Updated: Apr 6, 2021
I won’t lie, just the thought of sharing this month’s blog already has me feeling nervous. I have always been a private person, but over the past year or so I have felt a big pull towards self-expression and have been leaning into that by finding different ways to express my usually introverted self. Music has always been a big part of my life so I have been teaching myself to play the piano, tongue drum, as well as singing, which also helps me to regulate my voice when teaching.
These forms of self-expression are just some of the tools that have helped me to find the courage to finally speak out on a couple of topics that I hold close to my heart, and to let you know how I overcame difficult situations with the help of yoga, meditation, and journaling.
Growing up, I moved around a lot, I was born in London, and moved to South African when I was four, and spent most of my life hovering between the 2 countries. I was always “the girl from London” or “the girl from South Africa”, I always felt like I didn’t quite belong in any specific place and to top that all off, I was a chubby child. Which never bothered me until I was told that it should
Bullying, body shaming and reinforced words
I recall the first incident when my weight was brought to my attention, I had just moved back to South Africa from London, I was 9 years old and was attending Greek school at the time, whilst trying to learn 2 new languages at my regular primary school, and being from a different country and not acting, speaking or thinking like any of the children around me. It was a lot to juggle, but I digress…there was a particularly vicious girl in my class who had a knack for making people who didn’t look like her feel like shit.
“you’re too fat to wear those shorts”
One Saturday afternoon we had an event at Greek school and I was excited to go, I put on my cut off denim shorts, and bright orange crop top, with my little belly sticking out, haha! I was comfortable in my skin and happy to wear what I felt good in. I arrived at the school and remember waiting to go on the jumping castle when I heard her say to me, loud enough for everyone to hear, “you’re too fat to wear those shorts”.
My heart sank with embarrassment, but I stood up for myself and told her that what I wear was none of her concern and I carried on with my day. It makes me think of that rhyme : “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”, this is what I grew up thinking and saying, but words are powerful, the ones we use on ourselves and others. Little did I know how that day and the sequence of events to follow would affect my life, perception of myself and how I would interact with people in years to come.
Needless to say, I hated going to Greek school, but was still forced to go, and this was only one aspect of my life. I was also being bullied at school for being “too fat”, for having a big nose, for not looking like the other girls, and the list goes on. This amount of bullying at such a young before you get the chance to build up a tough exterior didn’t give my self-esteem a great fighting chance, worst of all I loved going to school and had such great friends too, but children can be cruel, and even though I know now that those children were probably dealing with their own traumas and issues, a part of me still aches for the 9 year old me.
"I was in a never ending loop of being told I am fat, worthless and different to everyone around me"
But surely I was safe at home, my sanctuary, the place where I can feel at peace, be myself, feel free to express my emotions and not feel judged right? Wrong? I was consistently teased for being overweight at home too, and even though it was not meant to be malicious, it was reinforcing what I heard all day at school, and the cycle was endless. I was in a never ending loop of being told I am fat, worthless and different to everyone around me, and my eating habits were being monitored and controlled too.
Even the teachers were convinced that I had some sort of eating disorder, as one of them had mentioned to my mom one day that I had bought 6 donuts for myself from the school tuck shop. When my mom questioned me about it later, she learned that I had bought all of those doughnuts for my friends and I, and we had a little picnic after school together.
My mother has always been my rock and I have always aspired to me more like her, not necessarily the way she looked, even though my mother is a beautiful woman, but more like her in terms of the way she loves unconditionally and is so forgiving and protective of her family. The concept of wanting to look like someone else has always made me feel uncomfortable, it seems like a reinforcement of insecurity to me. If I had to choose a role model it would be her, but I never really had a role model as I always preferred and still prefer to be independent, from a young age I always found ways to not rely on other people, because it was so much easier to rely on myself.
My mom has always been conscious of her health and it was a general rule that we weren’t aloud any sweets during the week these were considered treats for the weekend. She taught me what healthy eating looked like and I grew up on a healthy Mediterranean diet that included beans, pulses and fresh veggies, my lunch box for school never had crisps or chocolates like all of the other children and that never really bothered me until I started to realize why. Now don’t get me wrong, I have been instilled with a great foundation for what healthy eating looks like and my relationship with food changed as my self worth changed. But when you combine all of these factors, it was just a recipe for the self worth issues to be amplified.
