The first time I sat on a yoga mat I was so moved that tears fell from my eyes. It was October 2017 and I had signed up to attend Hip Hop Yoga Warriors & Mimosas with one of my girlfriends in Atlanta.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I knew that I had nothing else to do. I was unemployed and facing another episode of depression after a wrongful termination and legal battle with my former employer. Overwhelmed with guilt, I was struggling to live my life because the job that I had relocated my husband and myself for had dumped me like yesterday’s news. The truth? I had been struggling with my mental illnesses for quite some time. For much of my life I had felt like I was a walking corpse: lifeless, traumatized, and living in fear. It was not until 2015 that I had realized I was living undiagnosed and suffering from major depressive order / generalized anxiety. All the talk shows, self-help books, and podcasts convince us that once you find a therapist your life is transformed, but that is the furthest thing from the truth. I didn’t understand the seriousness of my mental illnesses until I found yoga and began my spiritual journey. My life depended on this lifestyle change and I had no other option.
As I was sitting in the yoga event, I was instantly captivated by Jaimee Ratliff (host and creator). I had never witnessed a black woman not only teach yoga, but to speak with such conviction and pride. The transparency regarding Jaimee’s own life struggles eased my mind, as I too related on a personal level. As the routine began I was nervous and feeling insecure about a lot of things that day. I remember even wearing tinted moisturizer and a hat because of my skin insecurities. I had always struggled with my acne and it truly has impacted my self-esteem. During my teenage and early adulthood years I faced constant teasing and bullying because of a common skin condition that affects so many people. I did what I do best and blended into the crowd hoping no one would notice me and my non-athletic attire. Anxiety always has a meticulous way of showing up and planting fear in your heart, but I was determined to enjoy the time I carved out for myself that day. Moving along into the flow, I instantly began to be beautiful and confident. There was this strange sense of exhilaration I had never felt before. I mean back in my high school days I had always been relatively athletic, but I had never experienced a form of wellness that immediately tapped into my soul. There were beautiful faces all over the room and people from all ethnic backgrounds. My body was bending and twisting into the most divine poses I had ever witnessed. I recall hearing an older woman behind me whisper, “I don’t know how she can keep her leg up that high for so long!” I smiled to myself and embraced the compliment in silence. For the first time in my life I felt beautiful and I wanted to be seen.
As the yoga class was coming to an end, we collapsed into savasana pose (also known as corpse pose). During our meditation I remember being filled with emotions. For the first time in my life and since losing my job that year, I had taken a moment to breathe. I silently wept as Jaimee spoke affirmations that made me check myself in that moment – I knew that it was time to do the real work and to heal myself both mentally and spiritually. After the meditation sequence ended, I was overwhelmed with joy and I could not wait to get back to my apartment and tell my husband the news. After arriving home, I took the longest shower ever and changed into a pair of leggings and tank top. The lyrics of “Best Part” by H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar kept replaying in my mind from the yoga playlist that navigated me through the sequence of yoga poses earlier that day. That was my first time hearing the song and I remember playing it from my speaker the entire afternoon. I stood in front of the mirror and practiced the poses I learned. My husband even took photos so I could share them with my sister and parents. As my sister described it, “I could instantly see the light in your face when you found yoga.” For the next several weeks and beyond, I began practicing yoga once a week. Those weekly sessions soon increased and before I knew it I had become a yogi. I was addicted to the new peace I had found and nothing was going to deter me from keeping it.
As quickly as I began the practice yoga, the influx of questions and general curiosity about what inspired me to get started soon followed. It was no secret that I became passionate about yoga, but healing is what kept me coming back to my yoga mat each week. I was inspired and I wanted to share those feelings with everyone around me. Unexpectedly, I was not always met with encouragement when I shared my new found hobby. One of my own maternal elders said to me, “Why would you wait until now to start yoga?” When I attempted to express the mental health benefits of yoga the subject was quickly changed. It is heartbreaking to know that your journey to break generational curses can be met with such opposition. I was also learning and listening. Yoga taught me the art of patience and stillness. The old Jasmine would have instantly taken this criticism as defeat, but my inner voice reminded me that when you are truly healing there is nothing that can diminish your light. Like enslaved Africans breaking away from their oppressors, I knew that there were traumatic wounds, patterns, and other damaging roadblocks that I needed to leave behind. I would no longer succumb to not feeling good enough and living in the shadows of others. It was my time. It had always been my time, and now I wanted to be selfish with my time.
In every way that it can, yoga saved my life! I had masked my pain for so long that I actually became an expert in disguising myself. I had to hit rock bottom before I could find my way back to myself. You don’t know pain until you have questioned suicide. You don’t know pain until you are lying in a hospital bed hemorrhaging due to uterine fibroids, and constantly paging the nurse who isn’t taking your concerns seriously. You don’t know pain until you have been molested by a family friend before even reaching puberty—stealing your adolescence and shifting your entire ideology on sex. Little girls who grow up without their father experience pain that I would not wish on my worst enemy. We often seek love in dark places and act out sexually. We become labeled instead of uplifted. Pain is being a teenager in a verbally abusive relationship and hearing your partner tell you “I made you pretty.” You’re afraid of being alone and don’t even question that the harm that is inflicted upon you. It is becoming a parent and being so depressed that you can’t do anything but eat and shower. Sitting in your midwife/OBGYN office and being informed that you are not managing your illnesses is devastating and painful. It’s feeling like you are crazy in the midst of your battle with depression and then your little friend mania shows up to wreck your world, only for you to fall back into a depressive state once again. I would feel embarrassed each time I had a fit of rage, throwing things and arguing with my husband because I didn’t know how to control my emotions, highs, or lows. I was scared and afraid of simply saying I needed help. It was a sign of weakness in my eyes. I felt destroyed by the disturbing experiences in my life that no one apologized for. I always felt like I would succumb to the generational trauma that was passed down to me until I found yoga.
Yoga is the practice of self. It has nothing to do with being flexible, skinny, plus-sized, black, white, or whatever. I have often told my loved ones that if you are truly serious about getting into yoga, get out of your head and own your shit. No one can tell your story better than you. Only you can rise to the occasion and turn that pain into beauty. I am a work of art that is constantly evolving and the layers are slowly unfolding. I am precious cargo that is to be maintained with love and light. Yoga puts a smile on my face and makes me feel like I can conquer the world. I am a brighter person and more focused on the positives than negatives. I think twice before speaking, and I embrace all the thoughts, but choose to not to dwell for too long. Yoga gave me the power to fight my own stigma against medication and to be transparent about my journey with taking Lexapro. A voice in my head reminds me that it is okay to be still at times and to meditate when I need to reflect and look within myself for guidance. More than anything I have learned that this journey in life will be filled with great wins, and other times you will take losses, but there is always a solution. When you are fighting for your life, there is no option but to put your best foot forward and to make a change. I decided a long time ago that I was going to stop hiding in my shell and finally live. Now that I have arrived, I don’t ever plan on going back!