I discovered yoga and “self-improvement” at around the same time, during the early stages of recovery from a mental health breakdown. I was also engaging in therapy and the combination of these things worked really well for me to rebuild a life that had a sense of agency, possibility and a sprinkling of self-compassion, which at that point was completely new to me. In therapy I was learning techniques to reframe my thought patterns and behaviours, as well as engaging in somatic trauma treatments to reprocess past events, which gave me some relief from those experiences in the present.
As I deepened my interest in all these things, I started to notice discrepancies in the messages, which played into a deep conflict within myself. I loved the sense of inspiration and empowerment that self-improvement books and courses gave me – I could improve myself and in doing so, could improve my life. It was energising and made me feel excited about this wonderful person I might someday become. Meanwhile, in yoga workshops and retreats, the focus was on undoing the conditionality that made my mind feel like a battlefield and made me feel exhausted all the time. To stop believing “I will be worthy/loveable/enough, when…” and know that I was already those things, exactly as I was.
Over time, the message of yoga that I was already whole, already worthy, already enough, began to resonate more strongly. I started to believe this more of the time. And not just about myself. If this was true for me, then surely it was true for everyone. If I was whole and worthy and enough, then wasn’t everyone? But as I looked around at the people I loved and the people I knew and even got glimpses into the lives of people I didn’t know personally, one thing became really clear: no-one seemed to believe that about themselves. Everyone seemed to be bought into the idea of “I will be whole/worthy/enough when…” [I’ve lost this weight, I get that promotion, I’m finally married, I have a baby, I achieved this qualification, I’ve healed this trauma, I’ve learned this skill… the list is, quite literally, endless…].
And yet… as this shift happened within me to not merely believe but to really and truly know that I was whole, worthy and enough (& so was everyone else), a lot of things in my life changed. I started to feel more comfortable in my body. I started to truly care about it in terms of how it felt and what it needed, and I learned to listen more when it spoke to me. The environment of my mind became unrecognisable. It changed from constantly judging, criticising, and shaming myself for my inadequacies, to an environment that was friendlier, more curious and compassionate. My relationships changed as I felt less conditionality in those too. I brought that curiosity and compassion into my interactions with other people, and I began to see an inherent worthiness and wholeness in the people I met.
Though I welcomed this change, I also wondered about the utility of the old way of being. If it’s not the natural state for humans (which I believe it’s not), then why had I been conditioned to believe that I needed to earn my worth? Why had I ingested that and made it my world view? What benefits had I got from it? And there were interesting answers. The belief that I needed to be good, to please, to perform and to earn my sense of worthiness was instilled in me by people who’d had it instilled in them and on and on through the generations. We learned it. We taught it. And outside of our families, it’s the cultural soup we exist in. Everyone hustling, striving, achieving, performing for that allusive goal of feeling like we’re enough. The goal that can never be reached through anything outside of ourselves.
But there had been some utility in my belief that I needed to earn my worth. On a material level, it provided a fuel and motivation for achieving things that contributed to me becoming a CEO by the age of 30. There was a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for achievement that helped me to learn things and create things that to this day I am still proud of. It made me “successful” in the conventional sense. It helped me to get the new car, the new house, the 5-star all-inclusive holidays. And yet there was a cost.
I started this article referencing the things I found when recovering from a mental health breakdown. And that breakdown was the cost. The hustle for worthiness made the environment of my mind a terrible place to be. Filled with judgement, criticism and shame. Working harder and harder and feeling like the harder I worked, the further I got from any sense of feeling like I was enough. The fuel that had fanned the flames of achievement had become far too much and the raging fire of inadequacy was burning down the house.
When I first heard the messages of yoga about inherent worth, it felt like a balm for all the parts that had been damaged by those flames. Yet I still had a niggling worry. What if I needed that fuel to achieve things? What if my believe that I wasn’t good enough was the thing that made me successful, and that “success” was necessary for me to be happy? But it was increasingly clear that the pursuit of success to offset or hide my inadequacies was making me anything but happy. So, I allowed that worry to be there, but I didn’t let it dictate what I did. I kept moving towards what felt true to me. I shifted my reading and listening habits and I moved away from anything that promoted the “you’ll be good enough, when…” narrative. I got quieter. I learned to listen. Not to the chattering mind, but to the wisdom behind the chatter. I sought out teachers who helped that wisdom to become louder. Clearer. I found that in that quiet and listening, something rose up that I had only previously experienced in glimpses. A peacefulness. A sense of awe and wonder and joy. An aliveness that I’d been chasing through external things, but it had always seemed elusive. I call it the dancing universe ✨
After my breakdown in 2013, I decided to become part-scientist and part-explorer with my life. I wanted to learn, explore, and discover things about myself, about people and about the world. I wanted to bring a playfulness and curiosity and be courageous enough to do things differently and to find out what it would feel like to be genuinely thriving in my life. Along the way, I found lots of things that moved me towards this place of thriving, as well as a fair few things that ultimately didn’t. But rather than being disheartened, I decided to embrace this as learning and data in my journey of self-discovery. And though the journey is far from over, there is one thing that I am sure about. It is much more enjoyable and ultimately more fruitful to traverse the journey of life knowing that you are whole, worthy and enough, rather than to carry the crippling baggage of believing that you have to strive and hustle and push to achieve this. This isn’t something you can be told once and believe. It’s something that has to arise from within. There’s a part of all of us that knows this as true. Yoga, for me, is about quieting the other noises so that this quiet, yet infinitely wise, voice can be heard. This is also what I teach in my classes. Which are much less about learning how to make shapes with your body, and are actually about creating the internal environment from which you can connect to this sense of thriving in your life.