• Embracing Growth and Continuing to Commit to Body Acceptance

    Viktor Frankl once said what counts is not what lurks in the depths of challenge but how we face the future. Frankl’s words remind me that I don’t have to fix everything to embrace growth. My body doesn’t have to be perfected. In fact, in my experience, long-lasting personal growth flows from imperfection.

    I’ve spent decades working on my relationship with my body and cultivating body acceptance. For the last 5 months, I’ve been relearning important lessons about body acceptance. The call to continued growth, to re-engage with this work in progress, hit without warning yet profoundly revealed how resourcing myself and renegotiating the relationship with my body are crucial to my sense of well being. Up until now, I thought I lived these practices and beliefs from the core of my being. Yet nothing is ever fixed and a recent health issue jarred my reality, invited me to look a little deeper and make adjustments.

    As I’ve written about previously, I survived a devastating and near-fatal car accident when I was 19 years old. I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury, and the experience completely altered my life path. Before the accident, I was a dancer/choreographer with dreams of dancing on Broadway. After the accident, it took a year and a half of intense physical therapy and deep soul searching to come back into my body and restart my life. By some miracle, I relearned to walk with the aid of below-the-knee plastic braces, but my journey back to self changed my life in incredible and surprising ways.

    For example, after years of disconnecting from my body after the accident, I discovered adaptive and accessible yoga and eventually became a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), certified Accessible Yoga Teacher, Yoga For All Teacher and Opening Yoga Instructor from Mind Body Solutions. These experiences taught me how to listen to and live in my body in the present moment. They also led to my mission of teaching people to trust their body by tapping into and exploring their inner wisdom. But along this path, I mistakenly thought I made peace with my body and assumed there was little room for growth. I falsely assumed that relearning to walk would be the biggest challenge of my life. I was wrong.

    My lesson occurred when I awoke one day and couldn’t make a fist or bend my hands without intense pain. As a freelance writer and online English instructor, I was shocked when my hands became immobile. My arms, legs, and back were affected too. I couldn’t lift my arms past my shoulders without sharp shooting pains throughout my body. My legs felt like cement. I could barely walk without hunching over and holding onto walls for stability. My symptoms took a toll, mentally and physically. For months, I couldn’t sleep due to throbbing pain. When I finally went to several doctors, it was a puzzling, marginalizing process that took over 5 months of doctor visits, tests, X-rays, and uncertainty. I started to feel stuck because the senses and body parts I once relied on after my spine injury shifted. Old triggers and disempowered storylines from the past surfaced. I fell back into the assumption trap that I didn’t know how to adapt or adjust. There were moments when I felt traumatized for not knowing how to use my mindful practice to calm mind, body, and spirit. Then, my ego kicked in, and I started to stuff my feelings and suffer in silence.

    Normally, when physical challenges appear, I feel empowered and lean into the unknown. My car accident taught me to adapt no matter the circumstance. But this challenge felt different. I felt powerless and unsure of how to trust my body. It was as if I forgot all my mindfulness training and was back at square one. The body parts I once relied on wouldn’t function as they did before. I felt trapped. At first, I was afraid to say anything outside of close family and friends. I thought my challenges would disappear on their own. Of course, they didn’t.

    Usually, I’m very connected to my internal guide. As a mindfulness teacher and practitioner, my inner guide knows what I need mentally and physically. I’ve learned to trust that sense of inner knowing; it always leads me to the truth. But recently, it took many hours of renewed self-care, mantra and breathwork, and the conscious reprogramming of negative self-talk to get back there. And in truth, “getting there” is both familiar and brand new on my body acceptance journey.

    So far, doctors say I have severe carpal tunnel and arthritis, but they still don’t have the answers. Even though I’m still going through tests to uncover the root of this challenge, I’m feeling more at home in my body. Thankfully, I’m able to walk and move more easily. I know whatever lies ahead is doable if I continue to trust and accept my body no matter the challenge. My mindful practice looks different these days. I’m learning new ways to slow down and connect internally, and this gives me hope.

    In the meantime, what I’ve come to know for sure is that the rhythm of our bodies is unpredictable. No matter how alive we feel in our bodies, life can change, and we must learn to adapt. I’m also relearning that the beauty of mindful practice is that there is no end to this work. The time when we feel good in our bodies is not the time to look away. Our practice is ongoing. We need to stay consistent. Even in regards to politics, social justice, and mindful practices, growth stems from consistency. When we remain open, curious, and committed to learning, wholeness is achievable. Once again, acceptance is the most powerful step. I’m grateful for this lesson.

    Viktor Frankl once said what counts is not what lurks in the depths of challenge but how we face the future. Frankl’s words remind me that I don’t have to fix everything to embrace growth. My body doesn’t have to be perfected. In fact, in my experience, long-lasting personal growth flows from imperfection. Once we embody and embrace this truth on our own terms, nothing can stop us.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

    By Mary Higgs

    Mary Higgs, MA, is a respected writer, online educator, speaker, mindfulness coach, and disability advocate. Developing a passion for mindfulness and becoming an Adaptive and Accessible Yoga Teacher transformed Mary’s life in unexpected ways. She loves sharing her message that transformation comes from within. She has published pieces in Yoga International, Devata Active, Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and Mind Body Solutions All-Humanity Newsletter. As a RYT, OYI, and certified Yoga for All and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Mary teaches people to explore and trust their inner wisdom, so they can live more authentically. Visit her online at YogiAble.com.