As well as being conscious of her eating, my mom was also conscious of how much exercise she did, and around the same time, she took me to one of her stretch classes. As you can imagine, I didn’t like being at the gym as it was just another place for me to feel bad about myself, but on this day something shifted. I remember being the only child in the stretch class and I was able to do everything the teacher did and some, I was super flexible and I remember leaving feeling so confident because I did something I enjoyed and without being judged. This was my first glimpse of yoga, although I don’t think this was a yoga class, it exhibited all of the qualities of a great yoga class, I felt included, encouraged and it felt accessible.
The Narcissistic Boyfriend
I made it through primary school, and then it was the journey that is high school. Things got a little better here as I grew into my body and but I was still more fuller figured than my friends and when I looked in the mirror I didn’t like what I saw. I look back on photos of myself in high school and I really regret not appreciating how truly amazing my body was then, and making such a big deal about it in my mind, as there was so much more I could’ve done with my teenage years if I just had a bit more confidence.
“I can’t believe that someone who looks like him is interested in me”,
This lack of self-esteem poured into so many aspects of my life, starting with relationships, I always found it to be an amazing feat when a boy was interested in me. There was always that inner dialogue; “I can’t believe that someone who looks like him is interested in me”, and this lead me to make decisions based on what I thought happiness was, but was in fact pure insecurity.
At 16 I started a relationship, which would end up lasting for nearly 10 years. At first it was all infatuation and what I perceived to be love, based on what I grew up seeing. The way we met felt like a scene from a movie and in fact most of the early years felt that way, we would do everything together, something that I know now is a very toxic trait, and after 9 months of dating, we were living together, and then the relationship became toxic. At the time that we met we were both going through some family difficulties and we always said that we “saved” each other, I still believe a part of that to be true, as I was heading down the wrong path when we met and he made me feel more confident in myself and my abilities, and this is why I was attracted to this union. You see, this is the way of the narcissist; they make you feel so good about yourself with love bombing so that you eventually become dependent on their opinion or view of you. The problem was that I was seeking validation outside of myself, and he became my crutch, which, in years to come, proved to be so detrimental to my mental health.
"He had this ability to make me feel like the most beautiful woman in the room and that no one would ever want me all at the same time,"
Over time he became mentally and verbally abusive, he would say things like, “no one will love you like I do”, “are you really going to eat that”, “who are you getting so dressed up for” and “why are you wearing that lingerie”. At the beginning of the relationship, I was feisty and would stand up for myself, but he managed to break me down, ostracize me from my friends and family and convinced me that it was a good idea not to discuss any elements of our relationships with anyone. He had this ability to make me feel like the most beautiful woman in the room and that no one would ever want me all at the same time, and the only reason that all of his abuse worked was because he validated my worst thoughts about myself.
I think that one of the reasons that his manipulation and abuse was so effective on me was because I was not communicating with anyone about our relationship, a smart move on his part, he had convinced me that it was best to keep what happens in our relationship to ourselves and used an example of a personal situation that had affected me quite intensely in my upbringing to convince me. He had managed to convince me that he wanted to know everything about me because “we were so in love” and that’s what people in love do, but it was all so that he could file memories away for later manipulation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that you should tell your partner intimate details about your past, as it’s what made you who you are today, however, if your intuition is telling you that something doesn’t feel right, listen to it, it’s there for a reason. Back then, I was not connected to my intuition as strongly as I am now, but upon reflection I learned so much about how spot on it was.
"I was in a vicious cycle of eating when I felt bad about myself and this was pretty much all the time now. "
Time passed and I became unhappier and continued to look to food for comfort and look to my partner for validation, I was stuck! When I was 22, I saw a photo of myself and had to do a double take as I realized how much weight I had gained. I was in a vicious cycle of eating when I felt bad about myself and this was pretty much all the time now. I turned to my mom who helped me to get my health back on track with a lot of support, but the bigger issue was “the why” behind my relationship with food. It was filling the hole where I needed comfort, but was only getting judgment and resentment from my partner.
