by Meradith Christensen
I have been consistently practicing yoga for over two years now. As I have observed the practice as a student from studio to studio, city to city, something that has stood out to me is the diversity of the people it attracts who are all coming to their mats seeking a similar experience; people from all walks of life, all shapes, sizes, colors and backgrounds who come together for a common purpose. Oftentimes, I will have a particularly meaningful savasana--a typical final pose of a yoga practice intended to be meditative--and I’ll finish with tears in my eyes. I’ll get up to notice people I’ve never met before have tears streaming as well, and there we all are as strangers, allowing ourselves to experience an emotional release from the stresses of life and blubber there together in the dimly lit room. And each person belongs.
If there is any discipline that I’ve come across that epitomizes the principles of “welcoming and belonging” regardless of differences, it is yoga. Some of the participants in the studio are very new to the practice and serve the others in the room by allowing the fellow newcomers to feel they have a right to belong. Others are experienced yogis and serve as an inspiration to fellow participants of what one might aspire to with patience and discipline. Regardless of experience or skill level, the sense of openness and camaraderie is so very palpable. It’s one of my favorite parts!
While recognizing early on in my own practice the “warm and fuzziness” of yoga, as I became more mindful of my own inner dialogue, I was surprised and ashamed at times with how negative and unwelcoming I could be to myself. About a year into regularly attending classes, I started thinking, Wow, I’d love to teach this. I’d love to help others feel at home in this. I’d love to learn it well enough to teach it. However. Every time I had those thoughts, I would subconsciously and immediately shut them down. You could never teach this. You’re not nearly flexible enough. You’re not nearly agile or graceful enough. You don’t own enough matching sports bras and leggings. You are so not that type. Then I would sort of just accept that as truth and leave it alone.
Over months of practice, an interesting thing started happening inside of me. This punitive voice telling me what I couldn’t do started to make me mad. I started talking back to it and defending myself as to why I actually could teach yoga. On a side note--Don’t try to call me crazy and act like you’ve never held a full-fledged argument in your own mind! It can easily turn into a WWE style wrestling match in fact-- that's when things get really crazy.
In what areas of our life are we self-sabotaging? In what areas is our own inner dialogue making us feel unwelcome and unworthy and therefore holding us back? In our social circles? In romantic relationships? In the workplace? In church? In parenthood? On the ski slopes? On the quidditch field? How are we sabotaging our own dreams and aspirations? How are we standing in the way of our own sense of belonging?
Part of overcoming that negativity for me in this situation came with an acknowledgement that I have unique gifts and attributes to bring to the table. This applies to each of us in all of our endeavors. A favorite quote of mine by Karen Walrond is so beautiful in its simplicity but something we all need to hear and remember, especially as women: “There is room for you. Nobody can do it with your voice, with your experience, with your insight.” I’ve also come to learn from experience that conquering one fear in one area of life and “just doing it” even when--especially when-- we don’t feel like we’ve got what it takes or somehow like we don’t belong, can give us confidence to do more of what scares us in any area. Regardless of what the outcome is each time, it’s totally worth doing for that value alone. I’ve now led several yoga sessions and have many more to lead ahead of me. Sometimes I still look around the room and have those “everyone’s looking at me” moments, but then we just breathe. (Nice perk about leading a yoga session, you can gather your thoughts as long as you need by telling the participants to “just keep breathing,” wink, wink.) I’ll never be the most flexible instructor, but I have a knack for loving people and I find so much joy in sharing what I love with others. We don’t have to try to fit into a certain mold. Sometimes we just have to choose to believe we belong.
Meradith Christensen is a Provo resident for the past 15 years and is a wife and mother to four daughters and one son, ages 3-12. She graduated with a BA degree in Spanish and is a soon-to-be certified yoga instructor. Meradith loves to travel the world, loves meeting new people, and has a special flair for Latin America. She loves to sing, write, cook, tell stories, dance, impromptu Riverdance, and thinks her jokes are the funniest of all jokes.
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