Who Am I?: Letting Go and Identity

It is no secret that Just Be Yoga changed my life.

When I walked through the doors of Just Be for the first time, I was fourteen, anorexic, anxious, and completely devoid of excitement. Getting out of bed in the morning was a struggle- not just because my body was weak, but because there was nothing I was living for. I had no passion, no driving force behind anything that I did and nothing that made me grateful to be alive. It was less than a year since my release from the hospital for my disorder, and around the same time that Just Be was opening its doors to the community. On a random Sunday where a free class at the new studio just happened to be offered, I walked into the room that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, become the cocoon I needed to house my transformation over the next two years.

It was during that first class, drenched in sweat and overwhelmed by the music and the language and the energy of the room, that I first began to believe that there was something more to life- something I was missing out on and something that I desperately wanted to find.

For Christmas that year, my mom bought me the “New Student Special,” which got me 30 days of unlimited yoga classes for 30 dollars. For a month straight, I showed up on my mat- which had been gifted to me by the studio owner on the day of that first fateful class- every day without fail. Some days I was the only one in class. Other days there were “big classes” with five or six of us. The studio was just beginning to blossom, and I began to feel myself grow with it. I got a job working there the summer after my sophomore year of high school; checking people in at the front desk, sweeping the floors, cleaning the mats. More than being a job or a way to earn some extra money, I felt as though I owed some kind of debt to the studio for keeping me safe as I navigated a new chapter of my life, one where I was always seeking something more, something to light me up the same way my first taste of yoga had lit me up. I wanted to take care of it the way it had taken care of me, and more than that, I wanted to be there as much as I possibly could.

Just before I began my junior year, my teacher, mentor, and inspiration Jenni offered me the opportunity to participate in Just Be’s first ever teacher training program. I was astounded, grateful, and, above all else completely terrified. I was scared that I wasn’t ready, or that I wasn’t old enough, or that I wouldn’t be a good teacher. I was scared that I would disappoint Jenni, or that I wouldn’t be able to balance my schoolwork and my yoga training and lose my identity as an academic. But it was this fear that made me realize that I had to do it: nothing would scare me this much if it wouldn’t change me in some way, and I desperately wanted to change.

Throughout the training and in the summer immediately following, I allowed yoga to seep into my identity. I wasn’t just Maris anymore, I was Yoga Maris. I was the teenage yoga teacher, I was the high schooler who was weirdly flexible and uncharacteristically zen, I was the ever-present caretaker of the studio who got to work early and stayed late. Just Be, the practice, and the community became a part of who I was. It was in my fibers now, it filled my bones. It became such a large part of my life that I couldn’t remember who I was before I found yoga- and if we’re being truly honest, I don’t know that there was much of me there before I found it, anyway.

And throughout this whole journey, one thought has lingered in the back of my mind: This is all impermanent. 

I knew, from that first month at Just Be, that in less than three years I’d be heading off to college. I didn’t know where, but I knew it wouldn’t be in Walnut Creek. The idea of having to leave the community I was falling in love with over and over again was a nagging thought I persistently pushed into the back of my mind- it was something to address later, when things felt more real and more tangible. It always felt like a “later” issue, something that was always just out of reach and didn’t require your attention just yet, the way you feel about dentist appointments and getting enough fiber. It’s important, sure, but you perpetually don’t have to think about it just yet.

I move to Santa Cruz in 72 days.

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Suddenly, I’m becoming aware of the fact that I need to begin to let go, and letting go is one of the hardest things for us to do. No longer will I be waking up and heading straight to the studio to teach an early morning Vinyasa, or laying my mat down next to a friend during a special event class, or helping run check in during a busy morning. No longer will I be emptying the water bucket from the hallway, or unlocking the bathrooms and double checking that the string lights are on, or sweeping the floors and smudging the room with sage after a particularly heavy class. More than that, no longer will I be able to practice under the guidance of the very teachers who have shaped my life, or see the smiling faces of community members who I now consider my friends and family, or teach in the room that has become the backdrop to some of the most important moments of my life.

I’m sitting down and being forced to evaluate just how much yoga, and the Just Be Yoga community in particular, has seeped into my identity. Without Just Be, who am I? Without being a yoga teacher, who people know and have a connection with, who am I? Without the sense of purpose I have serving my studio and serving my community, who am I?

This question is arising again and again- when I strip away the factors of my environment and community right now, who am I?

I was in Berkeley this past weekend when someone I didn’t know said, “Hey, I think I follow you on Instagram, I read your blog!” This has happened before, especially right around the time of the release of the CNN article or the Strength Summit, but every time it surprises me and, admittedly, makes me feel kinda good. It’s a sense of validation that I think we all get when we are recognized for something we love and are proud of, especially when it’s work that comes straight from our heart and we feel represents us in an authentic way. But this time, my first thought was, “This isn’t going to happen in Santa Cruz.”

