I recently completed a renowned, demanding, enlightening 200-hour yoga teacher training program. What was the most valuable thing I learned? Not breath work practices or class design, not yogic philosophy or sanskrit, not trauma-informed teaching or anatomically appropriate cueing. Nope. (I mean, I did learn alllll of that and more, but none of those topics were the most important, life-altering item.)
The most valuable thing I learned: how to be brave enough to be myself. Unabashedly. Unwaveringly. Unapologetically.
I’ve spent most of my 35 years on this earth trying to blend in. Trying to find my true herd. Trying to fit some unexplained mold it seemed most everyone else knew how to contort themselves into.
Any time I was close to blending in, I felt like a fraud. A chipped and chiseled, morphed and shrouded version of some human who barely resembled me.
My solution for most of my childhood through early adulthood was to wall myself off. To protect myself. I was quiet. Private. Guarded. I created protective divisions between myself and others. But, as shielding as that was, it was also incredibly lonely. By separating myself from everyone else, by mentally ascribing the self-protective label of “acquaintance” to individuals who should have been considered “friend”, I was isolating myself. I was reinforcing the idea that I was “other” and unable to belong.
Then, I had my daughter. The confidence that grew within me, the drive I felt to be a healthy example for her propelled me out from behind my self-built blockades. I began to shimmy out of my shell. I began to shine my light, but hesitantly so.
Then I had my middle son. His effervescent self-confidence and complete disinterest in following social norms astounded me. Inspired me. Enlightened me. If this 2.5-year-old could so fearlessly be himself, why couldn’t I? So I began to. Slowly. In certain safe scenarios.
Next, I had my youngest son and, by this point, with 3 kids under 4, I was often the focus of many unfamiliar eyes as I walked through the grocery store or wrangled my herd on the playground. There was no hiding anymore. I was out in the world and I was actually beginning to enjoy it. I tasted the freedom beyond my own walls, the beauty of the connections I allowed, the authenticity I granted myself. But I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my whole self yet.
Then, I began yoga teacher training. Every other weekend for 6 months I spent 12 hours with 33 people I had never met. We shared our feelings and life journeys, we grew and learned, we practiced and faltered, we cried and laughed. We became accustomed to speaking in front of one another, sharing ourselves. That baring of self to a large group was something I never would have been capable of doing prior to motherhood. But, 3 kids and hours of yoga teacher training later, I could. And I was unscathed. If anything, I was enlivened, strengthened, invigorated.
As months pressed on and more sharing circle times ensued, the electric anxiety that initially sizzled in my chest and stole my breath in the beginning of the training subsided. It was replaced with calm. With happiness. With ease.
My light shown brighter and I began not to hide it. I didn’t chisel or chip or morph or shroud. I was just me in my life in my world. And gradually I realized that all of those fears and worries that’d kept me hidden and crumpled for all of those years were nothing to be feared at all. For, if I loved me… if I was kindly and brightly and truly me, those who liked me — the real me — would gravitate and stay. And that’s what mattered.
I owned my laughter. I owned my quirks. I owned my silliness. I owned my stubbornness. I owned my crunchy spirituality. I owned my strengths and my points for growth. I owned my uniqueness. I owned my self.
Over those six months, I learned how to comfortably exist without a self-made fortress amidst others. I learned how to make choices that are good for ME and not just for others. I learned how to be myself no matter the circumstance, no matter the company. I learned to ignore whatever mold I was expected to chisel and melt and contort myself into.
I learned how to be ME!
After all of the hours of training and studying and the dreaded test, came graduation. In front my teachers and fellow trainees, and everybody’s loved ones, I thanked my friend who saw in me what I had not seen in myself and had, in that awareness, lovingly propelled me towards yoga teacher training. I thanked my husband for all of the parenting efforts he’d shouldered — without hesitation or complaint — and I thanked my teachers who had facilitated my growth. I thanked my daughter for her unwavering support. I thanked my youngest son for his “welcome home” cuddles after every yoga training. I thanked my middle son — my sparkly boy, my fearlessly true-to-self child — and tears welled in my dry eyes.
My voice halted. I — strong and tearless me — was crying in front of 60+ people thanking my 5-year-old. But I wasn’t embarrassed. I wasn’t ashamed. I didn’t want to run or hide or steel myself into unfeeling. I was being me. The real me.
“Thank you,” I said to my coiffed boy in his pink shirt, violet tie, and gray kilt. “For teaching me how to be brave enough to be me.”
When I returned home that evening and tucked each of my beautifully unique children into bed, I thanked my middle son again. “For most of my life,” I told him, “I wasn’t myself.” He looked at me puzzled and asked, “Then who were you being?”
I paused in awe of his wisdom. I replied, “I was too afraid to be the real me.” “Why?” He questioned.