The Gift of Yoga | by Steph Wall

What yoga gave me. 

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 it's lustre, my heart lost it's vigour. At such a young age the years of built up stress from zero confidence, zero self worth, zero self love, dumped onto a pile of regrets took it's toll mentally and also physically.  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 urged against me to do my yoga teacher training, which was five days away, but I was still pushed to stay with my practice. I mentally gave the doctors the middle finger, tossed my prescriptions for painkillers, listened to my gut and hopped on that flight to Nicaragua for my training. 

Although I saw the affects of yoga from the moment I first started, the real excavating began during my training. I did three hours a day of practice without being able to do 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. 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 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, my skin glows, my hair shines and curls into a crazy mess, my heart pumps fuller and harder, my lungs expand wider. 

Yoga gave me the chance to be me again. 

For many years I floated through life not sure of who I was. I allowed myself, as many of us to, 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 continues. 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 believed I was, until I was faced with the inner, deep, buried, chunk of gold which is me. 

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? 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 strong, and all the rest was taken out with the trash. 

Yoga allowed me to be the most imperfect person on the planet. 

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 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 what yoga gave me was a nod to carry on, keep my chin up and keep moving. Yoga gave me life. It gave me the power, strength and confidence mentally, emotionally and physically to experience all that life has to offer. With passion. With vigour. With courage. With audacity.