I used to be Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer and now I wait on tables and am attempting to start my own yoga classes.
People ask me why.
They find it strange that I would leave a respectable, high-earning job in a demanding industry to work for less than minimum wage. My answer, the simple reason: yoga makes me feel beautiful.
At the age of eight, I was put on a diet. By 11, I had won a scholarship to attend ballet school; 15 I was scouted and began modeling, and at 16 I had moved to London to attend dance college and model.
My career was my looks and my body. I had to look a certain way, I had to be a certain size and I had to be the best.
I was consumed with the pressure of having the perfect body. It was everything to me; it was drilled into me from such a young age that if I didn’t look a certain way, I would not be accepted. I would not be loved; I could not be loved with fat on my body. I believed “fat” made me ugly. The rejection dancers and models receive is constant; with every casting they are either picked or discarded. Every time I was dismissed, I would turn to my looks, and my brain would trick me into thinking that it was my body that had failed me. Maybe my cheekbones weren’t high enough, my face too ugly, too chubby.
And thoughts become reality, because the skinny little girl I was, was diagnosed with a hormone imbalance. Under active thyroid and adrenal fatigue, my body changed and my worst fear came to be. I piled on the pounds.
I was so ashamed of my body that I hid from the world. I was embarrassed by my lack of control over what was going on, and it led me into a downward spiral of even more self-hate, self-judgment and resentment. At one of my lowest points I even blacked out all my mirrors, wouldn’t see friends and never returned phone calls due to fear of imperfection.
I was desperate to be “skinny” again, because I was convinced it would make me attractive.
I was doing everything in my means to lose weight. I became a personal trainer, and with the help of a doctor and a restrictive clean diet, three years after my diagnosis I started to enjoy my body again—but only because I was once again physically fit, training high profile clients for movies and tours.
I felt on top of the world, but it wasn’t real happiness or beauty; it was the superficial things we are led to believe are beauty.
I was fixated on this “perfect” image; I was running six to nine miles three times a week and teaching fitness an average of four hours a day, doing all workouts with my clients. My colleagues called me the ox; I would keep going no matter what. I restricted myself to a clean diet with timed intervals.
But my body was tired. I was running on 100 percent full throttle, which meant I never stopped; I never let myself feel.
One day I went to a yoga class, just to stretch out my tight, overworked body. For the first time ever, I felt no pressure. There were no mirrors, so I couldn’t pick or nag at the size of my thighs. There was no competition, so it didn’t matter what the person next to me was doing. It didn’t matter where their leg was in comparison to mine. It didn’t matter what they looked like or what I looked like, or what we were wearing—nothing mattered.
All that mattered, in those 90 minutes, was me and my breath. I felt calm. I felt peace. I felt love. And I cried.
Upon learning I was a personal trainer, people would grab their stomachs, their butts, thighs—any part of their body—shake it and say, “I hate it. How do I get rid of it?” I constantly hear people say they are fat. I hear of friends doing ridiculous cleanses to lose that seven pounds. I’m no saint here; I’m just as guilty, and I still have days where I am bored of the extra weight I feel I’m carrying.
However, I know now that it doesn’t make me beautiful or ugly. If I am ugly, it’s because I treat others or myself badly; if I am ugly, it’s because I’m self-centered, uncaring, jealous, spiteful or rude. It’s the reflection of my inside that’s ugly—not what the mirror shows me.
If I am beautiful, it’s because I’m caring, giving, loving and kind.
We do not need to have zero percent body fat to be beautiful. We do have to let go of judgement. We have to let go of our inhibitions and see how beautiful we are by looking inside ourselves and acting on that. And yoga taught me this.
I began to develop a more serious practice from then on. After every class, I would leave with this new feeling of inner stillness. I had quit my job and couldn’t afford my medication, so my body was puffing back up again, but it’s been over a year now and I don’t care—because when I am on my mat, it doesn’t matter. Despite what the media shows, yoga isn’t just about posture or balancing on your head. There is that, but it’s so much more, and through those principles yoga has taught me patience, strength, balance, kindness to myself and others, gratitude and beauty.
I learned to listen to my needs, to stop pushing over every hurdle at a racing pace, and rather sit back, look at the hurdle and then, when I’m really ready, begin to make my way over it. I learned to change the way I viewed the world, to see that it’s not other people who are judging me, but me who is judging me.
And the mat taught me that.
It showed me I am the one who is mean and horrible to myself, who would beat myself up for “failing.” We never fail—never—and I learned that.
Yoga has opened me up to myself. It taught me to love myself and my body. It taught me to see how strong I am; I may not be the slimmest girl in the room, but I am strong—and not just physically. I can see all the amazing things my body can do now, and it might not have a 26-inch waist, but it can do so much more than fit into a pair of tight jeans.
My favorite posture is a simple Virabhadrasna 2 (Warrior 2), because I am a warrior. We are all warriors; we are all fighting our own battles. I love that moment of stillness when I breathe into the pose and feel my strength come from within.
There is no judgement in our yoga practice. We need to learn to stop judging ourselves and let all that self-chatter go, letting the movement fill our bodies. Then we will feel the real benefits of going to class. Then we may begin to feel calm.
Maybe we will begin to feel beautiful.
There is no pressure in yoga practice. If you fall, fall. If you wobble, wobble. If you can’t do one morechaturanga because our arms are exhausted, then don’t. The practice is our own—not that of the person next to us. Our bodies are ours; no one else feels what we feel or can do what we do. It is entirely unique to each and every one of us.
Isn’t that magnificent?
So embrace uniqueness. Love and cherish what you have, because no one else will ever have that. In other areas of life we feel the daily pressure of keeping up with those around us, but in yoga we don’t have to keep up with anyone but ourselves.
So when people ask me why I don’t do fitness anymore, why I am struggling to pay rent and trying to start open classes, it’s because this is the place where I learned acceptance of myself. This is where I learned to be kind to myself, to feel peace; where I learned to allow myself to feel beautiful.
Release judgement, let go of the self-criticism, fall, wobble, and then begin to breathe into your uniqueness—maybe then you will begin to feel beautiful, too.