I’m Not Who I Thought I Was

A Nike photoshoot, pre-pregnancy. Shot by Carlos Serrao in Rome.

I’ve just finished a self-practice at our hotel gym in LA. In fact, I am still sitting on my yoga mat. There’s something about physically being here in LA that makes being-ness effortless for me. It’s where I started becoming the “me” that I knew and enjoyed. It’s where I stopped being my parents’ daughter, where I stopped living with my mentally ill mother. Where, for the first time in my life, I started to live more freely. It’s where I really found my yoga.

Nowadays, I don’t practice half as much as I did before becoming a mother. There are lots of reasons for this, time and logistics being the foundation of it. But it is also because I do not feel as good in yoga poses anymore. I never fully lost my pregnancy weight and it seems I have also since gained a few more pounds. I don’t know this for sure because I don’t regularly weigh myself, but clothes that were comfortable a year ago are less comfortable today. I don’t like feeling my squishier skin as I bend and fold. When I’m in a yoga class, I want to tell people that I used to be better, and look better.

This self-critical voice is exhausting, and sad.

Because I am forever wanting to lose about 10 lbs, I am doing more non-yoga movement. I mostly switch between SLTPilates, and Barre classes. Sometimes I’ll take a heated yoga class for the sweat factor. All of these are more challenging for me physically than doing a yoga self-practice. Since I have such limited time (long gone are my three hours of daily self-practice and meditation), I prioritize that which will hopefully burn more calories.

But moving through my self-practice this morning, I feel more grounded and internally spacious. I’m not trying to do more reps or push the carriage out an inch further or squat deeper. I am just allowing myself to be and to breathe. I sit, and I pause. I am guided to the next move. Sometimes I linger in a relaxing stretch like Child’s Pose. Other times I purposefully find an uncomfortable movement and spend time there. Sometimes I stand on one leg and feel elegant. Other times I lose my physical balance and use it as an opportunity to practice holding onto my internal balance. As I move, I feel a sense of connection within. I am in a physical moment, in Down Dog, and then I am guided to the next physical moment, a light jump forward landing in Malasana. It looks simply like physical movement. But somehow it is not. There is wisdom, and trust, and faith, and a letting go of control, of judgment.

Partway through my practice, my eyes briefly filled with tears as I recognized and remembered my deep relationship with yoga. For me it has never been about fancy poses or the perfect body. I never had either, despite what my work may have shown. I have never been the strongest or most flexible; I have never taught an inversions workshop. The world of Instagram-yogis exploded right around the time I gave birth and lost my sense of Self. There I was, scrolling through my phone, seeing all these perfect bodies in their contortions while I was recovering from my emergency c-section and hating — HATING — my postpartum body. The first time I tried to practice yoga, at about 7 weeks in… I don’t even know how to describe how broken I felt. I cry now as I remember it.

A Nike photoshoot, post-baby. Desperately trying to hide my belly rolls.

I think that that moment on the mat officially severed my sense of who I was. If I felt weak and tight in Down Dog, who was I? If this new mom flab was still on my body, how could I stand up in front of people and teach, let alone be photographed for ad campaigns or apps? What would I do for work?

A lot has happened between then and now, which I will share here over time. But for now I will close with what I felt in my practice today. I kind of hate using yoga or spiritual jargon, but I felt an awakening.

When I was just 25 years old and had never had any major injuries let alone a surgery, and I spent several hours a day doing and teaching yoga, the physical piece came pretty easily. And so the spiritual foundation of the practice was also easy for me to embody. It was not that challenging to be accepting and loving of myself when I physically looked and felt the part. It’s not that I was intentionally lying; it’s that I didn’t yet know better. I guess this is why now, when I take a class with a 22-year-old fresh out of Teacher Training, preaching about how to live an enlightened life, I cringe and wonder if that was what I sounded like 15 years ago.

I have always said I did not practice or teach yoga because of the physical elements. But over the last four years, when the physical part of my practice has been so challenged, I have not been accepting of myself as I am. I have been critical and hateful towards myself, and stuck in past ideas and memories. How many times have I lamented, “I used to be able to demonstrate Kapotasana without being warm?” Boohoo. WHO CARES? I mean okay, some compassion and understanding, fine. That’s a bummer. But is it at all helpful to be stuck there, where I used to be?

Today as I practiced, I had the feeling of remembering why I practiced. Why I REALLY practiced. I had the feeling of intimate connection with myself. It’s hard to explain, but it kind of feels like Christmas. The wisdom voice in me woke up, and with everything I have been through with postpartum depression, panic disorder, and PTSD, that voice woke up clearer and bigger than it ever has been.

I’m not sure who I am anymore. I finally accept that I cannot be who I was before, or perhaps more accurately, who I thought I was before. On the outside, I think I look pretty much the same, plus a kid (and plus 10 lbs and some white hairs). But on the inside, there has been a deep restructuring. I have been piecing myself back together. It is not a neat or straightforward process. But today I feel like I found the piece that represents my practice. I feel like I found a friend I haven’t talked to for 20 years ago on Facebook. And I am so grateful.

I am a mama, writer, yoga teacher, and mental health advocate.
More posts by Leah Kim.

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