I teach yoga, which means that on my best days, I empower, inspire, and challenge people. I push my students so they can tap into a wealth of mental and emotional fortitude they may not have known they had, and I believe that we all need this force in our lives—someone who supports us, but who also stretches our boundaries.
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I also preach—and boy, do I preach. My commitment to get my students to show up as their best selves often requires quite a bit of preaching on my end. But I’m still learning to listen to myself and trust that what I’m willing to tell others to do is exactly what I need to be doing too. Here are the major life lessons I’ve been learning as I’ve started to actually practice what I preach.
I need to make myself a priority…
‘You can’t do or be for others what you cannot do or be for yourself,” I always tell my students. Sure, this is easy to say, but it’s not always easily achieved. I can’t think of a single class when I didn’t encourage students to put their basic human needs first and tend to themselves, but there are plenty of instances when I refused to do the same.
Folks who give easily often struggle to take care of themselves. I think part of this is because we fear appearing selfish and egocentric, so we give and give until our cups are completely empty, and it’s only when we are on the brink of emotional breakdown that we realize it’s time to change the way we do things.
I often fall into this self-laid trap. In relationships, I’ve often lost my sense of self as I put all of my energy into ensuring my partner is well. My last relationship of 2.5 years took a major toll on me, and in retrospect, I was the only one to blame. I took on the giver role pretty early in the relationship and failed to establish boundaries that were essential to my well-being.
…even when there are temptations.
I’m a total creature of habit, and I’m most productive and happiest when I have structure in my life: Three of my top priorities are sleep, my workout routine, and diet. My ex-boyfriend, on the other hand, wasn’t focused at all on his health. The problems in our relationship stemmed from the fact that my idea of caring for him was to make myself available at his convenience and do the things he liked— which meant that I often found myself sacrificing things that were important to me.
After enough late nights and late-night snacks, I realized that making him happy and ensuring that his needs were met felt rewarding, but my brain couldn’t release enough dopamine to make the sacrifices worthwhile. As they say, opposites attract—until they don’t.
The sleep deprivation left me feeling tired and irritable, my poor diet was adding inches to my waistline, and my inability to wake up early enough to make my training sessions was making it difficult for me to manage my stress and anxiety. I began feeling depleted, like I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with anything in my life, and as a result, my relationship ended up draining me.
I finally found the courage to exit this relationship as it became more and more detrimental to my well-being. I realized that if I didn’t value myself or make my needs and desires a priority, I would have less and less to offer others. As I began pursuing interests that were important to me again, I began to regain a sense of control. Despite the heartache of losing someone I cared about, taking care of myself and my needs was a far greater reward than I could have expected.
It’s OK to be vulnerable.
I ask my students to open their hearts and try to convince them that vulnerability helps us build connections with others, that human connection is everything. But for the longest time, I wasn’t able to put this into practice myself. I was afraid of revealing my emotions—I didn’t want my students to judge me or think any less of me, so I always pretended everything was always OK. I never failed to teach a good class, but this defensiveness prevented me from making an authentic connection with my students.
The studio owner, who regularly attended my classes, said that although everyone loved my work, the missing element was my ability to let myself be seen. I would get angry with that feedback—at the time, it didn’t make sense to me why I needed to expose myself when people were just coming for a physical practice.
The turning point was when I got divorced, which was followed by a toxic rebound relationship that ended poorly and left me feeling completely defeated, isolated, and full of regret.
(Even if being open is scary.)
One day, right before I had to teach a class, I discovered that my ex-boyfriend of one week was already in a relationship with another girl. The pain and hurt I felt in that moment was so overwhelming that I couldn’t hide it. The minute I stepped into the classroom to teach, I broke down. I started crying, told my students what was going on, and asked them to just breathe with me.
I had never, ever done anything like that before—as an instructor, I saw my relationship with my students as one-sided: My role was just to let them work through their problems on their mats. That day, though, I inadvertently allowed myself to be vulnerable. When I let others see me in my weakest state, I received a really unexpected outcome.
The love and support I received was abundant and invaluable. I was no longer the indestructible instructor—I was a real human being connecting with other human beings. Vulnerability is powerful: The simple act of being seen, with all of your imperfections, can pave the way for authenticity, connection, and self-acceptance.
As I’ve been trying to follow the advice I give to my students, my life has become richer and fuller. I’ve discovered that the only way we can really relate to others is to speak from our own experiences—both good and bad. And I know that I can’t request others to do what I’m afraid of practicing myself—if I want my students to make themselves a priority and be vulnerable, then I need to be brave about it too.Parinaz Samimi is a certified yoga instructor in Salt Lake City. Follow her journey on Instagram.