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Fully recovered from a years-long battle with an eating disorder, I had created the life of my dreams in Washington, DC. I thought everything had finally fallen into place; I worked at a powerful Capitol Hill law firm during the day and ran and lifted weights at night. I was in shape, successful, and relatively happy.
But, while everything looked great from the outside, the constant pressure I put on myself while creating this career didn’t go away. I was type A, quick to move, and even quicker to worry. I worried constantly about being good enough. I never felt secure in my work and used every minute of my schedule to make a name for myself. The mental battle took its toll, and finally, one night, alone in the emergency room at 4 a.m., I found out I had mono.
I lost all of my strength, and my anxiety went from manageable to debilitating. Rigorous exercise had been an outlet; suddenly, I couldn’t even walk to work because I needed to conserve energy. Crying took up most of my time, even at the office. After months of searching for a solution, I turned to the last option: moving back home to Milwaukee.
I slowly rebuilt my life with a new job at a boutique public relations firm and restored my health after countless doctor visits. I decided to train for a half marathon. I wanted to prove to myself that, even though my physical strength was no longer at its peak, I was still tough. I began training, running for hours at a time. Eventually, my body begged for restoration.
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I found a hot yoga class at my gym and decided to give it a try. The poses seemed boring and too slow for a real workout. But for some reason, I returned the following week. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I belonged in that room on Monday nights.
After four weeks, my world began to revolve around this yoga class and the stillness I experienced afterward. The first time I truly felt the quiet power of a standing series stands out. I felt so confident and alive moving into Warrior II Pose; it was as if my soul recognized the movements. When I practiced, the labels, titles, and muscles I thought I needed to be worthy didn’t matter; all I had to do was show up barefoot on a mat.
After years of overexercising and convincing myself that the only good workout was an intense one, it was a yoga class that put my pieces back together.
The racing thoughts that had plagued me for years began to relax. The rhythmic movement of my body coupled with the relaxation from Savasana made me feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever remembered. The sweat drenching my face felt like it came from the purest part of me, the part that is connected to the world around me.
Following the peace I felt during my practice, I decided to sign up for a yoga teacher training. I thought it would be a way to keep myself busy during the winter.
In fact, the training solidified yoga’s healing presence in my life. And I realized that I had a deep desire to help people understand that suffering is not mandatory. Observing your thoughts, practicing non-attachment, and deep belly breathing are tools available every day of the week. No pill, large sum of money, or other person is required to find relief from your mind’s demands.
In teacher training, I learned I didn’t need to prove myself; I needed to let go of who I thought I was. Each pose helped me shed a part of the shield I had spent years building around myself. It had to fall away in order for me to become the person I was meant to be. The shame I felt from my tears and panic attacks faded into the background as I realized that those experiences did not define me.
On my drive home after class, I’m often moved to tears of gratitude, feeling so lucky to be alive. I’ve made friends I will cherish for the rest of my life. None of this would’ve been possible without slowing down my thoughts. None of this would’ve been possible without yoga.
If you’ve seen the darkness and faced it, you aren’t alone. It’s okay to be sad for no reason. It’s okay to roll out your mat and feel half of the mood-boost you usually do. It’s okay to look unhappy during a yoga class. Allowing yourself to experience your emotions is how they pass; who you are stays the same, regardless of their fluctuations.
Pushing past the initial discomfort and resistance in my first yoga class proved to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I never would have imagined that the crying, anxious girl I used to be would be brave enough to teach a room full of people how to quiet their minds.
This transformation has led me to a life I never thought possible. The healing powers of yoga sought me out, humbled me, and helped me understand my purpose. I’m not here because of what I look like, the things I do, or how much I get done; I’m here to be a part of the light within each of us. And so are you.
About our Author
PAIGE PICHLER is a writer, yoga instructor, and Project HEAL national ambassador based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Learn more about Paige at watermelontee.com.