When I think about the times I feel like I’m embodying my most authentic self, I immediately think of when I've led a large yoga class. Even though I usually still feel nervous beforehand, once the class begins, this big burst of joy washes over me and I step right into confidence. It may be seeing so many people participating in a practice that has changed my life. It might be that I feel like I’m living my dharma of spreading healing to the masses. It may be the thought that at least a few people will come out feeling better than when they first walked in (and I want to think that it’s more than a few!) It’s likely a combination of all of that, but for me, it holds a deeper significance...
When I was in middle school I was the most insecure little girl you’d ever met. I was really small, thin as a rail, had giant teeth, with a spacer that gave me a lisp and a huge gap tooth for months. I had really nasty experiences with girls who constantly excluded me, either through not inviting me to things or saying secrets I couldn't hear right in front of my face. I got teased for being flat-chested — by boys, which just reconfirmed my belief that I was completely unattractive to the opposite sex. I even had one boy tell me the only reason he dated me was because of a bet with his friends (ouch). I went from being an energetic, outspoken little girl, who at one point had been told she was TOO talkative in school, to one who’d hide in her room reading or drawing to try and drown out the deep insecurity she was feeling. At family gatherings, I’d never want to talk to people, much less dance or sing (and with a giant Mexican family, you can guess how that went over with everyone). I receded into myself, and was silenced by my peers and a culture that kept telling me that who I was was not even close to worthy. I was lucky enough to have a family who always encouraged me to be me, but it wasn't enough to break through the other messages I kept receiving every time I walked into the classroom or the party or the girl's bathroom.
I found my voice again in high school, thanks to an incredible group of female friends. We were each other’s biggest supporters, always by each other’s sides. We laughed hard, knew how to have the MOST fun, yet also held each other during our times of pain, heartache, boy troubles, and even really intense loss. I was made to feel like I was valued again for who I actually was, and I re-found my voice. These girls encouraged me to be myself (they still do!) and so I slid back to that original Me -- the big, loud version of myself.
Only this time she was fueled by a lot of bottled-up anger.
Yes, I was bubbly and opinionated again. I was super-social and unafraid to speak my truth (I was voted Most Spirited in high school, and wasn't even a cheerleader, if that's any indicator to my energy levels at the time lol). I was the first one to plan the parties, make the playlists, and mix up the vodka Gatorades. But I also had no idea how to moderate it. My temper would explode out of nowhere, usually with those I loved the most, like my father or my boyfriends at the time. And when it wasn't anger, it was hysterical sadness. Giant fits of crying that would make my mom think her daughter was losing it, and that would sometimes end in fruitless attempts at self-harm (thankfully). Every emotion was BIG. And I had no clue how to reel it in.
So, as one does, I kept growing up. I naturally matured out of some of this, but for the most part, still had an incredibly difficult time managing my anger and my insecurity. I would still believe that I wasn't pretty, smart, or cool enough, and then that would make me angry. It was a volatile cycle that reared up any time I'd feel less than great or my capabilities were questioned -- which in your twenties, you can imagine that's quite often.
Enter yoga. This won't be my "How Yoga Changed My Life" story, that's another blog post, but needless to say, the practice (and I mean much more than just the asana) began to give me new perspective and insight on how to find self-acceptance. Coupled with the education I was receiving in my counseling program, I began to find tools to help find the REAL me:
Self-inquiry and exploration of my patterns.
Questioning my belief system (especially the negative ones).
Writing my feelings so I could transmute them into something healing.
Treating my body in a way that reconnected me to its power and beauty.
Practicing self-love every single time I looked in the mirror. Practicing it more when I least believed it.
Spending time with people who loved me, valued me, and who taught me how to better myself.
Cutting away those who didn't.
Reading books that reconnected me to my dharma.
Praying. Meditating. Singing. Dancing. Chanting mantra.
Being of service to others.
Trusting that I am capable.
And countering the self-critic with self-compassion as often as humanly possible.
So, I slowly began to find the Real Me. Not the quiet, shutdown me. Not the giant-ball-of-fire me. But the one that lived somewhere in-between, that didn't allow insecurities to sway her like a tiny boat in the ocean. Yoga and therapy (my own work, and my work with others) helped me figure out what my most authentic Self is. It also has taught me how to work on peeling away the old layers that no longer served in my journey to connect with her. This version of me did have something to say, but oftentimes the middle school part still felt terrified to share it. Or the angry part of me wanted to blow people away with it.
Now knowing this, I learn every day that stepping into this work of finding the sweet spot between the two is the only way I am going to set myself free from these old stories, and from identifying myself to one or the other.
I know my work is to stay in this place of letting myself be seen for ALL THAT I AM: energetic, opinionated, outspoken, and yes, sometimes loud. But also, kind, knowledgable, peaceful, and definitely fallible.
Because living the opposite of that would be living at my very lowest vibration. One full of fear and insecurity and self-deprecation and squeezing myself into a box that wasn’t designed for me. And who the hell wants that?
So how does this tie into teaching a big yoga class? Because I want my middle school Me to see current Me doing what I do now, and to be proud. To see how I am putting myself in a position where I am FULLY seen and heard by hundreds at a time, and that I’m not scared anymore. I want her to see how far we’ve come. That she doesn’t need to be afraid anymore. That our worth doesn’t come from external validation or how other people see us. That she can breathe easy knowing that I will keep being strong for the both of us. That the only way to tear apart those old stories is to step into the fire of discomfort with courage and trust in myself.
I want to tell her, "Look! I'm doing it!"
I still get really, really insecure. That little girl is still there, worried we’re going to be judged or excluded. But doing more of the things that push me to be courageous, to be seen and heard, to trust my own knowledge and talents, and to know it’ll always be okay no matter what, is how I've learned to move through that fear.
It’s daily work. It’s hard work. Its overwhelming and messy and sometimes makes me want to go hide in my room and cry, just like when I was eleven. And sometimes I do. But with every time I choose to meet this insecurity with understanding rather than criticism, I have a little win.
So my goal isn’t to be a person free from insecurity — I’m human after all. My goal is to have as many little wins a day as possible. To step into my authentic self, even when I’m terrified. To meet that fear with compassion, then step into courage.
And to make sure that little girl knows every day how incredibly valued and deeply, deeply loved she is.