If you noticed I started a blog, you may have also noticed that I posted once and went quiet for a while. Part of the radio silence was my need to conserve energy. The other part was me waiting––waiting to be shown what was next. It turns out, what's next is a tough question that really hit home for me.
This topic was sparked by listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's podcast about creativity, in which the question was posed: "What if I'm not a _________?" I was shocked as I heard myself mentally fill in the blank with the words yoga teacher. I felt a sense of panic and strong emotion flush through my body as this powerful string of words promised to shatter my long held identity.
What if I'm not a yoga teacher?
I've spent the last 15 years building my yoga teacher identity. Everyone in my life knows me as a yoga teacher. It's what I do. It is, in many cases, the reason why I'm loved and respected. I've built my entire adult life and multiple revenue streams around this one identity. Even my social media handles are @yogamarty, a pet name given to me by students from my once-upon-a-time yoga studio in Michigan. In a way, I don't remember ever being anything else. Is it possible that I could be something else, something different?
Somewhere deep inside...
I've been longing to dare to ask.
I've given myself permission to answer, what is, for me, a profound question. And my willingness to hear the honest answer to that question has brought a deep sigh of relief. On the inhale from that deep sigh, I'm finding the answer isn't nearly as mortifying as I'd expected.
It's not so much that I'm not a yoga teacher anymore, but that I'm not just a yoga teacher. The truth is, I haven't been just a yoga teacher for a while––well, ever, really. There's been a part of me that's been trying to break free all this time. And if you've been following my somewhat public journey, you probably already know this. This is just me finally giving myself permission to say it out loud. Sometimes we have to free ourselves from something in order to truly come back home to it. And that's exactly the process I've been navigating these past few years.
After over a decade in the Midwest as a yoga studio owner turned traveling yoga teacher, I gave myself permission to follow my heart, and it's led me home to my true self.
It all started when I decided to leave my work as a full time yoga teacher to travel the country in an RV with my partner. I taught at a few yoga studios and festivals around the country during our travels, but there was a lot of open time. This gift of time gave me space to clear my mind and make way for bigger questions. Questions like, what if I'm not just a yoga teacher?
This past January, after 2 years of the gypsy life, we decided to settle again, this time on the southeastern coast. As a stepping stone to figuring out where we want to settle more permanently, we decided to temporarily relocate to my former home of Greenville, South Carolina. This is the place where I discovered yoga––a discovery that sent me on this 15 year journey. Not surprisingly, living here again, even for this short time, is clearly the universe's way of helping me come full circle so I can collect the scattered pieces of my soul and truly begin again.
Though I wasn't born in South Carolina, it's where I grew up. My upbringing here was...well...interesting. I was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home. My father is a former reverend and my parents ran a very strict household. While I'm not going to dive into that abyss in this post, I feel it's a vital piece of backstory that'll shine some light on how I arrived at the necessity of living beyond my yoga teacher identity.
Essentially, I was raised in a box.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not here to shame my parents. I'm sure they did their best, but their best included life in a box. The "box" was made of religion-fueled rules and restrictions that made it hard to even breathe most days. Stay in the box. Don't go outside the box, it's not safe. It was a cage made of beliefs and ideals held by my parents, and while I respect their right to believe and live as they wish, their box didn't have any room in it for the real me.
Upon reaching adulthood, I quickly exited my parent's home, imposed rules and restrictions. I found my way out and didn't look back. I thought I'd left it all behind. But when I left, I was loaded down with a lot of unprocessed pain, doing my best to pretend it wasn't a part of me, wasn't inside of me, wasn't dragging me down with every step. I thought I'd escaped their box, only to find that I traded the box given me in childhood for one of my own making. On the outside, I seemed as free as a bird. But inside, I'd caged myself.
I'd unwittingly repeated my parents' story in my own life.
Stay in the box. Don't go outside the box, it's not safe.
My work as a yoga teacher became my "box." Teaching and practicing yoga had begun as a refuge from my own pain, a place to breathe and feel uncaged. But because I brought my unresolved conditioning into my yoga, my practice (and my teaching) ended up becoming my new cage. It became the place where I clung to unhealthy expectations while encouraging students to let go of theirs, and held myself prisoner while guiding practices for others to experience freedom. I got so tangled that I didn't allow myself the same freedom that I nurtured in my students.
I longed to break free.
I'm really clever at putting myself into new boxes when I step out of old ones, maybe even unconsciously addicted to it. I'm now aware of this tendency to box myself in, and of my talent for disguising my boxes as healthy behavior. And with this new awareness, I can step out and begin to free myself of past conditioning.
The concept of living within other people's boxes really hit me in a new way when I read an article about one woman's experience of motherhood, and how it was nothing like what everyone had warned her about. She was writing her own story about how joyful motherhood is for her, despite all the warnings she received, and I saw myself in her words. I finally felt in every cell of my body what I'd only held previously as an idea.
Their story doesn't have to be my story.
While this single realization won't instantly erase 38 years of boxed living, it's the seed that'll grow new behaviors over time. It shines a light on the conditioning behind my habit of trading one box for another. Boxed living is a learned behavior and I can unlearn it.
It's time to say goodbye.
I see you, and now, I understand you.
I know we've been together a long time,
but it's time to part ways. I choose to step
outside your boundaries again and again,
until I understand that you only ever
existed in my mind.
This is where I am. I'm standing outside of my box and in my wide open, unfolding story, sifting through what's mine and what's not, and deciding how I'd like the next chapter to read. I no longer have to commit this slow soul-suicide, pushing back pARTs of myself to fit in a box. I choose to step out and ask the big questions.
What if I'm not a ___________? What if I'm a ___________?
Right now, for me, freedom is the practice of remembering:
The cage is unlocked.
Or, the box is a self-drawn chalk line. All it takes is one step in any direction and I'm free. I'm repurposing that chalk to write a new chapter in my life story.
This brings me to my all time favorite quote, from Anais Nin.
"The day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."
Perhaps it's my favorite quote because I've felt like that tight bud for most of my life.
I choose to risk blossoming. Whatever the cost.
I'm all in. Bloom or bust.
I give myself permission to grow beyond being just a yoga teacher and consider bigger questions, like:
What story do I want the next chapter of my life to tell?
That, my friend, is a work in progress. But this much I know for sure, it won't be a story about another damn box.