Juliana Kassianos describes her relationship with her yoga mat and how it has guided and shaped her life for the better through the years
Since a teenager I’ve had a disordered relationship with my body and mind. I suffered from chronic dieting, stress and crazy bouts of acne. Feeling confident in my skin was a daily challenge and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. I started to wage a war against myself that would continue for a number of years.
Throughout my early twenties I experimented with various diets, militant exercise routines, clothing, make-up and different hairstyles, but I still felt disconnected from within. It didn’t matter how many people told me I was beautiful, I never felt it; if anything, it just made things worse as I felt pressure to become the person who they saw through their eyes.
That was until I first stepped on to my yoga mat. At the time, I saw it simply for what it is – a soft thin padding of protection, which separated my body from the hard wooden floor beneath. Somewhere that indicated to others in the class that this was my space.
As the yoga class began, I watched how my body moved in the mirror in front of me. I’d never really looked at myself in the mirror in a loving way. It was always to inspect my flaws, self-judge and criticise myself. For the first time I watched as my delicate body moved slowly within the outline of my mat; there was no way of running away from the reflection mirrored in front of me, I was facing myself front on.
With my bare feet and hands stretched and pushed down into my mat, I started to feel grounded. This was my mat; no one was going to cross the line into my territory. Feeling safe within a group of people I didn’t know, practicing something I’d never tried before, I was able to bring myself into my body, letting down the barriers that I had built up.
As I stretched my muscles and massaged my internal organs, I noticed where I held tension; sharp aches of pain that wanted to be released. Glued to my mat, resisting the temptation to move and holding trust in the practice, I breathed through the areas of my body that felt tight until eventually the pain subsided and the tension had become unlocked. Working within the confinements of my mat, I stayed present and focused, slowly learning the process of surrendering to my body and letting go.
For too long I felt the body I had been born with had let me down. I began to realise though the awful truth; it wasn’t my body that had let me down, it was I who had let it down. For 20-odd years, every cell in my body worked endlessly to keep me alive, yet within those years I had let my inner citric – that no-longer served me – dominate my thoughts. Not once had I appreciated the beauty that I could now see reflected back at me as I sat on my mat.
The lesson finished with relaxation. Feeling exhausted, I lay down on my back, letting my body sink down into the mat. It felt heavy, as though it was deeply rooted through my mat into the floor beneath. I observed how my breathing slowed down and the normal chattering in my mind ceased. A sense of calm came over me. In that moment, I felt at peace with myself.
Slowly awakening, my body and mind arose together as one. As I sat up, I breathed in a positive breath of fresh air that seeped into my lungs and renewed my senses. Bowing my head, I gave thanks not only to the class, but to my mat for having given me exactly what I needed; a new perspective.
Now heading towards 30, my yoga mat has become a sacred place; not so much in a religious sense, but a place I regard with great respect. When I refer to my mat, I’m not referring to a particular mat I have, but to the mat I use for any given practice. It may be the mat my yoga teacher lays down in front of me, the one I borrow for my group class at the studio or the mat I use at home. It is a symbol for that which it represents. A safe haven; somewhere I can find inner peace no matter where I am or what is happening within my life.
My mat has taught me that I have the tools and strength within to deal with anything that life throws at me. All the resources I need, I already have. It has enabled me to learn the art of patience, to be radically honest with myself, to heal old wounds, to reconnect with who I am and to truly appreciate how abundant my life is.
Not a day goes by where I don’t challenge myself on my mat and work hard to develop inner strength, both physically and mentally. With a newfound sense of responsibility towards myself, I am now more than ever committed to creating long-lasting change from within.
Juliana Kassianos is a nutrition and lifestyle therapist and writer (julianahealth.com)