I started to feel a bit of a shift in my perception of myself as I became healthier, but it felt like I was trying to push a boulder up a very steep mountain as the root cause of my insecurities was still very much my reality. The more I accepted myself for who I was the easier it became, and every now and then I noticed a glimmer of the old me trying to come out. She kept telling me that I deserved better, but my insecurities kept pushing me down.
I would go through scenarios in my head about how I would leave him, and always be too fearful to act on these feelings. I would bargain with myself in my mind and tell myself things like, if he says this or does this one more time, I am leaving, but it would never happen. I would convince myself that we had been through so much together, I had invested so much time in this relationship and this was just a small bump in the road. I wanted to fight for us, but I couldn’t do it alone, and I didn’t want all the years that I had already been with him to be a waste (I told myself this one a lot).
Eventually he did his worst, and that was my final straw to leave. He had me so engulfed in his smoke and mirrors that I had never confronted him about being unfaithful to me, even when I had been shown signs from the universe, because every time the thought even crossed my mind I convinced myself that he loved me as much as he told me he did and someone who loves you won’t hurt you. But hurt people, hurt people.
He confessed to me months before that he had a drug problem and he wanted to get help, and me being the empathic person that I am, reassured him that I would be with him to support him through his recovery. The only reason for this confession was due to the fact that his habit had got him into some serious financial debt and he could no longer hide this from me, otherwise I probably would’ve married him and he would’ve taken me down with him. We were 6 months behind on our rent, I would give him cash for rent every month and never thought anything of it, and as you can imagine, our rent went straight to his habit.
"My intuition was sounding alarms and I still said yes, I had waited 9 years for this…"
Within this time he proposed to me, in what I think was a desperate attempt to keep me, although I don’t even know if I can call it a proposal because he just asked me one day out of the blue whilst we were getting ready to go out, zero effort. My intuition was sounding alarms and I still said yes, I had waited 9 years for this…
My self worth had dropped so low that after 9 years of a relationship I accepted this proposal and a ring that I didn’t like. A ring that I would find out later was paid for with money that he had borrowed from my parents. A ring that cost less than the money he had borrowed which only told me one thing, he had spent the rest of that money on drugs. And still I stayed.
The Universe worked double time the day that I found out that he was cheating on me with a girl from his office block. We were living in Cape Town at the time and my bestie Nicole, who was living in a different city, had flown down for her first day at her new job, which just happened to be located in the same building as my fiancé. She arrived at the office to the receptionist speaking about my fiancé, which obviously was weird for her. After some enquiry, she was informed that he was taking her for coffees and sending her emails.
"This was one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life. I couldn’t breathe,"
Nicole being the fierce friend that she is got a hold of the email that he had sent. She didn’t know what to do with it, as she had tried to expose him before, but was too scared of losing me in the pool of manipulation that I was constantly swimming in. So she shared it with my mom, and my brother read the email to me over the phone whilst I looked into the eyes of my fiancé. This was one of the most heart wrenching experiences of my life. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t even be in the same room as him.
I left our apartment and I was lucky enough to have Nicole close by when this all happened. I remember us talking about how insane the sequence of events were that lead to her guest house, drinking red wine and crying about the end of my 10 year relationship, and her being shocked at how I just knew exactly what I needed to do to get out…and it was because I had been running over all of the possible scenarios in my head for years, all I had to do was pick one.
It was only at 26 that I ended this abusive relationship and got as far away from him as possible and I started to find myself. Sometimes I still sit back and think, what if I had realized my worth sooner, but then I realize that it’s because I stayed for so long that I realize my worth now, and exactly what I don’t want for my life. As cliché as it sounds when you hit rock bottom there is nowhere to go but up.
It was as if I had to rediscover who I was, what I liked and disliked, what I was willing to accept and what my boundaries and values were. I went through a phase of feeling lost and confused and burying myself in work so that I could feel like I was accomplishing something and wouldn’t have to deal with my self-esteem issues. I was more successful in my career and finances in the 5 years after leaving him, than I was in the 10 years with him, and upon reflection, that was a big boost to my confidence.
