It’s Hard To Teach Yoga When You’re Depressed
I was living a pretty ideal yoga teacher life. I was teaching classes nearly every day of the week, had a few full-time nutrition and wellness clients, and my commuter was a bicycle. My career momentum was building and I could sense my big break just around the corner. Although I have had a long history with depression, I hadn’t been fully under its grips in over a year. Things felt good. I had just returned from assisting a teacher training in Indonesia, which is pretty damn close to a working holiday. I had done 4+ hours of yoga a day, breathwork, eaten a raw, vegan diet, and been sippin’ green juice like it was my side hustle. That trip should have totally stacked my self-care points. My nervous system should have been chill AF.
‘It’ happened soon after my trip, in the midst of a drawn-out breakup. We always had a confusing, challenging love story but I was certain it would always right itself. Once we hit rock bottom, I didn’t think it was over, I thought it would finally break the spell we were in. That we’d come out the other side. That this was our chance to dive into the deep stuff and help each other grow. I believed that if I committed to the spiritual teachings I had learnt and taught ‒ honesty, compassion, and understanding ‒ that we’d break through the darkness. But while I was trying to tease the truth out of rapidly dissolving relationship, I realized my once strong, communicative partner had disappeared some time ago into the abyss of avoidance. I was the only one left trying.
When we finally broke up, every word was a dagger to the heart. My dreams of little ocean-haired surf babes and domestic bliss faded to black. My body, just like my now ex-partner, had thrown in the towel. See ya later and good fucking luck without me.
I don’t remember driving home. I only recall the sudden uncontrollable vibration of my whole body, shaking like the middle of winter. When I arrived home, the shaking wouldn’t stop. Tears streamed in constant flow down my cheeks and my shoulders formed a deep cave that my heart retreated into. I could do nothing more than lay down. Sleep never came.
The weeks that followed were physically violent. My body staged its revolt. I couldn’t eat; I lost weight. I was ridden with the added guilt of being a hypocrite, a holistic nutritionist unable to take her own advice. Sleep eluded me, and the shaking was continuous. My heart felt as heavy as stone. Heart chakra closed. I would find myself clasping at my chest with both hands, trying to catch my breath. Yogic breath gone. A lump formed in my throat that choked my voice to a whisper. Throat chakra shut.
Those days turned into weeks and then months. The forward momentum I’d felt in helping humans be more human, to adding wellness to the lives of the masses, seemed to have vanished. Everything I had been building involved holding space: being there for others and giving an endless supply of energetic output. The only energy that came from me now was hydroelectric and seeping from my eyes. I couldn’t do my own practice. My creativity was long gone. I couldn’t plan or teach classes. I called in sick, often. I cancelled new wellness clients. I couldn’t show up for students or studios the way I knew they were expecting me to. My mind was steeped in the horrendous pain and fear that comes with having everything, including your body, thrown into chaos. No amount of meditation was going to help me now.
I wouldn’t be bouncing back anytime soon. I had had a nervous breakdown.
I was a yoga teacher, a nutritionist, a wellness guide. How had I not seen this coming? Hadn’t I been living up to industry standards? Exercising, eating good, and doing the deep spiritual self-work. Wasn’t I the epitome of fine health, stability, and balance? I thought it was my purpose to teach others how to live healthier lives so they could deal with mood disorders, depression, physical and mental issues. I was the one teaching others to embrace their bodies and feelings, to be more human, yet here I was on the bathroom floor, again.
It became clear that despite my efforts to be transparent and human in my wellness practice, that I was not immune from the pressure of my industry. Part of my job description (though silently communicated) was to bounce into the room with a positive insight and a big ol’ smile. I could feel the disappointment from studio owners when my classes weren’t sparkling with good vibes or when my Instagram posts got dark.
Instead of holding space, I had to be held
The industry has built themselves on the facade of “Good Vibes Only,” positive manifestation, and skinny girls open-mouth smiling towards the sun. No one smiles like that in a goddamn photograph. I was supposed to be a beacon of light, health, and vibrancy. I was supposed to be basking in radiant sunlight, drinking a green smoothie while doing scorpion pose like it ain’t no thang. I was expected to be cheerful at every class, fully present no matter where I was emotionally. Pretending to be perfect was easy when I felt good. It was a nightmare when I wasn’t.
It took the breakdown for me to realize that I was living in a fictitious world. The industry that I had dedicated my life to was set up under the guise of perfection. Perfection is disillusionment. Students and studios alike want to believe that spiritual guides, yoga teachers, and wellness professionals never falter. My studio, my students, and the industry expected so much more from me. I couldn’t keep up. I had to surrender to truth. The truth was I couldn’t lie or set intentions or radiate only good vibes. The truth was I couldn’t hide how I was truly feeling, I didn’t have a facade left to front or energy to pretend I had. I had to accept the truth that I wasn’t a well-balanced, aligned, harmonious yoga teacher. I was human.
I had to be honest with myself and with everyone around me. I had to call on every friend I had, and ask for and accept all the love offered to me. I had to switch roles. I now needed to rebalance the energy I had been giving out. Instead of holding space, I had to be held.
It took a breakup and a breakdown to realize that I had been living in a world that expects guides, teachers, and gurus to show up as beams of white light. It’s lead me to rethink my place in the industry, and made me want to stand taller and be a little louder about the reality of being human. It has made my teaching more open and more raw. I want students to show up at their best and at their absolute worst. Yoga isn’t just for the serene, it’s for the people trying to find serenity. It’s for those struggling, crying, and who feel like they’re dying. I want to change the status quo. Fuck your aggressive hold on the peaceful and the perfection. Show me the breakdown, be the breakdown. We are subject to change, to the ebb and the flow. We are subject to being human.