This is what really happens when you share your story

A few months ago, I wrote a piece in which I opened up about my struggles with body image and ultimately how I found peace through my yoga practice.  It’s an issue many seem to grapple with, yet we don’t talk about it.  I definitely felt embarrassed and ashamed about my messed up self image and food issues.

Talking about it was out of the question especially since the women around me seemed normal and sane.  That’s the true result of not talking about our personal struggles: everyone else seems to be fine – at least on the outside.

When I opened up about my own journey toward body peace, I knew that at least a few people would read it.  I just didn’t realize how many!  It ended up garnering quite a bit of attention both on the web and among people in my life.  I’ll admit that I panicked a bit when I realized the sheer volume of readers that were privy to intimate details about my inner struggles.

I questioned whether I should have put my story out into the world at all.  As I thought about it more and had time to process, I started to realize it was the best action I could have taken for myself and other people.

In putting my own narrative into words and including raw honesty about how I’d never felt good enough, I was able to process emotions I had long ignored.  There was a lightness in my chest when I realized that the emotion surrounding my body was no longer negative or a secret.  It just was.  

The most wonderful result of taking my own leap was the outpouring of support from people around me.  Everyone has a story to share.  In publishing mine, others felt compelled to tell me theirs.

A girl from my high school who I hadn’t seen in years texted me out of the blue telling me how much the article had resonated with her.  We were able to reconnect over vegan tomato soup and had the best time chatting and laughing.

My aunt who lives across the country wanted to chat on the phone after reading my piece.  It turned out she has always wanted to write and loved that I had simply made it happen.  I felt humbled indeed to have a relative find me a source of inspiration.

A guy from my university that I didn’t know well at all messaged me on Facebook about his own challenges.  We had a powerful dialogue about cultural expectations surrounding appearances both for men and women.

When we give ourselves permission to open up despite being scared, amazing things happen.

Yes, it can be terrifying to allow yourself to be raw and vulnerable.  It totally was!  It helps to realize that this fear keeps us from sharing our stories and connecting authentically with those around us.  We limit ourselves from finding others like us or being a source of empowerment to someone else because we’re paralyzed by the idea that someone will laugh at us.  Maybe they will, but there will be many more who are inspired and supportive.

My short piece sparked a larger conversation around me and among people who I may never meet.  People want to discuss body image and their struggles but are often too afraid to do so.

When you share your own journey, you empower others to do the same.  They continue talking about it with their own circle of humans and the cycle of authentic conversations and growth continues.  It’s scary to take the leap, but you have the ability to make an impact that resonates far beyond just you.  That’s true strength!

I shared my story and it resulted in a positive chain reaction I never could have imagined.  I challenge you to share yours.  What kind of impact will you have?

This post originally appeared on Thought Catalog.

How Yoga Made Me Respect The Hell Out Of My Body

This originally appeared on mindbodygreen.  You can see it here.

Claire Marie Carter in Scorpion Forearm Stand

I can remember my 10-year-old self looking into a full-length mirror and thinking I was “bigger than the other girls.” I wasn’t. Yet an unhealthy relationship with my body persisted from that day on.

Years of volleyball, starting in grade school, made my thighs bulky and muscular. I stuck to dresses and never wore jeans or shorts for fear of looking heavy in my lower half. Black became my default wardrobe when I read in a teen magazine that the color was slimming. Every time I looked in the mirror, I found something that wasn’t good enough, something that I would change.

I wasn’t alone in this either. I heard it in the lamenting “Ugh, I look so fat” from the girl next to me at the sink in the high school bathroom. I’d watch my friends untag themselves from photos because they didn’t like how they looked. Dissatisfaction was the norm and still is today for many women.

The expectations placed on us and how we’re supposed to look are nearly impossible to achieve. It’s no wonder that I struggled for years to make peace with my body! Now when I think about the anxiety and hours I wasted obsessing, all I wish is that I could have that time back.

Yoga changed everything for me.

I’d always been flexible so I tried out a yoga class because I figured I’d be good at it. I was immediately hooked. The quiet space, cool people, and natural high I felt after a class kept me coming back for more.

Even in the yoga studio—the one place that’s supposed to be free of judgment—I often caught myself playing the comparison game. I would try in vain not to stare at the beautiful people in their standing splits. Jealousy would rear its ugly head, and I’d wonder why I didn’t have so-and-so’s body or why I couldn’t yet make a headstand look effortless.

Until one day in class the voices in my head quieted long enough for me to catch a glimpse of my own power.

I looked in the mirror and saw the strong, muscular legs that I had hated for so long. The epiphany hit me that those legs allowed me to hold poses that the twig limbs I once longed for couldn’t handle. I saw my shoulders and arms that were tight and toned from countless chaturangas. My skin glowed with health and newfound calmness as a huge grin broke across my face.

I left that yoga class walking on air. A shift was starting to take place in the way I looked at myself. Rather than criticizing my body based on what it looked like, I began appreciating everything I was capable of doing. I no longer cared as much about looking a certain way. Instead, I started to work toward accomplishing feats of strength and flexibility. Working toward advanced poses (and achieving them!) has made me grateful for a body that can move and bend and hold itself upside down.

It’s still a challenge at times to stay positive and not fall back into old habits of criticism. Maintaining a regular practice helps, as does pausing to take a deep breath and mentally list three things I’m grateful that my body can do.

Nowadays, when I notice myself looking in the mirror and thinking about what I’d change, I redirect my thoughts to be thankful for my health. Yoga gave me the perfect body by helping me to appreciate the one I already had. I don’t have washboard abs, and I’m OK with that. But this beautiful, capable body is the place my soul calls home, and I’m making every effort to respect that.