Although I’ve been using the phrase for over a decade, I’ve only recently learned what it truly means to “stand in your power.”
Eight short years ago, I was immersed in yoga teacher training, determined to become the best yoga teacher I could be. Even though I aimed to be the best, however, I never allowed myself to feel worthy of success. Perhaps because I looked like none of the yoga teachers I emulated, I always doubted myself. I let other teachers tell me what I should do and how I should feel, instead of integrating into my own body what I was learning.
Embedded in me was this idea that if I wasn’t feeling a certain way in a pose, or achieving “optimal alignment” based on some subjective ideology, I was a failure at yoga. I believed that if I could not do a headstand without the support of the wall, I wasn’t ready for the pose. The teacher kept saying I should feel the pose in this or that part of my body, but I wasn’t feeling the pose in those places; my body just didn’t react in the way the teacher predicted. To assist me in achieving “perfection” in an asana, they suggested that I strengthen my abs, improve my focus, or just “keep practicing.”
So, I kept pushing myself harder and harder in an attempt to gain their approval. I had to please the teacher.
In those early days of my yoga career, I wasn’t standing in my power—I was giving it away. At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to take up space or to trust my body and my own experiences over the expectations other people pushed on me.
While my long path of self-study yielded many valuable discoveries and insights along the way, it wasn’t until I found myself battling illness that I finally opened myself to significant change.
After much self-study, I decided to embark on a journey of self-discovery. I wanted to apply the principles and philosophies of yoga to my everyday life in a way that felt honest and authentic. I wanted to make peace with my body, and to feel comfortable in my skin. While my long path of self-study yielded many valuable discoveries and insights along the way, it wasn’t until I found myself battling illness that I finally opened myself to significant change. In the end, illness was the catalyst for shifting the way I viewed myself and my power.
In late 2016, I started to feel weak and shaky on a daily basis. I was frustrated and angry in situations that previously would not have bothered me so intensely. I began losing weight, and I felt miserable. My body was trying to tell me something, but I wasn’t listening.
One day while traveling, my body forced me to pay attention. I found myself stuck in the bathroom stall in an airport terminal. My hands were shaking so violently that I couldn't open the stall door. My hands were not working, and my heart was racing. I was so scared that I needed security personnel to assist me. My body was telling me something I needed to hear. It was saying, I need your help. It was the wake-up call I needed, and I made an appointment to see my family doctor.
I was eventually diagnosed with Graves disease. Graves disease is also known as hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland overproduces thyroid hormones. Some of the symptoms I experienced were a racing heart, shaking, anxiety, anger, irritability, and weight loss. My diagnosis prompted me to find new and better ways of listening to and caring for my body.
I decided it was time to practice ahimsa (non-harming) more intently by being gentle and loving with my body. To quote my yoga teacher, Dr. Gail Parker, I decided to “stop bullying my body.”
With self-care my priority, I made it my goal to take a walk and practice yoga every single day of 2017. Some days my yoga would be asana, some days it would be meditation, and some days it would mean lying in savasana on my mat. While taking walks, I listened to podcasts, communed with nature, and took time to practice gratitude for my body, even if only for that moment.
By the end of 2017, I had walked six million steps—which is like walking across the continent of Australia! I had also completed hours of asana, meditation, and deep relaxation. During my year of making self-care a priority, this is what I learned:
• When I made peace with myself and stopped looking for external validation, I was better able to trust myself.
• How to recognize when my body was being truthful with me.
• That I am worthy, and I am allowed to take up space in the world. My voice and my life matter.
• I don’t have to engage everyone I meet. Disengaging for my self-care and safety is okay. My sunglasses and headphones provide privacy and alone time when I am in a crowd.
• Not to take advantage of others, nor to let others take advantage of me.
• “No” is a complete sentence.
• To say “yes” only to those things that excite me or scare me (in a good way!).
• I can move just because it feels good. I don’t have to exercise or move because I’m punishing my body for not living up to certain expectations.
• Movement can be healing to the body and soul in whatever capacity I choose it to be.
• Communing with nature even in the dead of winter is a beautiful meditative practice.
• I can stand in my power and experience my life.
Finding our spiritual practice—whether it’s yoga, meditation, exercise, reading, or just being comfortable at rest—is so essential to our well-being and sense of self. It is time to slow down, look up, look out, say no, or say yes (as long as we’re not shrinking our power by doing so).
So, having challenged myself, I now challenge you to take up space in the world! Step into the world and know your worth. It’s time to stand in your power. Try creating a sustainable self-care practice and challenge yourself to stick to it for an entire year. You’ll be surprised at how much your body and your soul have to teach you.