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How Yoga Gave Me The Strength To Come Out

Sarah Smith
Written by Sarah Smith

There are times I still wonder if I would have ever come out of the closet had my friend not dragged me to that first yoga class, years ago. In retrospect, I had no idea that "gay" would follow "Namaste."

From a young age, I had always felt the need to be in control, undertaking tasks and challenges that had tangible achievement-based outcomes. I ran my first marathon when I was 13 years old, I was captain of my cross country team in high school, I graduated from a top university with a high GPA in just three years and was accepted to a medical school program. I certainly have the ability to push.

But during my freshman year, that first yoga class pulled the rug out from under me. My "push" approach to the world was literally turned upside down. I quickly learned that pushing didn't get you very far in yoga, because there is nowhere really to go but to remain in the here and now.

Over the next few years, my brain underwent some extensive rewiring. With every mindful breath I took in an awkward and tangled posture, I learned more and more how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned how to separate bodily sensations from what was happening inside my head. My fears about life were dropping off as quickly as the sweat was dripping off my body.

I'm aware that my experience with yoga is not entirely unique — many practitioners will tell you a similar story. And it's not surprising when you examine what's actually happening inside the brain during meditative states. Or more importantly, what's not happening.

Studies have shown that the region of the brain that deals with the over-enhanced version of our sense of self becomes less active when we meditate. This is the area that lights up when we take things too personally. Overstimulation of this area is thought to contribute to the circles of anxious thoughts we often find ourselves stuck in; the thoughts that relate physical sensations and momentary fears to the forefront of the mind.

Thus, when this area of the brain is less active, we can begin to view things more objectively. We can relinquish the need for control and create the space instead to respond.

We cannot control our sexuality. It does not matter if you do or don't want to be anything other than straight. We don't get to choose. The only choice that we have is to respond — whether it means coming out of the closet, or simply taking the steps toward accepting yourself as you truly are.

At the end of the day, what yoga has taught me is this: there is a difference between control and response.

Often in life we tend to focus our efforts toward developing the power to control situations. And their is no doubt that being constantly in control of your life has its benefits, especially in the pursuit of specific goals. But as our power to control increases, oftentimes our addiction to it does as well. This addiction can come at the expense of our own truth.

Vulnerability is identified as the enemy and is immediately shut out. And when life presents us with a situation that is not within our realm of control, we are left defenseless. It is in these situations where our control turns to struggle and strain against the opposition, and we become exhausted.

If we choose to cultivate the power to respond to life instead of obsessing over our power to control it, we settle into a balance of effort and ease. Vulnerability is the choice to have enough faith to let go of something that is no longer serving you. It is the different between trying to stop the rain from falling with your bare hands, and simply putting in a rain jacket and stepping out.

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