Being Our Authentic Selves

So often we are reminded, while practicing yoga, to listen to our bodies and pay attention to what is going on within and adjust our poses to meet our needs for that day.

That is good advice for off the mat as well.

I recall when I was suffering from ulcerative colitis and had sought out acupuncture for some relief. At those first appointments, the therapist was asking me all kinds of questions about my career and life style. I told her I was a retired school teacher, and she said, “Oh, that is a very stressful job.” I told her that I had one son in college and another who was still trying to figure out who he was. She commented, “Oh, that makes more stress in your life.” As we discussed my life over the next appointments, she would make note of the things I said: While teaching, you never sat to eat a meal properly (when I told her that meals were about ten minutes long); over twenty years you could not take the time to digest your food; you worked long hours each day with very little rest; you didn’t take naps to destress during a busy day; and so on.

All these things were true, but I had never realized how they were affecting my life. Not only had they walked me into my ulcerative colitis flare up, but these habits had torn down my immune system so that I was having all kinds of allergic reactions and, over the years, had suffered from cluster headaches and other ailments that don’t usually occur with someone my age.

I was not listening to my body for my entire life, and my body was paying me back.

To begin our journey for our authentic selves, we need to start at a place that is familiar. For many people, that is our physical ailments. But instead of taking a pill to “hide” the illness, we need to look at the original source of the illness and work from there. We need to change things about our lifestyle to get our healthy bodies back.

The same can be true as we work on our mental health and our spiritual health. To become authentic, we have to change things about our lifestyle to get healthy. That often means we have to get ourselves out of others’ ideas of who we are and find (or rediscover) our own selves.

From a very early age on, we have been conditioned by others for how we behave and what we are to believe, etc. It is all done with good intentions, but it can often be harmful to the person who isn’t quite the conformist. For example, I knew from a very early age that there was more to my faith than what the Catholic Church had to offer. I just didn’t know how to express that until I was in my late 20s and early 30s. I tried very hard to make the church work for me, but in the end, it just made me angry. Again, it was no fault of others; it’s just that I was through conforming. I was moving into my authentic self.

The same can be said for relationships. As our relationships start to mold around each other, especially those with significant others, we often find ourselves changing. Change is not bad, but if we are changing to being co-dependent or otherwise in an unhealthy relationship, that is not good for us. We become angry and unhappy in the relationship. We move away from our authentic selves. Again, it really is not the partner’s fault. To make ourselves authentic, we need to do the work to fix ourselves in the relationship. Whether our partners decides to fix themselves or not is up to them and not our responsibilty.

The mat offers us a place to begin the work of improving ourselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, but we need to continue the work off the mat. The biggest effort of our entire lives might be to keep ourselves authentic.

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