Ashtanga Blog

The 30 days that saved me from myself

The story of how I found my path.

Tania Kemou at a beach in Serifos, Greece

About ten years ago I found myself at the point of no return.

The point where you realise that most of your life choices were not really yours but based on assumptions so deeply ingrained in the mind that feel like a second skin. The moment when you are standing face to face with your illusions, watching your certainties collapse like a castle of sand.

That moment hurts. A lot.

I was working as a corporate lawyer in Paris at the moment. Nice pay check, a job with status and prestige, I was young, smart and promising, my parents were proud, life was good. 

But was it really? 

The first few years were fun for sure. I learned a lot and realised my dream to live in Paris. I was proud of my accomplishments, that finally I had made it. I always strived for more. I had been brought up believing that either you are the best or worthless. So this became my mantra. I became extremely competitive, a “killer”. 

But at some point things started to shift. I was approaching 30, I had everything I ever dreamed of but was feeling empty inside. I couldn’t find a meaning or purpose in what I was doing, apart from enriching France’s biggest corporation and making a nice living for myself. 

But this is what everyone does right? 

Still, there was this voice inside telling me there is more to life than this.

I felt like I was living someone else’s life but I had no idea who I really wanted to be.

I couldn’t fill the void so I entered a vicious circle of partying, shopping, drinking and then starting all over again. I was living for the weekend.

But this is what everyone does right? 

The thing is, all the self destructive things I was doing everyone considered normal because many young people live like this. Until one night when I came back home completely wasted and lost, a friend I was hosting told me she was really concerned about me. Deep inside I knew I had overdone it and that it was time to change. I was very close to a burnout, not because of too much pressure at work but because of lack of purpose and direction in life. I couldn’t concentrate on anything anymore. I started getting sick all the time for no reason. At times I felt so low that I was wondering what was the meaning of it all. I went from being extremely competitive at work to resenting myself for not daring to quit. 

In the meantime self destruction, addiction, meaningless relationships and self loathing were dragging me down a deep dark hole I felt there was no escape from. 

It was difficult to talk about it because everyone thought I had it all. And on the outside I did. Often enough people made me feel like I was ungrateful and entitled for wanting more, for still seeking and doubting.

That winter I was sick for over 2 months with a persistent cough and fever that wound’t go away. No doctor could tell me why. Everything looked fine and yet I could barely breathe at night. I had the first symptoms of panic attacks. My body was screaming for help. To numb those painful emotions I drunk more, took more drugs, bought more things and partied ever harder. But the voice inside kept telling me that I was slowly driving myself mad.

I was standing on a crossroads and I had to make a choice. Hold on to life or get lost in depression and addiction.

I chose life. I chose yoga.

I was already practicing back then but not in a conscious way. Spirituality was definitely not my thing. I used to laugh at whatever was related to it and firmly believed that I could control everything WITH my mind. I didn’t know that my mind was the only thing I could and should learn to control. But as I said I had no choice but surrender. I had already lost my health, my smile and my self-esteem. What more was there to lose? And just like this I made the decision to practice yoga every single day.

It started as a 30 day challenge (my A type personality always loves a good challenge). I bought a yoga mat and a few books, started looking for articles online, whatever I could get my hands on. I spent several hours a day practicing asana and reading yoga history and philosophy.

And my life did change. 

After those first 30 days with nothing else apart from work, practice and sleep my body started feeling a lot better. My cough went away and funnily I realised I was not missing the partying all that much. The feeling of emptiness at work was still there but I had already taken the decision to quit. I was still scared but felt that it would all work out somehow.

After the 30 days, not practicing anymore was not an option. I basically I never stopped ever since. 

Many said I replaced my other addictions with a new one. What I know is that this new “addiction” saved me. I will never forget the feeling of feeling healthy in my body again. Slowly I started finding my community, other people who felt the same, that life was more than making money working at a desk the whole day. There was so much to explore and see and get to know and I couldn’t wait to do it all.

Looking back at it now, almost a decade later, this is how yoga changed me over the years:

1. Yoga screwed up my life

It took all the illusions I had based my choices on and tore them apart. It made me realise that despite all my best efforts, skills and fancy college degrees, life was not just going to follow my plans. Sure, being a  lawyer was a dream but it had turned into a nightmare and it was time to let it go, along with the status and social acceptance it offered. Yoga took me away basically everything I thing I possessed, all the certainties I had based my false confidence on. It left me naked, helpless and vulnerable. Looking at it backwards I realise this was the best gift I was ever given.