No one is going to know me there. I’m not going to be known as the yoga teacher, or the Just Be helper, or the writer. No one will have any preconceptions about who I am, and there, at least for awhile, I won’t be Yoga Maris. I’ll just be Maris. College Maris. Student Maris. It’s simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating- before me is an opportunity to either carry over my identity and reshape it to fit a new environment, or recreate myself entirely. Next year is the blankest canvas I’ve had in a long time, and I’m struggling to take that leap from the familiar and beloved to the unknown and uncomfortable.

Because no one likes letting go. No one likes saying goodbye to the things, people, and places they love. No one finds joy in losing what they know. As humans, we’re creatures of habit. We’re not nomads, we find a home and a community and we settle there, build ourselves and our families (by blood or otherwise) there. When we’re thrown out of routine, or thrown into new opportunity, we often cling on hard to what we know, and, even more so, try to squeeze our current lives into our future lives.

At first, I wanted to essentially take my current life and relocate it to Santa Cruz. I wanted to find a studio just like Just Be, and keep teaching as much as I could, and eat the same foods I eat at home, and stick to the same schedule I have now. I just wanted to do it in Santa Cruz. But the closer I get to move-in day, the more I’m becoming aware of the fact that the point of change is the release that comes before: the letting go of how we presently live our lives in the hopes that we will find something that lights us up in a different way, challenges us in a different way, and explores us in a different way. Not clinging so desperately to the life we used to live that we’re blinded to the new opportunities and way of life in front of us.

Not only do I have to face what is before me, I have to wonder what the life I leave behind will be like without me.

I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that a large fear of mine is that I will be somehow forgotten back home. That I will come back to Just Be to visit and no one will want me anymore, that they will move on and not need me, or even want me. A nagging, insecure part of my brain wonders if there will be a “new Maris,” someone else to take the pictures and run the social media and teach the kind of classes I teach and bring what it is I currently bring to the community and somehow more. I have to admit that I receive a certain kind of self-worth from the place I’ve found at the studio, where I feel loved, accepted, understood, and helpful- and I’m struggling with the idea that that kind of validation will be lacking in my future away at college.

I have to remind myself that this is the ego talking: of course someone else will have to take on my responsibilities at the studio. Of course someone will have to teach my classes. Of course someone will step up to fill the shoes I wear at Just Be. The yoga practice was here long before I was teaching it, and the teacher in the room is only a medium through which it is communicated. As a teacher, I definitely have a certain level of responsibility and creativity I can bring to the practice, but it is ultimately the yoga that does the work. I need to have respect for the fact that, despite how important we might feel as the stars of our own lives, life goes on without us present- and it should.

So who I am without all of this?

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There are some things about myself that I will carry with me no matter where I go:

I am a teacher, in some context, for the rest of my life. I share what is important to me and what is on my heart one hundred percent of the time, and lead by example by living a life of authenticity and not being afraid to share my failures along with my successes. I will seek out opportunities to share my love of yoga, whether that means volunteering my time for sports teams or teaching impromptu classes out on the grass for whoever is interested, because it is important to me and fills me up, and it is so much more than a job to me.

I am a writer. It is how I share my thoughts and how I learn about myself. It is how I am able to have my thoughts be heard and how I am able to spread ideas that I think are important. It is how I start conversations I wish were started long ago and maybe, just maybe, change the way people think in some way.

I am a yogi. My asana practice requires no studio and no teacher other than life itself. The tools I’ve learned of meditation, mindfulness, and journaling are ones I will carry with me and use every single day for the rest of my life in some form. As long as I am breathing, as long as I am trying my best to be present and seek growth, I am practicing yoga. Just Be was only the first home of many for this practice.

I am a being of love. I have love and respect for all beings on this earth. I will do my best to support others no matter where I go or who they are. Being compassionate is a part of who I am now, and as long as I put love into this world, it will come back to me. I have learned how to be caring and kind towards myself as well as others, and will do my best to take care of myself throughout the journey ahead. One of my most beloved teachers from high school told me, “The specifics of what you do don’t matter. It doesn’t matter what major you choose or what job you have or what college you go to. It matters that you try your best and you are kind. If you are a good person, things will work themselves out.”

I am resilient. I can withstand change, and more than that, embrace it. If it weren’t for vast life changes and struggles in my life, I wouldn’t be the person I am today, and I feel more authentically myself than ever before. Whatever new challenges present themselves to me in this new chapter of life, I will be ready to accept them as tools of change, not burdens of pain.

This is who I am. This is who I will always be.

 

 

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