By far, the best thing that has ever happened in my life is yoga. It saved me. This is how.
Yoga gave me my body back. When I first stepped on a mat at 19, I was physically and mentally deteriorating. I didn’t realize at the time but looking back, I see how small I was. My shoulders slouched, my skin was dull, my head hung in worry, anxiety, fear and stress. My hair lost its lustre, my heart lost its vigour. Even at such a young age, the years of built up stress from zero confidence, zero self worth, zero self love all dumped onto a pile of regrets and mistakes took it’s toll mentally and physically. I didn’t even realize that is who I had become until I broke through to the other side. It’s no wonder I developed a disease in my back. I carried a heavy load for a very long time. My back finally collapsed on me at 23. Three doctors internally giggled at me for wanting to still do my yoga teacher training which was five days away but I was still pulled to stay with my practice. I mentally gave the doctors the middle finger, never took their pain killers (that’s a lie, there were a few desperate times of agony), listened to my gut and took that flight to Nicaragua for my training. Although I saw the effects of yoga from the time I first started, the real excavating began during my training. I did three hours a day of practice without being able to do anything with flexion in my spine (anything remotely close to a forward fold) but I still did it. 99% of the time in the back corner with tears in my eyes but I still freakin’ did it. You should see my forward fold now.
You would never know I have Degenerative Disc Disease. I wonder what would have happened if I took my doctors advice and popped pills, refunded my teacher training and became another person that goes through life with back pain. Yoga gave me the strength mentally and physically to take control of my body, face my challenges, and chug along with my very imperfect, wonderful body. Not only can I wake up and fall sleep without pain in my back but my skin glows, my hair shines and curls into a crazy mess, my heart pumps fuller and harder, my lungs expand wider. The painful TMJ (Temporomandibular joint dysfunction) I had for years from perpetually clenching my jaw disappeared. And at only 5’5 feet tall, I swear I feel at least the height of Shaq.
Yoga gave me the chance to be Steph Wall. For many years I floated through life not sure of who I was. I allowed myself, as many of us do, to be defined by what others thought of me. People said I was shy, so I became very introverted. I got made fun of for my skin colour and big eyes so I forever avoided mirrors in shame of what I looked like. I was told I wasn’t funny so I stopped making jokes. The list goes on and on. Yoga however, allowed me to discover who I was. Actually, It forced me to. It chiselled and chipped away at all the layers of who I thought I was, until I was faced with the inner, deep, buried, chunk of gold which is Stephy. The process was ugly, ungraceful, and hard. I cried many times on my mat, I’ve had to run out of the studio to throw up during practice, I have dealt with inner anger, resentment, frustration and many more ugly things on my mat. But I discovered who I really was. The first time a teacher offered up “letting go with every exhale” I was like really? I can let of my junk just by breathing? And I’ll tell you, I let go with every damn exhale after that. As I exhaled, I found a new space that needed to be filled. The tiny speck of gold that was at the core of my being began to grow and filled all the empty spaces. I didn’t know who I was until I was ripped apart, chewed up and scattered all over my mat during this thing called Power Yoga. For me, only once the bits and pieces of who I thought I was were laid out in front of my eyes, did it become clear. The gold was put back together into something brighter and stronger, and the rest was taken out with the trash.
Yoga allowed me to be the most imperfect person on the planet. Some call it a “type A” personality, some call it being a control freak, I’ll say plain and simply that I lived life with a stick up my ass. I was a perfectionist. I wanted everything done my way, I had to be right and anything less than that was completely unacceptable in my books. I have no idea where this came from as I have the most loving, supportive family and friends, but something inside of my did not accept anything less than perfection. Then I realized through yoga how unbelievably wrong that all was. Truth is, I’m far from perfect. I am a vegan that eats fish. I’ve been practicing handstands for years and still can’t do one. I get rejected by guys a lot. I don’t have much money. I sometimes get a B in school. I use swears instead of adjectives. I’ve made more mistakes than I can count, but I discovered on my mat that all these imperfections were not only okay, they were exactly what I was supposed to be. As long as I was living my life as my interpretation of my best self, doing actions out of love, and following my passions, my imperfections were no longer “flaws” they were part of my character. I was allowed to just be…me. In September I’m giving up fish and maybe one day I’ll get a handstand. Maybe one day I’ll make more money or trick a fella into liking me but honestly whatever happens, or doesn’t happen, is just fine.
Yoga gave me power. I quickly discovered that who I was on the mat was who I was becoming off the mat. I liked yoga a lot initially because I found it was the only place where my ADD monkey brain would shut up. It was the only place I found quiet in my chaotic world. It was the only place I was relaxed. Without even trying, I saw this transcend into my daily life. Slowly, this calm and peace carried on with me after practice, longer and longer until (after a couple years) I found that there was no difference to who I was on or off the mat. Once I allowed myself to calm down and de-stress, the fun began. Who else could I become in the studio? What else could I create? If I could be powerful, strong and steady on my mat, could I be that person when I left? Damn right I could! I could be a fierce warrior, a steady tree or a still lotus in the studio, and no one said I couldn’t be that after I rolled up my mat. So I became that. I found the power to take control of who I was and I allowed myself to live out all the great qualities I found in myself as I breathed, stretched and sweat.
I’m not trying to make myself sound tough and awesome. I fall a lot in practice. I fall a lot in life. I cry on my mat sometimes. I cry in my bed a lot. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to make it through practice. Sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the day. I get scared, feel vulnerable, and doubt myself, as I do also in my daily life. But Yoga gave me life. A nod to carry on, keep my chin up and keep moving. It gave me the power, strength and confidence mentally, emotionally and physically to go through this thing we call life. With passion. With vigour. With courage. With audacity.
It gave me….me,
the fish eating vegan,
with Degenerative Disc Disease,
who can’t do handstands,
and has a dirty trucker mouth.
By Steph Wall