I have always tried to fit into a mold of expectations and perceived perfectionism.
I have lived in a world of judgment and criticism. I suppose I still do. A life of caring what others thought of me, and feeling crippled by not being everything to everyone. I struggled in silence for too many years. I have since reached out, but I know there are people out there who haven’t.
We feel alone. We hide behind masks. Behind fear. Behind our truths. But we are not alone. The words, “me too” have become extremely comforting to many people struggling to open up.
Then there are the two words, “I am.” Those words are very powerful. They may be the most influential and important words you can put together, because there is this massive, powerful, conscious choice of what we choose to put after them.
I run a workshop series called Warriors of Change. It is based on healing from the inside out. It is about not feeling victimized. The studio I teach at has us write out our intentions and visions for each workshop. Here is a bit of what mine looks like:
“I was inspired to create this workshop series to help people find empowerment in their past experiences, struggles, and wounds. We are not victims, and we are not alone. I am passionate about creating an extremely safe space and environment to allow people to move through whatever they may need. Small or big steps, we are all here together, in support of one another.”
“My attempt is to aid people in opening to the possibility of moving towards a higher version of themselves. Through the power of asana, and deep self-awareness, we can become raw and unmasked. We can truly see ourselves, forgive ourselves, and learn to love ourselves. Through acceptance, transformation becomes possible.”
But, I am only able to share such a workshop due to some very significant occurrences in my life. Very vivid moments helped to create this. My “I am” used to be very different.
To back up. I am 34. I guide yoga classes and workshops. I am a co-facilitator of a Teacher Training school. I also work as a massage therapist (which is really more like a body-work healer in my eyes), as well as a personal trainer. Prior to all of that, I was a K-12 Physical Education and Health teacher. I hold Bachelors in both Education and Physical Education.
Within all of this, I developed exercise anorexia. Moving from 195 pounds to 125 pounds in less than a year was viewed as “looking healthy.” I suffered alone from the devastating three words uttered to me: ”You got fat.” Death. That is how I felt in that moment. A long road ahead from that day in 1998.
But as a man, we are often told not to let things like this bother us. We are still trained not to show emotion. If we are, we are probably gay. If we are sensitive, we are probably the same. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but still, why the label? Who cares what I am if I am sensitive?
I can tell you, I enjoy a good cry. I have a lot of emotions. I just do. I care. And I love. And I want the best for people. Has that made me “weird” in the eyes of others? Always. Have I been called a few other choice words? Absolutely. I have honed it in, in order to be very stoic for my students, but that has come with very conscious choices.
Aside from an eating disorder, I come from two abusive relationships and one abusive and demeaning business partnership. Amidst all of this, I felt like I was a “victim.” Belittled, tormented, spoken down to, hit, sworn at, etc. I have also been recently diagnosed with an extremely rare digestive disorder. No need to get deep into that yet, but it’s been a 20-year battle to have just one person believe me. One person to listen to me and believe me.
Within all of this, I found yoga. Or yoga found me. Or both. What matters is this—yoga saved me. Well, that’s what I used to say. And think. Yoga saved me. But the more I started to say that, the more I realized (and was reminded by a very smart person), that “I” saved me.
Me. I did that. I used yoga, but I saved me. This is not an egocentric statement. Not in the least.
The point is that I did the work. Me. The deep, hard, gritty, shitty, raw work.
Many of us are told to watch our thoughts, for they become words, and these words become actions. Which is not true. It is a very conscious choice to act on your thoughts and words. I chose not to be a victim. I chose to be strong and do the work.
My amazing and supportive wife has always told me, “Feel free to use yoga as much as you need. But promise me, once it has opened you up enough, that you will deal with your shit.” Brilliant.
The other gift she gave me? She didn’t try to fix me. Not at all. Did she push me? Yes. Too far, too soon? Almost. But she didn’t try to fix me. She gave me something much more powerful. She loved me while I fixed myself. Or rather, loves me, while I continue to do the work.
I saved me. How truly powerful is that? Me. I did that. I read, meditate, practice, guide, study, and work, work, work on myself. I feel a duty to give back to yoga what it has helped me to find. It has helped me to find me.
I am most free when practicing all alone to whatever music is moving me at the time. I am more open and raw when I practice than any other time. I have spent many an hour crying on my mat, sometimes for no reason, sometimes uncontrollably. But it has helped me to be real. Completely real. Uncomfortably authentic. It has helped me to be better. Better at everything. I am simply better. I. Am. Better.
So, there are these two words, “I am.” What you put after them shapes your reality and empowers you. Me? I am a lot of things. But what I am not is a victim.
One of my brilliant teachers always reminded me that the phrase, “this too shall pass” isn’t necessarily true. It’s more like, “this is passing.” You may never really forget, but you have a choice as to how much your past controls you.
We are powerful, conscious, creating beings.
So, what am I? Simply and humbly, I am me.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Aaron Gillespie / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Author via Pete Longworth