2. Yoga brought silence and peace to a life full of noise

It made me come to terms with emptiness and aloneness. I used to perceive silence as a sign of weakness and being alone as failure. I had grown used to constant movement which I misinterpreted for action. The mere idea of sitting alone with nothing but silence was unbearable. I felt that there was something missing, a gap I had to fill with more busyness, words, material things, relationships. Along the process all I did was settle for things and people that did nothing more than fill that gap.

3. Yoga calmed my tormented mind

Unlike what many people think, yoga is not about reaching a point of no thoughts and emotions. It is about learning how to tame the mind and free it from the bondage such thoughts and emotions create.

I am quoting here the second and most important of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the father of Ashtanga Yoga, which is its very definition:

The cessation of the fluctuations of the mind is Yoga”

It is not that thoughts and emotions cease to arise. But they no longer have the ability to disturb the natural peaceful state of mind. We do not identify with those fluctuations anymore. We are not our ever changing thoughts and emotions. We are above and more than that and nothing from the outside can disturb our peace of mind anymore. I still feel anger and fear sometimes, we all do.  But now I know it won’t last forever. I know how to identify it as such, observe it from a distance and no longer let it overwhelm me and guide my decisions.

4. Yoga made me love myself unconditionally

Little by little through daily practice I uncovered and brought to surface, one by one, the wounds of the past that had been haunting me for years. Looking back at my life I started connecting the dots which eventually led me to memories and traumas I had buried alive for many years, out of fear of dealing with them.

Many times I burst into tears while doing asanas like hip and heart openers. Then I learnt that we store in our body all emotional burdens and let them intoxicate our lives. By stretching and twisting my body, I was chasing my demons away. By learning how to balance on my head and hands, I learned how to build strength and confidence and trust myself and my own forces. By healing my body I was bringing light into my darkness.

I still remember the first time I managed to balance on headstand. I felt like my wounded self was thanking me for unburying her and letting her breathe again. I cried a lot that day. And I promised not to lose faith in myself ever again.

5. Yoga helped me connect with others from a place of abundance instead of lack

My extreme ambition, the lack of purpose and all the problems that came with that had made me extremely self centered and superficial. I was basically using relationships to feel better about myself. Through practice, I gave myself the love and self respect I deserved (like we all do). I no longer needed to use others and became able to form more meaningful relationships over the years. I stopped living inside my head and all the drama that was taking place there. I found the courage to get out there and be vulnerable, imperfect and real. As I was slowly dealing with my own issues, I developed the capacity to truly care about other people. I didn’t have that before and I wish with all my heart I did.

6. Yoga made me stop seeking external validation

At the beginning there was fear and resistance as I was holding on tight to who I thought I should be. But gradually, with practice and the growth that came out of it, the approvals and praises I was so addicted to constantly seeking mattered less and less. I had come to terms with myself, my past, what I perceived as my failures and stopped punishing myself for having gotten things wrong. Just like a snake sheds its old skin, I let go of all my invented identities and revealed my true self. I no longer needed external recognition to bring purpose to my life. I no longer feared failure, embarrassment, being laughed at, not being respected or admired.

I learned that life is too short to waste it trying to please others and get them to like and accept you.

7. Yoga dissolved my fears

As I was building physical strength and self-confidence, my fears of the unknown, uncertainty, abandonment and failure started dissolving, to reveal a clear sky. I was not afraid anymore. I knew that no matter how many times I might fall, I would always find the strength to get back on my feet and keep walking towards my life purpose.

8. Yoga became my life purpose

It offered me the kind of guidance I always wish I had but never did. It became the understanding parent, the true friend, the reliable partner and the never ending inspiration I was seeking.

It made me understand that happiness is a choice we can make for ourselves. So I chose happiness and decided to dedicate my life in instilling the same passion in others.

I truly believe that the answers we are seeking in all the wrong places can be found if we decide to engage in an inward journey and make peace with who we really are. And if we are lucky there might be a few guardian angels guiding us through this journey. I was lucky enough to have some, and this is for them.

“We are all just walking each other home"

–Ram Dass