Before Yoga Found Me; A Journey to Self Love

Before Yoga Found Me
Lauren Collins

Before learning to breathe, I didn’t live. Yes, dramatic, but so was the smile I wore while constantly playing keep-away with my inner-strength. Yoga was a class that I took once a year to stretch for an hour and to justify that after-class beer. Yoga was a ‘work out’ that fit into my ‘Self Love’ image that was easy for outsiders to digest. Instead of sharing the secret dark experiences of addiction, violence, and psychological trauma that made me extremely strong for being so young, I was very busy ACTING like I was strong to convince those that care about em that I was Okay. At times, I even believed it! Let’s look back a few years. I was a young woman, pursuing professional fine art as a career; earning degrees in painting, moving big city to bigger city, scraping my way through exhibitions, performing non stop to make my way into “successful” job titles in renowned museums, selling works that paid the hefty rent + some. That’s a big deal for a hard working kid who thought she had nothing else to be proud of. By 24, I was beyond my years in experience and  success, basking in the glowing neon light dream that was the Art World.... on paper. 

In reality, I was an unhealthy mess. I chain-smoked and drank my way to a cluttered art studio, but only on the off chance that I’d make it out of the museum galas by 1 am. I was the event coordinator at an internationally admired art museum, hosting events for renowned guests that literally treated me like a trash can. I felt like a trash can. I had no rhythm, obsessed with my job, turning away opportunities to build relationships, developing a form of self loathing where I measured my success by the idea of what my identity could be summed up as, the ego. Stumbling home off the buses and taxis, reaching for something in front of me that I stubbornly wouldn’t let myself have. I wouldn’t let myself know what it was. It was time for myself. It was reflection and stepping into the unknown. My soul was reaching for it but my mind would not let go of the identity crisis. So afraid to be a “loser.” I wish I could hold that girl today and teach her to breathe.  She deserved better.

Funny how much effort we can put into creating our image. The exhaustion of doing things that made me look like I was okay instead of doing things that let me be okay was all-encompassing. I actually convinced myself at times that I was fine, because things could always be worse, right? Totally! And still, I wore an ego-badge narrating a quick story, an easy read of the image of a successful, strong, smart young woman instead of actually being the successful, strong, smart young woman that I was. There was no deep breath to take while I was gasping for air, no pranayama to find my center while I was just trying to hold on. 

In my mid twenties something snapped. My internal voice said, “Girl, you have to go.” I let that wave open and take me and went from the bustling nightlife of the Tampa Bay to the serene mountains of NH, to work at a small art gallery on a lake. It was heaven for the Summer. I felt appreciated. I loved supporting the artists. I loved the healthier schedule and the calm small town. After a season there, I realized that I had not made art for myself in years. It was to be sold, for someone else, completely devoid of my soul yet I was spending my time selling other artists’ work. I had been carrying the weight of imposter syndrome for years, but this was the breaking point.  What a blow. Someone go back in time and introduce this girl to the Niyamas. 

In the midst of not knowing what to do with myself in a quiet rural place without my flashy job title defining me, I kept drinking beer and spent the winter chain smoking cigarettes in the garage at night while I waited for the ice to melt in 6 months. During this chemically induced hibernation, I left the job at the gallery and went after my own studio practice. So alone in my head, but never with myself. I got a few sparkling gigs sculpting large scale art installations for events in Los Angeles, traveling cross country to make art. Back in the lime-light, like a moth to a flame. Burnt. Again, I wrongly measured my worth by the “slow pace” of success, not allowing myself to understand that it takes time to build a self sustaining personal practice, and that this wasn’t the right moment to pursue that without support. No level of swadyaya could have humbled that girl into gratitude. Girl should have grabbed that metaphorical block, acknowledged her limits, taken a deep breath, and acknowledged that she showed up.

After a few trips to warmer places in the winter to work another unhealthy situation, I stopped moving forward again. That was f*cking hard. My job slowed down, my savings (the double digits of cash stuffed in my pillow case) dwindled, but my mind didn’t. While my ego crashed around me my body became a stagnant toxin collector screaming to be used. My soul was knocking from the inside but my mind was occupied with “What have I done? Why did I come here? I left everything that made me successful. I am a loser.” After months and months (really years) of internalizing, I walked outside and the sun was out. It kissed my cheeks and swaddled my wool sweater in warmth. It said move. Just keep moving. So I did. I put on boots and hiked a mountain. By myself. For the first time ever. No explanation- just intuition. At the summit, the mountain said reach. So I did. For the first time ever. And when I reached, the sky said breathe, and my breath said heal as I let out every terrible thing that I have ever said to myself. I exhaled every unrealistic idea of what someone else told me success was. I exhaled every regret and collapsed to the ground holding myself, crying. I finally let myself cry. I let myself feel, and I let myself heal. 

After hiking myself back down the mountain and driving myself home I laid in my bed, and felt my body vibrating. I felt something awaken, and I welcomed it. It moved from my feet through my hips, up my spine, and out of the crown of my head. I felt forgiveness and I felt movement, but I was not moving. I was movement. 

This became a personal practice for me. Climb, reach, breathe, reflect. Yoga discovered me. I needed it to save me. I want to say that I found it through my own healing process, but it found me. Sure, we have all taken the occasional class at the local gym, and bought the mat at TJ MAX before in our cute leggings and “good vibes only” tanks, but have we felt it? Before movement, I used the idea of yoga lightly to stretch my body, but never felt its presence within. The yogic philosophy fell into my life, like a meteor crashing through the atmosphere. It said stop sleepwalking, and start daydreaming. Living it. I became softer with myself. Sweeter with my words. Clearer with my intentions, and quieter with my mind. The yogic philosophy told me to move, to breathe, and to let myself just be. My body developed a personal practice because it felt good. It intuited it’s sequencing into a natural flow that allowed my mind to reach a sense of quiet. It allowed me to adopt a lifestyle that helped me understand that I should consume things to feel good because I am good, and deserve good. Losing the twenty pounds of emotional baggage attached to my body didn’t hurt one bit, either.

Today, I am kinder to myself. I am more patient with myself. I am gentle and sweeter with myself. I know how to spend time with myself now, and I enjoy my own company. I am content, yet still ambitious. I cultivate dreams and allow my path to change. I do not define myself within a box, and don’t feel that I can be contained. I am forgiving with others and myself. I feel good, and my path has drastically changed. 

From Ayurvedic diet, to movement & asanas, to pranayamas and meditation, yoga found me. After identifying my self-discovered transformation with so many parallels in the practice of yoga, I was able to start putting a vocabulary to personal experiences that I’ve never had words for... that I couldn’t share before. This lit a fire in me to share them, to help, to guide, to teach. That fire brought me to a path I never dreamed that I would be on. I have always wanted to help  others in a deep and personal way. The philosophy, the real life experiences, revelations, and relativities are what I can share with others. When yoga found me, I found that I can help others show up for themselves, and that I am worth all of the movement in the world. I let my dharma in.