I’d always thought I had great awareness of my body from playing sports…until I started practicing yoga fourteen years ago. Early on, I took a class in which the teacher put us in a camel pose (which is a backbend and heart-opener in which you start in a high-kneeling position and then arch backward while reaching around to grab your heels with your hands and tilting your chin up). My body resisted and I struggled to settle into the shape.
After class, my teacher asked me if I had a broken heart. She said she could tell when students are experiencing one because they often have a difficult time with such postures as they put them in a vulnerable position. I said I didn’t think so…but then I realized: I hadn’t grieved my mother’s death.
My mother had died from pancreatic cancer four years earlier, and I’d never fully processed the loss. So all the grief was stuck in my heart, my chest, and my shoulders. Even though I was physically fit, there were still a lot of things taking up space in my body that I wasn’t aware of.
It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga that I recognized my body was holding on to all those emotions. And they were holding me back from loving myself and seeing myself as worthy and as good enough. I had to work through them by physically opening up and stretching my muscles to release the tension I was holding in them before I could fully understand that there was tension there to begin with. And that process gives me more ownership over my body—over time, yoga really has taught me that. I kept going back, and soon it became a ritual.
Yoga has helped my relationship with myself grow to a place of honor, love, respect, forgiveness, and bravery. Everyday when I wake up now, I thank God for allowing me to see another day. I stretch, pray, meditate, and check in with myself to see how I’m feeling both physically and emotionally by having a conversation with my body.
I also write these messages to myself on Post-It notes and stick them on my bathroom mirror so that they’re the first thing I see every morning: I am enough. I am love. I am overflowing in abundance. I am Black, blessed, and highly favored by the highest. I learned, from some of my favorite teachers, the power in setting mantras and affirmations/declarations. There is power in our words. Power in our speech.
When I practice, I’m not looking for instant gratification. It’s work, but afterward I always feel more open, more aware, more alive. That’s why I keep going back to the mat, all these years later. Overtime, I’ve noticed that I am less likely to react to things without thinking them through, unlike before I had a consistent yoga practice.
Back then, I used to have quite the temper because I bottled up so many of my emotions. I didn’t have an outlet and now I turn to yoga and it helps me process my thoughts, respond, and recover like never before.
I’m not perfect, by any means—but I am learning to trust myself more and more each day as I drop old narratives, stories, and situations that no longer belong to me. Yoga was the light that helped me find my way to the end of a dark tunnel. It led me to the people (my teachers, students, and fellow yogis) who helped me see that light when I couldn’t see it for myself.
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