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Author: Melanie Klein
Nicole Yarbrough is a huge proponent of love. In fact, it’s what she believes the world needs most and she firmly believes it begins with loving ourselves. But, for many of us, that’s no easy feat. We tend to be hardest on ourselves. Nicole encourages her students to ease up on themselves. That’s where meditation and yoga come in handy. It’s precisely where Nicole is accesses that sense of peace that comes with self-acceptance.
“My first experience with yoga left me with the sense that I had come upon something unique and special and that feeling has never gone away. Because every time I practice and every class I teach is different, even if the poses are similar, the practice aligns me and my students into the present - where we are now, not yesterday and not tomorrow. In this way yoga unites us with ourselves and the world around us.”
18 years after taking her first yoga class while she was pregnant, Nicole recognizes how the trajectory of her life had been profoundly altered by the experience.
“What I remember most about that evening was how calm I felt afterwards, especially how good I felt during savasana. The lights were dim, the room was warm and we got to cuddle up in a blanket. As I lay there basking in the afterglow, it was evident to me that a seed had been planted.”
And that seed grew and flourished, bestowing her with deep-seated gifts in the form of insight and renewed awareness, including a paradigm shift related to her relationship to her body and her body image.
“The impact of my yoga practice on my mind state has been deep and profound, sometimes it still blows me away how so much can be changed by stepping onto the mat. I have always struggled with body image issues and honestly it wasn't until I began a daily practice, that I was able to see my body as mine, not an object to be manipulated by society. I spent many years engaging in destructive behaviors such as constant dieting and over exercising to meet the culture’s beauty ideal and during that time I was more depressed than I have ever been. When I began stepping onto the mat regularly, seeing my body bend, stretch and really relax, I was able to find pride in the structure I had been given. I was becoming strong both mentally and physically while doing things I never thought I would be able to do. It lifted me in the way that church does for many people.”
Nicole’s sense of tapping into the sacred and divine continued to deepen as her practice flourished.
“I grew up in a very religious family but had stopped going to church when I was a teenager. The feeling I was experiencing in my practice was a divine sense of connection to something greater than me. This allowed me to see beyond what I was the purely physical and feel my inner sense of power and recognize my own goodness, instead of "punishing" myself for not being or looking like everyone else. In this way, my practice has brought a deep sense of balance in my life.”
Despite yoga’s potential benefits, maintaining a consistent practice can be challenging. Given Nicole’s many years of yoga practice, what keeps her coming back over and over?
“I feel as though yoga is my daily vitamin - vitamin Y! I know that girl I was before, the one with low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth, is still residing deep inside me and my yoga practice keeps that negativity from coming to the surface and taking over. I find that when things are bad, yoga makes it better and when things are going well, yoga makes it great.”
What advice would you give to people who have never tried yoga and feel too intimidated to begin?
“Stop allowing intimidation to stop you, allow it to challenge and change you. Allow the intimidation in for the power you can gain from overcoming it. You belong on that mat below your feet, no one else. You deserve the peace, the calm, the healing. Don’t be intimidated, be inspired by learning what your body can do because no body is the same. My standing bow pose is not yours so there is no being better or worse than someone else in this practice, there is no room for anyone else in YOUR practice. Give yourself that time where you are not trying to be bigger, faster, stronger than the person next to you. I am definitely a practitioner that preaches the good word of yoga. I came into yoga at a time where I was the only one bigger than a size 4 in most of my classes but it was the practice itself that brought me away from that superficial way of thinking and being. That doesn’t mean I am immune to body image issues but, for me, the deeper I get into the practice of yoga, the less it matters what things look like, it only matters how I feel. It matters that my back is not sore or tight, it matters that I can get a good sleep, it matters that stress is not making me sick. There is something special in beginning to allow yourself to be inspired by what intimidates you.”
No doubt, Nicole is an inspiration with no shortage of pearls of wisdom to dole out to her students. But who inspires Nicole?
“I am so inspired by Dianne Bondy. She is out there doing her thing boldly and brightly. The work of Dianne and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition is such important work these days.”
But at the end of the day, she knows we all have gifts and inspiration to offer.
“I know we all have a special place in this world and we have to remain open to our own unique path.”
What inspires YOU? What gifts has yoga brought to YOUR life? Tell us about YOUR yoga inspiration We want to feature YOU and YOUR story. Participate in the initiative by tagging your posts with #everybodybends and #whatayogilookslike. Don’t forget to tag @gaiam and @ybicoalition to also be entered for a chance to win a free swag bag with loot from the Gaiam collection and literature from the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, and to possibly have your content reposted.
AUTHOR BIO: Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and professor of sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body (Llewellyn, 2014) with Anna Guest-Jelley, a contributor in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice (Horton & Harvey, 2012), is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis (Shroff, 2014), a featured writer in Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Mindful Living (Llewellyn, 2016) and co-editor of the new anthology, Yoga, the Body and Embodied Social Change: An Intersectional Feminist Analysis with Dr. Beth Berila and Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016). She co-founded the Yoga and Body Image Coalition in 2014.