What My Yoga Practice Has Taught Me
Aug 29, 2016 10:09PM
by Nya AlemayhuWhen I reflect on who I was before I began my practice, it is not an exaggeration to say, I hardly recognize myself today. Entering the yoga portal has not only regenerated my heart, but it has restructured my thoughts, my beliefs and my attitude to and relationship with the earth.
The very first yoga lesson I learned is compassion for oneself. Compassion for others, as a concept and as a practice, had always made sense to me. Graciousness, kindness and empathy toward the human condition is not something I had a challenge giving to others, it was just something I did not believe in giving myself. I grew up the eldest of six children—two brothers and three sisters. My parents were working-class African immigrants who were more focused on providing for the family than actually being with the family. Naturally, I adopted the maternal role for my siblings and provided all that they needed, ranging from meals to help with homework, and even so far as interpreting the valleys of adolescence. As a result, I had deeply identified with the caretaker and caregiver archetype. Somehow, I had internalized that to mean that caregivers nourish others but not themselves. You can only imagine how much this mind-frame dictated my relationships.
I found that the reason why I did not believe in compassion for myself is because I did not think I deserved it. The alchemy of my personal trauma includes guilt, shame and worthlessness. The narrative of my trauma includes abuse, abandonment and lots of fear. All of these emotional knots were hiding in my body, particularly in my heart and throat.
I had come to a point in my life where the undercurrent of my childhood trauma was beginning to swallow me. One day, I accepted that while my yoga has lifted the veil of my inner world, it was not enough. I needed a verbal sounding board. It was not until I began psycho-therapy in addition to my asana practice that I saw exactly how much was beneath my surface.
Yoga asana practice is incredible for creating space in the physical body. All the lengthening, stretching and twisting actually has a purpose. I believe that it allows for emotional cobwebs to be given air and space, so that we may see what we have been hiding inside tight hips, shoulders and particularly, in the space behind the heart. All of these asana, or seat, require that you be still and see what arises. That information is the reason why one shows up for practice. To see themselves in their natural, vulnerable state—and to be empowered enough to soften it.
The second yoga lesson I learned, or rather reclaimed, is my voice. Part of growing up in an abusive home is not speaking one’s truth—or any truth really—that would disturb any concept of peace. For fear that my thoughts and words would create more harm for me, I said nothing. I had not realized how much of this was also woven into the fabric of my beliefs until I began to hear and see myself.
Yoga can be seen from an intellectual perspective as a template—as a pillar to lead one’s life. It takes a certain amount of bravery to face yourself, compassionately and begin to untangle the layers. If I did not have the haven of my mat, I don’t know that I would have trusted enough to actually unearth all of my being.
Sometimes, I still cannot recognize myself and I realize it is because my heart has been regenerated and just as a foreign object, my body is not yet used to it.
I roll out my mat every day because it’s a reaffirmation that I am worth it, that I am sacred and that I am divine. This is also the same reason I teach. I want to hold space for people to see the light in who they are and to be in awe of how beautiful and brightly it shines.
Nya Alemayhu is a yoga teacher based in Washington, D.C. Nya began her physical asana practice in 2004 and teaching in 2013. Nya believes each of us is on a quest to return to wholeness, she is grateful for the opportunity to assist along that journey. She can be found at Georgetown Yoga, Dock 5 at Union Market DC and for private instruction and can be reached at [email protected]