga pants. I found a program with a studio in Cincinnati that was affordable, and retrospectively, I thought Hey, I would want to be friends with the kind of person that does yoga teacher training. I should do it.
Full disclosure, I did not fall in love with yoga, even after I finished my teacher training. Getting my certification was purely selfish; I didn’t know if I even wanted to teach, I just dug doing yoga with sweet people six hours a week. I finally found the community I was searching for.
I didn’t feel the same social anxiety on our yoga Sundays that I usually felt around people, and the more I learned about yoga, the more I realized that I had found my tribe.
Practicing yoga didn’t inspire any immediate changes in me becoming a happy, healthy, and grounded person: that will always be lifelong work. That’s one of the biggest fallacies about pursuing happiness. We, as humans, tend to think that once we change something about our lives, then we will immediately find happiness; but the truth is that bringing anything external into our lives does not guarantee happiness.
I find comfort in the routine of getting on my mat, taking time out of the day, and turning my awareness to something as simple as my breath. But it’s me that has to do the work, it’s me that has committed to the study of this practice.
Yoga for me is a practice of self-love. It doesn’t matter which way you move your body; it doesn’t matter if you’re flexible! What matters is that it’s an hour carved out of the day to feel alive, and free.
A consistent yoga practice has grounded me and helped to quiet my anxious mind. Now when I feel myself triggered, I find greater success focusing on my breathing and remembering yoga principles than I ever did with medication.
In yoga there is something called svadhyaya, which means “the study of the self.” I think “finding yourself” is sometimes mocked as a millennial’s journey, and I’ll concede that it is rather ambiguous. Perhaps we don’t need to find ourselves, as much as we need to greet ourselves like a great friend. That’s what it was like for me.
The more I practiced yoga and familiarized myself with my own body, my unique physical idiosyncrasies and all the rad ways I can move, the less pressure I felt to be any certain way, and the more I relaxed into the authenticity that came naturally once I stopped trying so hard.
Knowing yourself isn’t something that is going to happen all at once, it’s a lifelong process, and we change constantly! The key is to hold regard for yourself with an open heart, and make an offering of love and compassion at your own feet.
This is what yoga has taught me: to look with soft eyes on my flaws, and to observe what makes me anxious, what fills me with joy, what makes me excited, nervous, scared, and angry. Yoga has taught me to observe these emotions flow in and out of me without making them a part of me. Through the consistency and wisdom of the practice, I learned to be brave enough to welcome introspection. I didn’t “find” myself through yoga; I met myself through observing my tendencies.
I learned that I’m an introvert, but I’m hilarious so you should hang out with me when I feel like it. I learned that I’m sweet and kind. I can be moody, and I run away when I get scared. It takes me a while to open up, but when I do I love fully. I forgive easily. I cry easily too (and I’m an ugly walrus crier). I LOVE being outside. My heart breaks every time I watch A Fault in Our Stars, or think about my ex. It also fills up with love when I think about my yoga family here in Cincinnati, or sunflowers, or going hiking by a lake, or my nephew. See? These things are what make me Kathleen, and all I had to do was observe.
Yoga isn’t for everyone, but if you think it might be something you are brave enough to try, take a class! Leave your self-judgment and expectations at home, go to a studio close to you, borrow one of their mats, and say, “Let’s see how this goes.” Let each movement be a love letter to your physical body, and let your thoughts be just as loving. Let your light shine.