I spent my four years in high school trying to get into college. Sleepless nights hunched over my computer, drifting between essays and acceptance rates, left me worn thin as senior year arrived. My basic needs were put on the back burner as the vision of a utopian independence and education took front seat in my focus. I built who I was around my GPA and, based on that, what I could achieve.
Needless to say, by the time acceptance letters came in the mail, I had lost all sense of self and the repercussions of this disconnection came in the form of medical leave midway through my senior year and deferral from the college I did choose to attend after graduation. Though my parents always warned me about over-achieving, the chances that the neighbor who totally lost it from pent-up stress or that second cousin once removed who always seemed put together and then wound up checking into rehab becoming me seemed laughable. Looking back, it seems so inevitable. Still, I never saw it coming.
During my gap year, all the stress of SATs and AP classes had finally paid off. Though I had to wait, I was finally going to be free of lockers and bell schedules, yet I felt stripped of purpose. I was looking forward to the experiences to come, but success was now just personal, instead of for an admissions board. I didn't know who I was beyond my grades or the reputation with whom I'd identified in the halls of my high school. I felt lost in every cliché way and fell into a massive depression.
Pulling myself out of that (and out of bed) meant participating in the inevitable self-exploration of that age, while I traveled around the country simultaneously being treated for the various mental illnesses that had come to fruition in the years prior. Being in various new surroundings with entirely new people and the loss of graded papers or a resumé to prove I was worthy of self-acceptance and/or the approval of others, I had to delve into who I was sans the path on which I had so long believed I was walking.
I began to try new things. From trampolining to volunteering, I found myself opening up to the chance that I could enjoy. And somehow, I fell upon yoga. I'd always thought of warrior two as a form of exercise designed for the granolas of the world, but giving myself a chance to stifle my giggles and embrace my inner Buddha opened me to the benefits of taking time to simply focus on my breath and allow my body to guide me through times of distress.
I let myself unfold, with all of the pain I'd been shutting down in the face of the next big test or expectation I perceived, in a community that encouraged meeting oneself in the authenticity and reality of the present moment. Instead of finding myself pressured to do better or more, the practice of yoga encouraged listening to the nature of my humanity and respecting the signals my body, mind, and soul offered to create congruence between what I was experiencing and my reactions. I was no longer striving to achieve in the manner society had placed values upon, but was given the option to determine my strength and accomplishment in my ability to sit with discomfort and discover happiness. I allowed the time off and the consequential stillness of my present to no longer hinder my progress, but transform into the very thing that could guide me to a life that would serve me. What I had done in the past had not worked. Yoga gave me an alternative.
In the course of that year, I met myself for the first time in as long as I could remember. I discovered passion for fulfillment. I developed a belief in hope and the possibility to find peace within myself apart from my surroundings. I determined my growth in my happiness and integrated the principle that whatever the thing I was striving for looked like, the ultimate goal had to relate to that happiness. I found freedom. I could move on, with yoga as my faithful companion.