    Photo by Bart LaRue on Unsplash

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  • The Transformative Power of Yoga

    Yoga transformed my life and my relationship with my body. Before yoga, I thought the only way to feel good in my body was through intense physical exercise. Finding yoga taught me that stillness offers a deeper connection. The mind-body connection of yoga transformed my life. But this wasn’t always the case.

    When I was a child, my body was my instrument. I was an athlete, lifeguard, cheerleader, drill team dancer/choreographer, and avid skateboard enthusiast. I thrived on being physically active. It fed my sense of self. In fact, my physical agility drove my dream of wanting to become a dancer/choreographer on Broadway.

    Everything changed when I was 19 years old. I survived a devastating car accident, where I was diagnosed with a spinal cord injury and told I wouldn’t walk again. The news shattered my confidence and complicated my relationship with my body. It felt like I had two lives: life before and after the accident. After a year and half of intense physical therapy, and a miracle, I was able to walk again with the aid of below the knee plastic braces but my journey to self returned in bits and pieces.

    I felt broken after the accident. I disconnected from my body and developed a fear of visibility. I didn’t want to be seen as disabled because I didn’t want others to limit my options. I brushed away help and ignored my physical limitations. The result: I lived in a deep sense of shame for being injured and didn’t know how to reclaim my life.

    On the outside, it looked like I recovered. I returned to college and slowly began sharing parts of my journey with a select few. But the truth was, I was fragile and wounded. I felt insecure when people stared at my limp. Sometimes I body shamed myself and clung to old mindsets that kept my world small. I kept hearing doctor advice in my head that warned that too much activity could erase progress. I now know that doctors were trying to protect me but, in reality, it instilled fear.

    First seismic shift in changing this mindset occurred a few years after the accident. I enrolled in my college’s Study French Abroad Summer Program in Strasbourg, Germany. Many thought I wasn’t up the challenge.

    “How will you manage on your own?” friends and family cautioned. “Europe isn’t accessible – what if you need help?”

    I admit I was scared but I trusted my inner voice. Therefore, I ignored concerns, quieted naysayers, and after asking my Dad for a small loan, my plans proceeded.

    Everything was on track until I met my study abroad professor. Initially, our phone conversation brought hope but my enthusiasm waned after meeting face-to-face.

    I noticed her expression as I walked in. Her eyes fixated on my limp. When, she realized I had caught her gawking, she quickly looked away to avoid eye contact. Even though this interaction was only a few seconds, it trigged rage. Somewhere in my being I wanted to confront her – and stand in my power – I wanted to speak truth to the moment and share hurt feelings. Instead, I shrunk down and squelched my voice to avoid embarrassment.

    Before the trip, many warned that French people hated Americans – but that wasn’t my experience. I bumbled French conversations with waiters and strangers – but never felt judged. I loved walking the streets of Strasbourg alone. Everywhere I went, I received hugs and smiles. I felt accepted for the first time. It boosted my confidence.

    My bubble burst a few weeks later when my professor suggested I separate from the group and take a car ride instead of participating in a group walk through Strasbourg.

    “We’re on a strict schedule and we don’t have time to wait for you to walk the distance,” my professor said in front of everyone.

    “I know my stride is slow but I’m completely capable,” I protested, arguing for inclusion.

    As our conversation grew, I eventually gave in to keep peace. But the opportunity to be real passed. I felt shame for being different but didn’t share because I wanted to belong. Staying silent seemed easier. This encounter taught me a piece of what I needed to embrace. Even though my professor didn’t see me or understand how her actions affected me, it didn’t help that I kept my pain to myself. I’ve learned that I need to speak up to be heard. Stepping into vulnerability is now my super power.

    It’s funny how life begs us to speak truth in moments of confusion. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to face who I was or stand in my own power. Keeping silent was self protection. I was in denial. When I found yoga, I found renewal. Reconnecting mind and body made me feel like a pioneer. For me, doing yoga feeds my entire vessel: mind, body, and spirit. It instills a deep sense of calm in place of fear. It allows me to embrace vulnerability and everything in between. Before yoga, I let doctors dictate how I lived and felt in my body. Discovering yoga led to embracing all parts of myself. Once I truly accepted my body in present and past forms, my world opened.

    As an adaptive chair yoga teacher and mindfulness coach, I now teach others how to embrace their whole body and accept themselves in any form. Even though we’re all on different paths, my journey to yoga revealed self-acceptance, hope, and purpose. I’m grateful for life experience that uncovered this truth. Yoga taught me that being vulnerable is worth the risk. And the truth is, yoga is not for a select group or the able bodied few. Yoga is for everyone, no matter size, shape, or physical challenge.

    By Mary Higgs

    Mary Higgs, MA, is a respected writer, online educator, speaker, mindfulness coach, and disability advocate. Developing a passion for mindfulness and becoming an Adaptive and Accessible Yoga Teacher transformed Mary’s life in unexpected ways. She loves sharing her message that transformation comes from within. She has published pieces in Yoga International, Devata Active, Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and Mind Body Solutions All-Humanity Newsletter. As a RYT, OYI, and certified Yoga for All and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Mary teaches people to explore and trust their inner wisdom, so they can live more authentically. Visit her online at YogiAble.com.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body image.

    Photo by Pixabay from Pexels