At first I was a little hesitant about sharing my personal journey, about how and why I transformed my self doubts to self love. But my practice continues to build my confidence and worthiness. It is this holistic practice of Yoga that helped me realise that the only hindrance to my personal growth and happiness were my own fears and doubts.
It is true – Yoga can help us love ourselves more.
It has helped me rebuild my self esteem and self confidence and I hope to reach out to many more people who often find themselves caught up in an emotional turmoil, by giving an outside situation or person the power to lower their self image. It could be due to peer or family pressure, childhood trauma, financial problem, abuse, medical condition …or just a snide remark!
As a child I had this natural inclination to be spiritual, and this encouraged me to spend some quiet time alone and meditate in the park and practice basic Yoga stretches. I did not know much about Yoga and its benefits but I felt at peace, and being in nature always made me feel alive. However, I was around 10 years old when I had the first outburst of vitiligo, and it turned my world upside down. .
Does giving advice really work?
I don’t think so. The practice of Yoga teaches us that no piece of advice is right for everyone. We are all different and the biggest mistake we often make is that instead of embracing each other’s differences, and learning from it or just learning to live with it, we constantly try and change what is not in our control, we judge, and we compare.
I had experienced this when I had turned into the vitiligo girl. Suddenly, everyone had a piece of advice for me. Regardless of whether it was a family function or any casual social gathering, everyone had suggestions and remedies … on what I should eat, what I should avoid, why and how I got these discolored patches all over my body … I even had people worrying about the problems my parents would face in finding me a suitable life partner!
These advices only made me more conscious about myself and my skin condition. I really wanted to dress up, where short skirts and trendy clothes like other kids. But the fear of being constantly judged, the fear of being stared at, the fear of being looked upon as abnormal … ruined my self esteem and confidence.
The crippling effects of anxiety
I was told that vitiligo is a chronic condition and though it is not life-threatening, it is usually a lifelong condition and that the discoloration can continue to spread throughout the body. I had started taking medication to control it. But I soon realised that the medication was only adding to my anxiety. I thus stopped my medication, but the worries continued to haunt me. I was always self-conscious and at times embarrassed about myself, at home, at school and even at work.
I have had my share of the corporate world and the 9 to 5 routines. I spent almost 14 years working as a Business Analyst in a multinational company and a startup. Though I was always an introvert and enjoyed spending time alone, the fact that I was unhappy from within, was making me more and more uncomfortable and depressed. When alone, I knew I wasn’t fully present mentally. I always avoided group gatherings and activities. I feared that people were ignoring me. I often had this urge to leave all this behind and run away.
The mind is like water, when it’s turbulent, it’s difficult to see. When it’s calm, everything becomes clear.
All these negative emotions further manifested into feelings of emptiness, and a longing to escape my current reality. It left me angry, irritated and frustrated most of the time. I felt like I was on a meaningless path, not sure about why I am working or why I continued to do something that made me so unhappy.
The thought of quitting my job for good was getting stronger. But at the same time the fear of financial security was holding me back. To add to this, my arranged marriage was called off when the so called ‘suitable life partner’ rejected the proposal on learning about my vitiligo condition. All this drama finally pushed me over the edge!
All this while, that quiet place in my heart and mind, that peace which had surfaced when I had stretched and meditated, remained unperturbed. It constantly reminded me to get back, look within, and I finally paid heed. I quit my job and got back to exploring more about Yoga and meditation.
Healing starts with self acceptance
Soon, I found myself in a better place, emotionally and physically. My vitiligo had stopped spreading, I was feeling more confident about myself and my decisions. A few close friends suggested that if Yoga is what truly makes me happy, then perhaps I should consider a career as a Yoga teacher! Though I was very keen on learning more about Yoga, I was yet to free myself from all the self-doubts.
I still pictured myself as a Yoga teacher with vitiligo. I was worried that with my visible discolored patches on skin, will I ever be accepted as a Yoga teacher? I decided to take some time off for meditation and enrolled for the 10 days Vipassana course. Everyday was a unique experience.
All my negative thoughts surfaced one after another. Just that this time, I had nowhere to run. I realised that if I do not accept them, I will never be able to free myself from them. The 10 days of silence and introspection really helped me accept who I really am. Instead of turning away, I faced my fears and insecurities and they soon disappeared.
“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” Thich Nhat Hanh
After completing the course, I took up the one month residential Yoga Instructor’s Course at Svyasa, Bangalore. It was an environment I had always dreamt of. I was surrounded by greenery, started my day with chanting and morning prayers, Yoga practice and spent the day practicing Yoga asana, Karma Yoga and learning Yoga philosophy.
Physically, the routine made me more flexible and helped me overcome my lower back pain, and emotionally, it helped me overcome most of my insecurities. Well …most of them 🙂 After completing the course and returning to Delhi, the fact that I do not have a job in hand to earn my bread and butter, worried me! But I continued with my daily practice and kept searching for Yoga teacher jobs.
Soon I started getting offers to take private sessions as well as group sessions at gyms across the city. I remained dedicated to my practice. Though the time spent at Vipassana and Svyasa had taught me self-acceptance, it took constant practice to embrace my reality as it is.
A teaching opportunity at a popular Gym and couple of corporate Yoga training sessions helped me apply what I had learned. It taught me to embrace myself the way I am and build a positive self image. I wasn’t embarrassed or conscious about my vitiligo condition anymore.
Yoga in daily life
I decided to study further and pursue my Master’s degree in Yoga. I teach students from all backgrounds. I believe that the practice of Yoga does not stop once you are off the mat. It is about how we think, what we think, how we act and react; it is our lifestyle.
I often tell my students that Yoga asana reflects our mental state. For example, when you try and hold any pose for a little longer, your mind starts telling you to come out because it is not comfortable. But if we breathe and stay calm, the body soon opens up and slowly and steadily we find the steadiness in that particular asana. Likewise, in life, similar – uncomfortable situations arise. If we decide to quit and do not allow the problem to surface, it will never go. Instead, if we learn to stay calm and hold on to it and face our fears, the challenges will soon pass.
Firstly, it is only my practice, my inner feeling that inspires me to continue practicing.
I prefer practicing in them morning, at fixed time and place.
It helps to see my practice as a way of living (more than physical exercise) and at the same time I am consistent my asana practice.
I have faith that my practice is a process to liberate myself from suppressed negative emotions.
While learning, it is important to be receptive during your TTC – towards your body, your Teachers, and colleagues. It is important to enjoy the process of transformation.
Sonia Talwar, Delhi
Yoga Instructor Course, QCI level 1, Masters in Yoga & Science of Living.