June 6, 2018

How Yoga gave me Strength to get off the Corporate Ladder.


I’ve been struggling with balance lately.

Actually, if I am being honest with you, I have been struggling with balance my entire adult life.

I have climbed the corporate ladder, worked evenings and weekends, and mentally taken my work home with me every night at the expense of my mental, emotional, and physical health.

So many of us have been trained by society to believe that there is a clearly defined path to success. I took that path, achieved the good marks, ever-increasing education levels, and a secure corporate job (with a pension!), only to achieve the end goal and realize I was miserable.

By all external measures, I was successful—yet I felt unhappy, unbalanced, and unfulfilled.

I had so much pent-up frustration I could no longer keep still, so I decided to take up running. At first, running felt amazing: it expended my energy, cleared my head, and helped me sleep. But the release was short-lived, as I suffered one injury after another.

My body was yelling at me to slow down, to stop climbing, and find balance—and this time I was ready to listen.

Unable to run while my injuries healed, I started attending yoga classes.

My initial intent in committing to a yoga practice was to continue an exercise regime until I could get back to running. What I found instead was a way out of the life that had been making me miserable.

I had been so busy taking care to climb the corporate ladder, I had forgotten to take care of myself. I realized that while I could force my body through aggressive vinyasa flows, I struggled with the most basic balance poses.

Our physical bodies are incredible indicators of our mental, emotional, and spiritual states. Physical injuries are a clear sign to slow down and turn our attention inward, to face what we have been running away from.

The location of our aches can provide guidance on the emotional or spiritual aspects our bodies want us to connect with. Persistent headaches are a sign that we are “too much in our heads” and not listening to our heart’s desires; tight shoulders are a literal sign that we are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders; lower body injuries are often a sign that we are resistant to moving forward and making changes in our lives.

All my running injuries—every pulled muscle and dislocated joint—were always on the right side of my body: the yang, the masculine, the aggressive, and action-oriented side. My body was mirroring what my soul already knew: I was out of balance. The aggression with which I had been pursuing unfulfilling goals was not sustainable. If I continued, I would burn out.

It was time to get off the corporate ladder and forge my own path.

Not sure where to start, I dove deeper into my yoga practice in pursuit of answers. If only I could balance my physical body, perhaps it would point me to the answers in my emotional and spiritual body. I made a conscious effort to activate my feminine energy, countering my aggression with self-compassion, and introspection. I was happier, calmer, more grounded. I was expressing myself creatively and regularly taking time for self-care, but I still couldn’t hold a tree pose. Why was I physically still so unbalanced?

I found the answer in savasana.

As I lay in complete physical relaxation, ideas started exploding and connecting in my mind, and the answer I had been seeking was suddenly right in front of me: we all struggle with balance because our society is imbalanced.

Our society promotes masculine traits as superior to feminine. Action is considered superior to introspection; speaking up is better than contemplation; leaders are praised while those who support them are overlooked. Our society teaches us that life is a competition, and in order to achieve success we need to be smarter, take more action, and be more assertive than our peers.

This pervasive perspective ignores one critical aspect: we are all different, with unique abilities, interests, and desires.

As we grow up, we become immune to seeing how we dishonor ourselves by learning to embody traits our society has told us we need to succeed, instead of embracing our true selves.

I was seeking balance by countering masculine energy with feminine, like two weights on a scale, but my body wasn’t answering me because I was asking the wrong question.

Balance comes from our core, our very essence. Balance is not walking a tightrope, it is standing on a mountain. We can only balance our duality—our individual combination of masculine and feminine energy—when we understand and acknowledge our own needs, because only then will we be able to give ourselves the right amount of yin and yang we need to balance.

Our mental and emotional body is no different in its struggles from our physical body. In yoga class, I realized that when I finally let go of the need to balance my arms and legs and focused on my core, my balance found me.

Life outside the yoga studio is no different: when we focus inward and listen to our spiritual core, it will tell us what we need, and the balance we seek will flow naturally.


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Ismene Tsaconakos

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