03 Aug 2012

The Things We Don’t Say

3 Comments thoughts

Last week, I posted about my long-standing issues with body image and my evolving relationship with my body. The response was… Wow, just wow.

I got dozens of comments on Facebook. I received private messages and emails. I got calls and texts. People Facebook and Gmail chatted me. Others showed up to my yoga classes saying, “A friend of mine forwarded your post to me. I had to come take your class!” People of all ages, races, genders, sizes, shapes, and histories reached out to me in response to that post. Everyone’s story was different, but the messages were all the same:

I’ve struggled with that, too.

Almost everyone has struggled, to some degree, with feeling not so great about their body. Everyone has looked in the mirror at some point and disliked what they saw. Everyone has wondered if they’re attractive, or whether they live up to societal expectations about how they should look. The same thing goes for depression, anxiety, grief, insecurities, negative self-talk, relationship issues, and a host of other everyday struggles. We’ve all felt and lived through those things. Every single one of us. And, based on the host of heartfelt responses I received last week, many of us are aching for a place to talk about it.

So, yogis, why aren’t we talking about this stuff?

Face with finger to lips

Many of us self-censor for fear of being judged.

There are some obvious answers: Guilt, shame, and embarrassment. These insidious feelings are as universal as anxiety and body image issues. They result from internalized messages about our own feelings and experiences not being worthy to share or be seen. Somewhere along the way, we picked up the idea, “I’m not good enough.” We respond by hiding and keeping secret our vulnerable places, our not so pretty stuff. The result is all of us walking around in a constant game of emotional hide and seek. Exhausting, right?

Yoga is supposed to be healing. That’s the point. We all come to yoga to strengthen our bodies, minds, and spirits. In doing so, we often confront our deepest emotional “stuff.” Those hurt places, that fear, the belief that we’re not good enough. We face that stuff and feel it more fully. And then what? Then we roll up our mats, walk out the door, and don’t talk about it. We continue to bear the weight of all that heavy stuff on our own, even though we know everyone around us is going through the same thing.

So what would happen if we start talking openly about the hard things in our lives? What if we shared with our teachers things like, “I come to your class to feel more confident and stronger in my body”? Or “I’m here today because I’ve been anxious about money, and I need a place to work through my fear”? What if we talked to the person on the next mat, who we see week after week but never connect with? What if we stayed after class to chat with fellow students and ask for support? What if yogis got together not just to practice, but also to talk and support each other?

As I learned last week, powerful things happen when you share your story. First and foremost, it takes away the shame. After I published my blog post last week, I had a few tense moments, mostly thinking, They’re all going to laugh at you. But as comments began pouring in, I started to feel more confident, even excited that I had finally told my story. Good, bad, or otherwise, I didn’t have to hide it anymore. It was out there, and it was a relief.

The second thing that happens when you share is that it empowers others to tell their own stories. It breaks the ice and gives an example to others. I saw this in vibrant color last week with all the comments and messages I got. Several people even shared that they were inspired to write down their own stories, either privately or on their blogs. And one person was so inspired, she started a blog that she had been thinking about for a long time. I certainly don’t take credit for those people’s bravery and creativity, but it’s an honor to encourage others to take that leap.

And finally, speaking openly and honestly creates community. We’re all afraid that sharing our yucky stuff will push people away.

Yogis in partner poses

Yogis can support each other in unique ways.

Typically, it does the opposite. People are attracted to honesty and inspired by vulnerability. When someone shares in a space, whether it’s online or in person, it sends the message that it’s a safe space where anyone else can do the same. Everyone is drawn toward spaces and people that feel safe, and in those spaces, we can all find the support we need to heal.

As both a yogi and a teacher, I haven’t always done my part to create those safe spaces for sharing the things we don’t say. I don’t always share when I’m feeling crappy or struggling, and I don’t prioritize encouraging others to do the same, either before, during, or after class. And I certainly am not the best at reaching out to our amazing yoga community when I need help. But I want that to change. Starting today, I want my classes to be that safe place. I commit to sharing my humanness—in a healthy, balanced way—when I teach and practice. And I commit to welcoming anyone who wants to share their story with me, whatever it’s about. I commit to reaching out to others when I need help and being there for those who reach out to me.

Because we’re not alone. None of us ever are. We all have something we need to talk about and be supported through. And no matter what it is, we’ve all struggled with that, too.

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3 Responses to “The Things We Don’t Say”

  1. Nancy says:

    Melissa,

    You have been one of my inspirations since I first stepped into your class. You are soft and beautiful yet fierce and powerful. It must be the red hair. 🙂 You remind me over and over again that we are all just people. No pedestals. We are all teachers and students in our own ways. I’ve had a few tough lessons this week. Some ugliness that I didn’t expect arose but a lesson that expectations and pedestals can often cause unrealistic attachment. Over the last couple of years I’ve opened more and more to share and shed light on those dark and ugly places in myself. It’s helped me let go of many things that I attached to out of selfishness, fear, and shame. The lessons this week initially made me want to close up, stop sharing, run and hide like I used to. But I came to your class… I ended up twice in a puddle of sweat too spent to move but I heard you; let go of expectation, stick to your true priorities. And so here I am, moving toward what I believe to be right and hoping that I can live my life each day as an example for others to find their happiness and freedom. I’ll make mistakes, I’ll say the wrong thing but I know my intention comes from love; and love is my priority.

    <3 <3 <3,
    Nancy

  2. Catherine Marshall says:

    Melissa,

    What a beautiful person and wonderful yoga teacher you have become! This is my first time reading your blog, and I think it’s awe-some how you share yourself and your evolution freely. I really connect with your message that Trust starts by Trusting. I agree that, “People are attracted to honesty and inspired by vulnerability.” I was very lucky to find Anusara yoga my freshman year of college, and I’ve found these messages to be very powerful and transformative in my own life.

    The next time I’m in Alabama, I’ll definitely make it to your class!

    xoxo, Catherine

  3. Juliet says:

    I hesitated in commenting but am in awe after only reading a few blog posts and attending only one of your classes, so I must. Thank you, thank you for your integrity and honesty. As for now all I can say is you are in inspiration and I look forward to learning and sharing more with you in the days to come!