Friday, February 21, 2014

Take Care of Yourself...no seriously. Take. Care. Of. Your. Self.

I am very proud to say that this Sunday I will be leading an event at Columbia University for young women involved in the Columbia College Women (CCW) mentoring program on the topic of Self Care. This event has been brewing inside of me since right after my heart surgery, just about 8 months ago. I was asked to be involved with CCW for the 3rd year in a row just before my surgery and initially I said no. Who was I to be a mentor? I had nearly stressed myself to death. I was about to quit my "big job" and could no longer impress the hard-to-impress Columbia students with my title. I was about to make a career shift so extreme and so bizarre that I couldn't imagine ME being able to advise, let alone inspire a bright, ambitious, Ivy league girl. I was no longer going to be an industry leader. I was no longer well paid and on a fast track. I truly felt like I had nothing to offer.

But then something shifted.  I faced the fear of giving up my salary, my title and a big part of my ego's identity and somehow managed not to melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. The shame and self-pity started to dissipate. I started to write about my feelings. It felt good, and people told me that what I wrote touched them. I began to teach yoga. And it was scary at first and I thought I'd never be good enough. I had those "what the HELL am I doing?" moments but after a few rocky classes and a few mini-breakdowns I realized that I was reaching people. I was helping people. I was teaching people to do what I had to learn to do the hard way- even if only for one hour out of their day. I was teaching them how to breathe deeply. To relax. To slow down. To take care of themselves. Teaching yoga is not something I take lightly. At the very least it provides a calming diversion from the rush of daily life and at its most profound it is life-saving work. I come to my classes everyday with that ultimate goal in mind. My cardiologist told me many times that my yoga practice surely kept my heart "functioning" even as I ignored the symptoms of its severe disfunction. Where might I be without it? I've seen yoga and meditation aid in healing mental illness, eating disorders, physical trauma and heartbreak (literal and figurative). I've seen yoga soften people who needed softening and strengthen people who needed strength. Yoga (not to be confused with solely asana) is the beacon of light that pulled me out of dark places many, many times and the sole focus of the rest of my life, in one form or another, and now I had the honor and privilege of sharing it with others.

Suddenly the answer was quite clear and I knew what I had to give these young women. What I- with all my uncertainty and insecurities- could share with these 20 and 21 year old Ivy League women with the world at their fingertips and all the anxiety that comes along with that. The pressure to succeed at the highest possible level, all while remaining thin, popular, well-dressed and gainfully employed. The pressure of their classmates, their families, but most importantly themselves. How would my life be different if I had taken care of myself when I was only 20? What if I had slowed down and given myself time to rest, breathe, and thrive the way that I do now? What if I had even an inkling of what havoc stress could potentially wreak on my life and that I didn't need a cardiologist's permission to take good care of myself? I don't regret anything I did or went through because it got me to where I am today, but a hardship only has meaning if something is learned from it and then applied moving forward.

So now, I have the blessed opportunity to share my journey with a group of young women who have chosen to spend their Sunday afternoon practicing gentle yoga and learning about Self Care.

How magically unexpected is life?