The Many Faces of Self-Love: From Abusive Relationships to Building a Local Women’s Yoga Collective
SUDDENLY the sound of my own pulse drowns out every siren in Midtown. I gasp to take full breaths but my lungs won’t hold more than a handful of air. The machine beeps faster than 14 hands can reconcile the onset of a heart attack, every angle of my body beginning to twist, clench, and panic like wet concrete pushing young roots downward—the sun eclipsed, then ripped away. My tears, humid and blinding, mar everything in sight except for two round bulbs blinking down at me. Lucidly dreaming, they become my grandma’s eyes and I want to tell her how ashamed I am. I reach for a hand I wish was hers and can almost hear those gold bracelets clanging against the kitchen counter as she makes breakfast, but the doctor’s grasp jolts me back into my conscious skin just in time to smell it burning.
In reality, the signs my body gave me started years before the day part of my cervix was removed. An abusive relationship with a man damaged me there, but the abusive relationship I had with work ferociously taxed my hormones and immune system, the abusive relationship I had with dieting and working out led to gum disease and a severely dislocated shoulder, and the abusive relationship I had with myself spiraled me into chronic insomnia. But this moment at the hospital, when the discharge nurse explained how the risks of my surgery included perhaps never carrying children, proved to be the milestone that changed everything. I could no longer ignore my body when it screamed at me—so loud it seemed to oscillate and shatter everywhere—that if I didn’t learn self love I would lose everything it means to be a woman.
Yet before I could navigate towards full, empowered womanhood, I traveled 9,500 miles away to find myself. To my surprise, delight, humility, and deep comfort, the women I met along the way became my guides. In Malaysia, Australia, Hungary, Austria, Italy, and Spain, I met a woman for every broken part of me, who knew how to listen to and love her body when it talked.
First there was Rekah, who showed me a picture of herself morbidly overweight just a few years before. Sitting across from me at work, she had hearty oatmeal each morning and wasn’t afraid to have a treat or two with afternoon tea. She shared her healing story of jump rope and meditation, and consistently tagged me on Instagram in photos of fit, strong women. Rekah taught me to honor my hunger, enjoy and respect all foods in moderation, embrace the beauty in strength over anything else, and to love myself enough to fully recover from binge eating disorder and exercise addiction.
Also there were Veena and Natasha—two of my beloved students—who would laugh, sigh, and say, “Miss, you are so gorgeous!” every single morning until I finally came to believe them. While learning English, their favorite words and phrases became those that uplifted other girls. I’ll never forget the poster their group of friends created to represent Oscar Wilde’s, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken”—it was a thirsty person holding an umbrella the typical way, looking judgmentally at someone with an upside down umbrella catching raindrops. Veena and Natasha showed me how to shine without makeup, smile and laugh with my whole being, say positive and helpful things towards myself, and be inwardly loving to the point that I could finally sleep at night knowing I, too, am lovely and lovable.
Then came Nadia. She had moved across the world about a year prior. Every afternoon when she finished work, Nadia wanted to play outside and mostly—jump into the water. She had always adored the sea but I realized swimming in it was not a means of escape from her work or life, but a joyful, triumphant, refreshing, energetic celebration at the end of an amazing day. She excelled at her job because she was receptive to feedback, took initiative to level any of her own learning curves, and constantly asked herself if her role was empowering. After visiting Nadia for nearly a month, I knew that coming home meant loving myself into an entirely new career; one where work and play merged into one beautiful wave. I began designing my women’s yoga collective on the plane, and as soon as I landed and started taking classes with Elena Brower again, my Adrenal Fatigue disappeared and my period returned after nearly 8 months of absence.
Walking out of an annual checkup at the hospital a few months ago—free and clear of all aforementioned side effects—I dialed up my best friend Nina. She told me of the love that grew between her and her boyfriend while I was away, and a little light bulb went off above my head as to exactly what I want and deserve in a partner should I choose to have one. As I visualized him clearly in my mind’s eye, my grandma and global sisters also came into view and in their many faces I recognized the many faces of myself I’d grown to love. I felt so wildly grateful for their teachings that I couldn’t imagine my women’s yoga collective as just a stopover where people will come, practice, and leave. On a napkin in Brooklyn, I drew a second room—dedicated to educational events. Then a third—an organic café and workspace. Underneath the sketch I wrote boldly, “accessible and sustainable wellness for women from every spectrum.”
And I noticed, in a rare moment of stillness, that my body felt whole. And in a way it asked me, gently but with urgency—“What does it mean to be a woman?” And I responded from my newfound place of self-love that to be a woman is to hear and acknowledge my body’s wisdom when it tells me the difference between what is welcome in my heart and what is allowed in my home. And powerfully purposeful, so viscerally moved that the tears revisited but this time they were fresh and prismatic, I set out to build a community where more women can learn to love themselves—and more stunningly, each other.
Corinne Wainer is an educational psychologist and registered yoga teacher in New York City. As Director of The Yoga and Mindful Literature Initiative for Girls and CEO of Shaktibarre Women’s Collective, Corinne conducts research on equal-opportunity wellness by day and teaches vinyasa classes by night.