How I overcame my toxic relationship with food
Up until this point, I would have considered myself an emotional eater, I would eat when I was happy, sad, nervous, it didn’t matter. I was constantly thinking about my physical appearance and how to improve it, but never really looked deeper than that. What I realized was that I had to change the way that I looked at food first.
I realized that I was disrespecting myself just like all of those bullies had done my whole life. I started to pay more attention to what I was eating making sure that every meal was balanced. Half of my plate was filled with vegetables, a quarter was carbs and the other quarter was protein. This was a concept that I learned from following the Weight-less program that teaches you how to get the correct portions of food and eating regularly without cutting any food groups out. This moderate way of eating left me feeling satisfied, and not deprived and kept my sugar levels balance so that I didn’t get the 4 o’clock binge.
"It was a form of respect for myself and it felt so good."
It took a lot of discipline, discipline that, thankfully, was instilled in me from a young age by my mom. This is a concept that I carry with me until today, I don’t restrict myself and I eat everything in moderation. This helped me to shift my perspective of food as a means to fuel my physical body and keep it healthy, instead of being something that fill an emotional void. It was a form of respect for myself and it felt so good. I practiced being mindful about what I was eating, making a big deal about enjoying cooking my meals, making it look and taste amazing and taking my time to sit down to eat and not rush through a meal. I took time to ensure that my plate was colorful and well balanced, and when I fancied something, I didn’t deprive myself but rather had what I wanted in a moderate portion and felt satisfied.
It was almost as if I had become in sync with my body and gave it what it wanted. Now don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy food so much, I enjoy cooking it and eating it and sharing it, and my life still revolves around it, but in a good way and now I know when to stop and I understand and value my relationship with myself better when it comes to food. If I notice a guilty thought creeping in after I have eaten something that I know isn’t “good” for me, I acknowledge it, embrace the fact that this is one of the things that makes me human and I continue with my day.
This way of eating combined with 2 weight training sessions and 2 cardio sessions per week helped me to lose 10 kilograms over the course of year and I managed to keep that weight off because I chose to do it slowly and made it a part of my lifestyle. It was nothing fancy, just good food and moderate exercise. I had spent my entire childhood trying every diet, diet pill and form of exercise I could imagine but I always ended up feeling worse about myself after the lack of results. I chose to put the work in and take it slow because I knew that was what was best for me, and my patience paid off.
As Julia Roberts says in the Napoli pizza scene in Eat, Pray, Love…”I’m so tired of saying no, and then waking up in the morning and recalling every single thing I ate the day before, counting every calorie I consume so that I know just how much self-loathing I should take into the shower. I’m going for it, I have no interested in being obese, I’m just through with the guilt.”
Body Positivity, Yoga and You
Now I am thinner so I am happier right? Wronge! After a lot of hard work I had the food situation under control, I had lost the weight and felt comfortable in my skin and now it was time to start dealing with the emotional aspects of how my past self had affected how I view my present self. Even though I had lost the weight and felt good about my physical appearance, that insecure 9 year old was still with me, telling me that I was too fat to wear that, or not beautiful enough to go to certain places or not slim enough to participate in certain events.
I knew that I needed to shift my mindset and the only person who was going to do that for me was me and I had to bump my head a few times to realize this, all whilst entering back into the dating scene after 10 years.
"I went through a rollercoaster of feeling my self-worth climb as I started to feel more like myself again, but at the same time being dragged down by societies beauty standards"
I was trying to find myself and still seeking external validation at the same time…and I can safely say that it took me a good few years to learn the lessons that I needed to learn and still am learning today. I went through a rollercoaster of feeling my self-worth climb as I started to feel more like myself again, but at the same time being dragged down by societies beauty standards and I was continuously picking the wrong men, or they were picking me, but lets just say that I could write an interesting book about my dating life. Haha!
As I navigated through the next few years I slowly started to meet myself again and got to create some beautiful memories with my friends. Even though I was away from them for so many years, it made no difference to the love that we have for each other. They were supportive when all I wanted to do was speak about my trauma, they were patient when I had my emotional breakdowns and they never gave up on me. If you are reading this and going through a similar situation, please reach out to your loved ones for help, I wish someone had told me this at the time.
