Grow Where You Are Planted – How Yoga Helped My Self – Love BloomMay 8, 2015
GUEST POST BY: OLIVIA HEATH
I love trees. I am a tree hugger. I have been known to cry over the beauty of a forest. I relish the smell of fresh wood. The Giving Tree has been my favorite book since childhood. Perhaps this is all because there is a little bit of tree that is a part of me.
You see, I am a 6’2” female. I have a wingspan that rivals the famous image of Michael Jordan. I am constantly asked “do you play basketball? Volleyball?” When answered no, responses range from “what a waste”… to… “well, what do you do?” I often am stopped as I walk down the street, and all people want to say is “excuse me, how tall are you?” The question is an expression of their awe/shock/intrigue by my stature. These types of questions require patience and grace in my response, trying to remember that the person asking thinks they are the first person (not the 100-millionth person) to ask these questions.
The funny part is, I rarely ever feel tall. It’s not until I see myself in a picture with “normal” sized people (females, especially) that I realize how tall I am. And even at 33 years old, I still get surprised by this! So, inevitably, my sense of self is shaken when I feel one way but then am constantly reminded how differently I am perceived by the outside world. This constant interaction and encounter with my identity have kept me cloaked in modesty and lacking self-assuredness in many ways, keeping me from being fully expressive in my physical abilities, or ever feeling fully confident with physical activities. A beautiful tree just trying to blend in with the forest.
My world was turned upside down in the most glorious of ways when I was introduced to yoga about 8 years ago. I found freedom in the non-competitive environment where I could move my body, feel my strength, and realize my ability. Yoga began to crack my shell of questionable-body-image-esteem, finally allowing confidence to shine through.
Fast forward to about a year ago when I started having conversations around “Should I consider teacher training?” I mulled it over for months and months, that self-doubt creeping into the quiet spaces of my consciousness (moment of vulnerability in this confession here): “you are not good enough… you have a 6’3 wingspan, and can only do 3 chaturangas before you have to start using your knees or just holding plank because you aren’t strong enough”…or “you’ve never done a full handstand, or a full wheel in your life, there is no way you can teach yoga”….. and worst of all: “you don’t LOOK like a yoga teacher”.
Somehow, though, through all that negative self-talk, yoga in its magical way spoke louder to me and said “you can do this”… so I did.
I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by a very supportive yoga community- one that never questioned my challenges in figuring out how to get my feet up over my head… or why sometime I just hold plank instead of moving through a whole vinyasa. My teacher always simply said, “Do what you can” and “slowly, slowly”. And so I began to grow my branches.
Even today after completing the certification program, I am still unable to do handstand and full wheel on my own. But you know what I AM able to DO? I am able to call myself a teacher that invigorates people to move their bodies. I am a teacher who gently invites people to go within themselves to discover and unveil their strengths. I am a teacher who reminds people to breathe. I am a teacher who shares compassion in understanding that bodies are different, and empathy in knowing that body types and ability levels vary along an endless spectrum. I am a teacher who encourages, leads, listens, and cares.
They say how you treat others is a direct reflection of how you treat yourself. And just like trees, we have to grow from the bottom up and the inside out. I hope that in sharing my story, my humility, and my journey that I can inspire others to find purpose, confidence and strength in where they are planted, and to grow along with me.
BIO: Olivia Heath is an RYT 200 yoga teacher in Chicago, Illinois. She designs and teaches Hatha classes based on foundations of sthira, sukha, the 8-limbs, a little laughter, and a lot of love.