If personal development were easy, the world would look a lot differently. Our journals would be our greatest accessory, something we carry around while biking to yoga class. We would trade bar hopping for meditation retreats, and swap out SSRIs with herbal tea. If personal development were easy, we would spend less time nose-diving into our phones and dive deep into conversations with our cashiers and baristas.

If personal development work was easy, we’d all be doing it. But it’s not, and many of us aren’t.

My pilgrimage to a greater self-awareness began in my early 20’s when I left America to study and work abroad. I started a travel blog to record my trips and interpretations of each city I crossed, observing much more than infamous landmarks. The more I wrote, the more I sought to write about. This cycle of sightseeing and reflection fulfilled my desires to explore a world vastly different than my own, yet could not “fix” my predisposed addiction around food and body image.

Although I’ve been writing for years, the personal-development work never really began until I starting seeing myself differently. When I traveled Europe and Asia, my ego experienced more turbulence than my charter flight from Bangkok to Koh Phangan. I thought I was doing all the right things… trailblazing from city to city with “YOLO” slapped on my license plate. And while these experiences helped shape my perspective on other cultures, they were simply a distraction from a disease that kept me chained in my own head despite where I was in the world.

What had to change was my sense of humility and my definition of worth. I had to admit to myself and to the people I trusted that I could not recover on my own and became willing to ask for help. Not only did I change the way I wrote and journaled, I also changed the way I spoke about myself both in my head and out loud to others.

This shift took patience and countless days of recommitment as I continued to slip into spells of disordered eating, of severe depression and anxiety. But every morning I woke up to forgive myself and mustered up strength to try again. Every morning I recommitted to a better, more enlightened life. And overtime, that early-morning passion of reclaiming my worth stretched further into each hour of the day.

Three months ago, a dear friend suggested I enroll in a 200 hour yoga teacher training lead by a local studio. I was already involved in this studio, and had YTT on my bucket list since my first flow in 2006. My finances were bleak, but the timing was perfect (if perfect could exist). And so I enlisted into this 8-week program of yoga, of teaching, and so much more.  

I went into the training with the intention of deepening my yoga practice, making new friends and making some side money after the certification. What I have gained is too much to say in one blog post.

The personal development work applied in this YTT course was right on track with where I stood in my own self-reflection. Every class spent journaling and sharing seemed like extra-credit tacked onto my own self-love work. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions spent on such work, partly as a break from chaturanga push-ups, and mostly because I love to talk about my feelings…. (insert upside-down smiling emoji). Yet the exercise my class endured last night was something vaguely familiar, and left me in a position I’ve been working so hard to avoid.

In the last hour of class, we formed two lines between 16 or so yogis. Facing one another, we placed our hand on our partner’s heart, and stared into each other’s eyes. For two minutes, we shared uninterrupted eye contact and wholesome silence.  We then traded partners to continue this moment between each and every student.

This exercise was not new to me, as I had done something similar in a yoga class where we stared at our neighbor to the mat closest to us for 5 minutes before the flow. But to share two minutes over 16 or so people whom I now love and adore from this training seemed different. It wasn’t easy, as something so intimate never is, but I approached it with strategy. With every partner, I spoke affirmations into their eyes, into their heart. For those two minutes I confidently told them: “You are loved, you are worthy, and you matter”. I sometimes deviated from this script, to tailor to each person. While such a concept can seem daunting and vulnerable, I leveraged this training to feel more connected to my fellow yogis.

I left the class feeling loved and united to each and every one of my trainees… until I hopped in my car. The solitude hit me like whiplash and left me curling into fetal position when I arrived home. I could not look in the mirror, as I was horrified in knowing that 16 or so people had just been staring at a reflection I refused to acknowledge in myself.

“How could I feel so connected in a room full of people yet go home to an empty house which I cannot call my own?”

“How is it that someone who appears so confident and carefree cannot seem to find partnership and security in her own life?”

I drew a bath to calm these sensations and fell asleep exhausted and alone.

When I woke up, my emotional hangover dragged through the morning until my second cup of coffee kicked in. When I woke up, I took inventory of last night’s agenda and rationalized my feelings. While it took time to process, I noticed that the withdrawal of the exercise was simply an exchange of energy. That I spent 32 minutes or so staring into my partner’s eyes, giving them all of which I have worked so hard to give myself. I gave them the love, the acceptance, and the worth I neglected to foster within my own soul for years, and did my best to display this feeling to my fellow students.

I realize today, 24 hours after this vulnerable, raw exercise that self development starts with the self and continues with community. That personal growth is everlasting, and inevitably challenging. That without challenge, there is no change.

But we must change. And we will change. And whether we change for the better is all dependent on the work we apply within ourselves to do so.

You are loved. You are accepted. You are worthy.