Warning: naughty language ahead!
These two words can spark a myriad of reactions. Some people are inspired, awed, motivated by yoga selfies of amazing and accomplished practitioners. Others, not so much. I’m one of the latter, feeling more intimidated than awed. Even feeling envy—insecure about myself and my abilities.
Before yoga teacher training, I didn’t follow any yoga selfies on Instagram or bother with looking through yoga poses uploaded by fellow yogis on Facebook, and I certainly, most definitely, did not post any photos of myself doing asanas. It was all just too much for me. I believed it was ego talking. People saying “Look at me, I’m so pretty and flexible!” and it played with my self-esteem.
I was not the most flexible in my training class, nor was I the strongest.
One girl could do handstands practically on her fingertips. Another one could hook her legs behind her head. One guy had the most phenomenal quadriceps known to man. Me? I was the grunting, gasping girl in the corner, all rounded back, and collapsing sideways. I wasn’t the most slender or serene-looking. My ujjayi breath was barely audible. I fidgeted in Easy pose. Down Dog hurt my shoulders after a few too many. I discovered I had been doing tadasana all wrong for the past three years…I couldn’t even stand properly.
So how did I feel when I saw pictures of these magnificent males and females contorting themselves into stunning straight lines, nary a bump or stomach roll in sight, holding themselves up effortlessly on the palms of their hands?
Yeah. It made me feel shitty, plain as that. Instead of being inspiring, I could feel my heart sink and my cheeks flush in embarrassment. There is absolutely no way I’ll ever let anyone see me blunder into that pose. I would think to myself. So I won’t give them that chance. See, even though I went to a handful of yoga classes before my teacher training, I did a lot of home practice. Moreover, I rarely let anyone practice with me lest they see me in a less than stellar form. I was embarrassed. I felt kind of like a fraud. Here I was, saying “Yoga, yoga, yoga!” and what if I was actually doing everything wrong and had no idea?
Well, I kind of was, as evidenced by the whole tadasana debacle, but so was everyone else. Imagine my shock when I discovered that all my co-trainees were no better or worse than me. They were all as good as they could be at that moment, and we all were slated for improvement. I had strengths in one area that I didn’t in another, and another person had vice versa.
After two months of daily training, I was slightly more flexible and slightly stronger. I fit into my body better. I felt more comfortable in my skin, but I still retained a bit of that insecurity. Two months isn’t enough to abolish years of conditioning you get from society. We were born in the age of Kate Moss. We watched celebrities like both Jennifer Connelly and Aniston go from pretty girls with full faces to skinny waifs in an attempt to please some sort of mass standard of beauty. In short, there’s a tremendous amount of worthless value being placed on specific body types and looks that are not very attainable nor practical.
During my training, I gained a lot of confidence in my skills.
I took my first yoga selfie and was shocked by how I looked. It wasn’t what I expected at all. I looked good. More than good, I looked awesome! I did the pose right! There weren’t any stomach rolls! Whaaaaaat? I felt incredible about myself. I took more selfies and started doing scary poses that I kept falling out of in public. I stopped caring.
Somewhere in there, I realized, who cares? All that mattered was that I was trying and I was improving with each trial. One day, I was going to get there.
Then, training was over. I was certified. Two months of all the yoga I could get was finished. #yogaeverydamnday wasn’t true for me anymore. I was back in Cleveland where I didn’t have a studio I called home. Then I moved to Columbus. I was starting over for real. Everything from scratch. I had to find a studio I liked. I had to find a job. I had to make connections, network, meet people. I had to turn nothing into something. It was and still is a daunting and scary task, but little by little, I started chipping away at it. My training went from three-plus classes a day to three home practices a week if I was lucky. My joints were becoming creaky and my muscles were withering into floppy underarm hang. I felt like I was losing my strong Side-Crowing self.
Then, I picked up a couple back copies of Yoga Journal from the library for inspiration. They’re great publications, really, but I did not expect my reaction after I finished reading. My old insecure self returned, thinking thoughts like, “I can never get my legs that straight in the air,” and “My abs are a joke, I can’t hold myself up in Boat,” and I started to panic.
The insecurity took me over. In my mind, I was a fat, ugly, lumbering rhino who couldn’t do a graceful Freebird anymore. All those emotions I had from when I avoided all those Instagram selfies rose up in me and I didn’t like it. This wasn’t who I’ve become, who I’ve earned the right to be after my training. This wasn’t me, it never really was, and it never would be again.
So, I just let myself notice the pain. I felt it. I recognized it and identified it.
I gave it time to go away on its own without fighting it or inflicting guilt on myself. I practiced ahimsa, non-violence towards myself, to get through a momentary breakdown. Today, I did another home practice. It’s not back-to-back classes at Black Swan in Austin, but it was what I needed.
With time, I’ll be back to #yogaeverydamnday and I just need to be patient.
I realize I have to give myself credit. Like I said, I’m starting from scratch and every accomplishment, no matter how tiny, is actually huge. As long as I maintain my practice and maintain the respect I give to myself, my mind, and my body, I will always be as beautiful as all those yogis in their selfies. Even if I can’t go from Crane into a handstand… yet. I learned that in light of my struggles, growth, and accomplishments, I had no reason to be insecure.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Zenna James/Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Provided by the author.