Off the Mat, Into the World’s Yoga, Purpose, and Action Intensive was, for me, a powerful excavation of the ways in which I was unknowingly holding myself back from living fully on purpose and with intention. Since attending the aptly named “intensive” in March 2010, I have been standing in the center of the “magic” that Seane Corn referred to as being in every moment. Off the Mat’s founders and leaders, Seane, Suzanne, and Hala, created a safe space to lead each of the participants through a process of self-discovery through the use of asana, sound, holding ritual and group processing.
Admittedly, as a veteran of nine years of psychotherapy and three years of psychoanalysis (yes, daily visits to the couch to get to know my unconscious mind) and a graduate of a Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology in private practice, I was somewhat skeptical that I would find anything new or anything mind-blowing about myself. I felt as though I knew me, I felt as though I loved me, I felt as though I was attending the workshop to find out more about how to incorporate my two passions: yoga and therapy, especially as it related to working with girls and women with disordered eating and distorted body image. All of that was true, but what I hadn’t yet considered or ever been exposed to was Off the Mat’s approach to shadow work as a necessary prerequisite to service in the world.
At the intensive, I learned that it was precisely the traumas and the heartbreaks that had been so hurtful in my life that were my greatest opportunities for growth, for resilience, for the creation of something to be, to give, to offer. I learned that the injustices and tragedies in the world that most poignantly break my heart are not random, but rather that my heart strings are pulled by my own set of circumstances, my own “story”. I finally fully understood why girls hating their bodies is the issue that, more than any other, breaks my heart. And I understood that I had to get out of my own way in order to really do something powerful and meaningful about the way girls and women treat themselves.
Photo Credit: Robyn Thayer
Early in the week, we were led through an exercise about limiting beliefs — those ruminating, critical voices that we allow, at times unconsciously, to get in our own way. I discovered during that process that my strongest and most forceful limiting belief was actually that I was too much. As a young child I was asked to step down or away from roles of leadership for various reasons, and over the years I became afraid of my own voice, of my own potential power. I learned to quiet and hold myself back and down because I was fearful that I would be overwhelming if I allowed myself to show up completely. This limiting belief had stopped me from being a visionary, from using my voice authentically and purposefully, from showing up fully and radically in love. And this limiting belief has an evil twin critic who tells me that I am not enough, that I cannot do it, that I will not make a difference and how dare I think I could?
As I began to set both of those old critics aside and instead feel into the new mantra that my cohort at the workshop helped me create, “I am exactly who I am meant to be in this moment,” I saw that if I could stop holding myself back, I could be of better service in the world. And if I would stop “playing small”, as Marianne Williamson famously stated, I could allow others to show up in their brightest lights. That realization freed me. The intensive took us into the dark places in order to show us the way into the light.
One day, towards the end of the week, we were asked to do a journaling exercise about our purpose in the world. I felt empowered and inspired to discover, even more fully and without internal criticism, that my purpose was to create a world where all unconditionally love their bodies and, therefore, themselves and others. I was asked to boldly embody that purpose and interact with others in the workshop. I felt then that I had set the intention and that it would therefore become a reality. The intensive created space for me to find the ways in which I was holding myself back, and learn to get out of my own way so that I could step into my purpose. I began to dream.
That was last March. Only twenty months later the magic has unfolded in ways unimaginable. My three collaborators and I have opened the doors to Embody Love Movement: a center for psychotherapy, yoga, and nutrition. We use an integrative treatment approach to help girls and women recover from disordered eating and distorted body image and to find their already unconditionally loved selves again. We have led workshops and retreats and currently have a group of recovered young women who are inspired to be the next generation of embodied love; they will be leading workshops this summer to middle and high school aged girls and have created a mentoring program to help those who are currently struggling with Eating Disorders. Each of these recovered women’s names are written in my journal from the OTM intensive last March. I just had to stop questioning myself and get out of my way so that I could see the truth and love within and all around me.
I knew that a revolution could begin, and I believe that it has. I learned at the intensive, and from Seane, Suzanne, and Hala, that I had to start with me. I had to be willing enough, brave enough, uncomfortable enough to see into the places that scared me in order to understand that my shadow is not something I have to run away from, but rather, it is my teacher; and if I can hold it sacred, and all parts of myself as sacred, then I can begin to see the sacred and the magic in each moment and in every situation. Off the Mat has taught me to serve without overpowering or assumption, but with an experience of the unconditional forgiveness and love that exists in every moment and within every human being, including myself, all of the time.
I could never have anticipated what a life-changing experience the intensive would become for me. I am just so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from those who have done the self-excavation necessary to hold the space for me to see more fully into myself, to find my purpose, and to create change in the world as a result.
Yoga Modern is featuring a series of essays inspired by Off the Mat Into the World’s Yoga, Purpose, & Action Intensives.For a list of upcoming Off the Mat, Into the World leadership trainings, click here. First up: Austin, Texas in March.