Don’t be scared of change
Fast forward to 2016, the year that I decided to make some big changes to my life. I was working in fashion retail at the time and I really loved my job, but had this consistent underlying feeling that I was destined for a different life. I had been practicing yoga for about 10 years, on and off, but only had a regular practice for the past 4 years or so.
During this time I really built up my yoga practice, I was attending classes 2 to 3 times per week and practicing at home when I could and I noticed that I always felt good after I moved my body. Some days I pushed myself beyond my edge and let my ego get in the way, and other days I took it slow and steady. I practiced with friends, family and alone and it always made me feel so connected to myself…like I was being the truest version of myself in that moment….and I wanted it to last forever.
"I needed a change. I needed to change."
I had been talking about wanting to do a yoga teacher training for years but “life got in the way” and to be honest I didn’t have the courage to pursue it until I consciously decided that I needed a change. I needed to change.
I recall the day that I decided to make this change, something had upset me at work and I drove to my mom, and just cried with her. She knew that I had wanted to move back to London for years but I had been offered a promotion at work and I wanted to see where it would take me and I was in love with someone that I didn’t want to leave behind.
I was still ignoring my intuition. You see I was fighting with the idea that I had just spent the past 5 years working towards getting a great job, buying my own place before the age of 30 and being settled, and I kept telling myself, “you’ve worked so hard to get to where you are, you can’t just give it up now”. But that nagging in my soul continued to pull me, I had achieved everything I wanted to achieve but still felt unfulfilled. This was all material, I needed to connect to myself and others I wanted to do something that meant something, I wanted to leave an imprint on the world.
"I realized that I had put my life on hold for possibilities..."
I came to the decision as I was talking through my day with my mom, I realized that I had put my life on hold for possibilities and I could feel that this was going against my character. I weighed up all of the pros and cons…cons: I was leaving behind all of the people that I love and hold close to my heart, pros: I felt that London was were I belonged, I wanted to travel more, and feel safe and meet new people and impact peoples lives in some way.
So I resigned from my job, I put my flat up for sale, sold and donated all of my possessions, I wanted to be rid of possessions, I wanted to live a simpler life that didn’t revolve around the physical, but rather revolved around how I can appreciate every day and live my life in a meaningful way, if not for anyone else, but at least for myself.
All my friends were shocked they all thought that I was settled and happy with my life. I remember the day that I left, my friend Nicole (a different Nicole) said to me…”I hope that you find what you are looking for”, and these words have stayed with me all of these years.
How yoga helped me build my self esteem
So I moved back to London in June 2017, and in August 2017 I went to Italy to do my first Yoga teacher training with Yogamea School, and until today I can safely say that this was the best thing I’ve ever done with my life. This training gave me more than just the knowledge of yoga as a physical and mental practice but it also gave me deeper access to myself as a person. I connected with myself in a way that I had never done before, I came to realizations about why I felt like I did about myself and was given tools that would help me to work through and cope with these realization for the years to follow.
Yoga saved me from my thoughts and made me appreciate what my body was capable of and helped me to accept what it was not capable of. Thought the philosophical teaching and daily practice yoga helped me to connect with what was important in life, and a very small percentage of this importance lay in my ability to stand on my head or touch my toes.
"Be kind to yourself, your body and those around you."
On my teacher training we would spend 2 hours practicing every morning and evening, 30 minutes of this was mantra chanting and pranayama, another 30 minutes was spent meditating and only half of the practice was physical, and even then, it was challenging but I knew that I had options of how far to push my body because my teacher continuously reminded us to work within our bodies edge. All the students on the training were completely different, not only physically, but also in personality and background, but we all understood the universal language of the practice. Be kind to yourself, your body and those around you.
Even at this stage, I didn’t realize how yoga would really change my life. It shifted my perspective away from the physical body and into the emotional and mental body. Yoga allowed me to express what I had always felt but never really knew how to communicate…”we are more than our appearance”. It also helped me to overcome my victim mindset by allowing me appreciate and explore my abilities. I started to practice daily meditation, asana (postures) and pranayama and found a way to weave my practices into my daily life.
I found myself thinking deeply about how I felt about situations and people in my life and found ways to not only connect to those emotions but also channel them into my teaching, and it was on these days that I felt I taught my most authentic classes and connected with my students. Yoga also helped me to heal and work through my emotions, as the practice allows you to release tension in the body which is usually as a result of some form of stress, I found that when I released these emotions I felt lighter.
Today, my practice looks different, some days I just sit on the mat and move intuitively, other days I practice other teachers classes as I feel the need to be supported by someone other than myself.
There is no formula, when you are on the mat it is just you and your mat, the world outside doesn’t exist and you have that precious moment to really connect with your authentic self, no ego, no filters, no judgement.
How meditation helped me boost my self-esteem
Meditation has helped me in so many ways too, I sleep better and in turn have more productive and energized days, I am able to deal with anxiety, stress, and grief better.
Like many of you out there, I still deal with negative self-talk on a daily basis, and I am consistently working towards being more accepting of myself exactly as I am mentally, emotionally and physically.
So when these thoughts or feeling arise, I usually sit in stillness for a while to take some time to notice what the dialogue is in my head, and where this is showing up in my body. This is so hard to do, sometimes I only last a couple of minutes and end up distracting myself again because I don’t feel ready to deal with whatever has come to the surface, but tomorrow is another day and I can take another opportunity to explore then.
Here is a Yoga Nidra mediation for patience, a quality that I think we could all do with more of at this time.
#eluminateme – The Next Chapter
If you follow me on Instagram you might have noticed that I use the hashtag eluminateme and I wanted to take a moment to share what this hashtag represents. #eluminateme represents the movement of self healing and self acceptance, exactly as you are. It shares the idea that you are able to heal yourself, and you believe that by doing so, you are making a, albeit small, impact on the world, as you work towards making yourself the kindest version of yourself. So next time you share a post about your self-healing journey, feel free to use #eluminateme to show your support for this movement, and don't forget to tag @elumi_yoga too.
Now I feel stronger and more comfortable in my own skin, I still battle with negative thoughts on a daily basis but the difference now is that I recognize them and don’t allow the to consume me. I know my value. I know my worth and I want to share what I know with as many people as possible.
"I am proud of myself for being this brave"
Anyone who knows me knows that I believe strongly that everything happens for a reason, and I believe that the reason for me writing this blog is to connect with others who might resonate with some part of my journey so far. I am proud of myself for being this brave and in the words of my friend Nicole, “for finding what is it that I have been looking for”, a chance to be heard, to tell my story and help people to heal themselves. Yes we do need our support system, yes we do need love around us, but we first need to learn to love and support ourselves without having to rely on external validation.
I am not at the end of my story but simply starting a new chapter. I would love for you to join me on this journey, if you feel like you want or need to make changes or you might be feeling stuck, simply start where I did and take the first step by making a list of what you want for yourself for the next year. Journaling has been one of my saviors and this month I will share my journaling journey (try say that 3 times fast). I'll share journaling exercises that I have done and have helped me to grow through discovering my authentic self. I am both excited and nervous for this one, but I hope that it will help someone who needs it.
If you want to give yoga a try I recommend starting with this short video from my youtube channel, take the time to notice how you feel before and after the practice, I would love to hear your feedback.
If you are struggling with any of the topics that I have written about above or simply just want to talk to me about my story please feel free to contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or DM me on instagram @elumi_yoga.
I think it’s safe to say that I am no longer that timid girl with low self-esteem. If you had told me a few years back that I would be standing in front of people teaching them yoga in London, or writing this blog, or be in the middle of a pandemic whilst doing so, I would laughed.
I don’t have it all figured out but I have come a long way and I really hope that the insights that I share on this journey will help someone to realized their own self worth and live their best life.
I think its important to remember that there is a soul behind every body that we come into contact with, a soul that just wants to be heard, and seen and loved. So the next time you want to say something negative about yourself, choose to speak to your soul first and listen to what it’s trying to tell you.
Love & Light
Dedicated to Helen O’Sullivan, who was with me from the beginning of my yoga teaching journey and helped me to believe in myself enough to share this story. I dedicate this next chapter to you.