46.6 million — that’s the number of adult Americans who are living with a mental illness right now. Yet it’s still a phenomenon that remains largely private.
One of the most interesting discussions I’ve had with Profile readers on our Telegram channel was around mental health. And I recently watched “I Am Maris,” a Netflix documentary that tells the story of a young girl who struggled with anorexia well into her teens. And then she discovered a tool that helped her build confidence and reach self-acceptance. That tool was yoga.
In her blog, Maris explores anxiety, forgiveness, confidence, and most importantly, compassion for yourself. She wrote a piece for the Profile on these very subjects. I’ll let her take it from here:
How Yoga Helped Me Build a Foundation of Confidence by Maris Degener
Growing up, I always struggled to be confident. I had battled mental health challenges from a young age, and constantly bumping up against anxiety and depression made me feel dishearteningly different from my peers. Living in a small town in the Bay Area meant the standards for children in my community were high, only compounding the issue. It felt like I was constantly seeking new ways to “earn” the right to be confident, always placing my self-worth somewhere outside of myself.
But no matter how many perfect report cards I took home, or how many sports I played, or how many awards or accolades I got, I never felt like I was enough. I kept thinking that at some point, I would rack up enough achievements that I would wake up confident one day, finally having “fixed” myself to the point of worthiness. When the external achievements never quenched that thirst, I turned inwards: but not in a healthy, self-reflective way. As a freshman in high school, I fell deep into an eating disorder that largely served as a desperate attempt at “fixing” the way I looked and ate in order to earn the confidence that so eluded me.
While my illness didn’t end up giving me that confidence, it did set me on the path to finally discovering the tools that could guide me there. In the early stages of my recovery, I somehow landed on my yoga mat.
My teachers introduced me not just to the downward dogs and the warrior poses. She taught me about where this practice came from, and about the Yoga Sutras. This text is a compilation of passages on the theory and practice of yoga, written down by Sage Patanjali thousands of years before I ever touched a yoga mat. It outlines the breadth of the practice beyond the asana, or the physical practice.
The very first sutra, the first passage, is a promise: “atha yoga anushasanam.” The way it’s been taught to me by my teachers (Jenni Wendell, Jessica Micheletti, and Lama Brandy Davis, most directly), this can be translated to, “and now, I will show you how to become whole.”
The first thing. The very first thing is a promise that if you practice yoga you will become more whole. It’s a big promise.
For much of my life, I felt entirely opposite of wholeness. I was a model student, a good kid, I had some close friends…and still, I felt incomplete, broken, and lost. I’d struggled with mental health challenges my entire life: anxiety, depression, panic attacks…growing up I felt like I was constantly seeking something, anything, that would fix me and make me finally “perfect” and worthy of happiness. And what happened is that the wholeness I thought I would find never came: happiness couldn’t be found at the bottom of my eating disorder the way I thought it would.
So you can imagine how I felt when I was taught that very first sutra: “Aha! I found it! I found the thing that will finally fix me and make me worthy of confidence and love!”
As I kept learning, I saw how vast this yoga practice is. It wasn’t just about getting sweaty on our mats, although we did a lot of that. I learned about the yogic principles of compassion, truth, non-possession…the more I learned the more I saw there was to learn. And in yoga, as with most philosophies, there are no easy answers: no check-list to becoming “perfect” and whole as I wanted.
That promise of wholeness…was it a lie? I began to feel like I was missing something, like I needed to master a handstand or learn to levitate before all this yoga stuff started working its magic. Of course, the next big lesson in my yoga journey could not be found in a complex pose or fancy shape, but another passage in the sutras that entirely shifted my relationship with the quest for confidence.
The third yoga sutra can be translated to: “We become whole when we see that we are whole and complete as we are.”
Whole and complete, as we are.
I came to the yoga practice expecting to find something outside of myself, something that could finally make me worthy of love. I approached it the same way I approached my eating disorder, the same way I approached my perfectionism at school, the same way I approached the sports I played growing up…trying to find my worth in something or achieving something.
But what I’ve come to learn is that yoga, just like any method of healing, does not seek to change us in order to make us worthy. It can foster change, transformation, and unimaginable growth, while at the same time taking us back home to the beauty that is already within us. And within you.
Whatever tool you choose for healing, to build confidence or simply to grow, it is important to remember that it is not “fixing you,” it’s there to free you. To free you from the idea that you are broken and the burden of seeking perfection to earn confidence. You are whole and complete: exactly as you are. Anything you use to find healing is only there to show to the world the light that is already in there.
👉 If you liked reading this column by Maris, click here to tweet so others can enjoy it too.
This week’s articles are all worth a read:
— The NBA’s money whisperer (**HIGHLY RECOMMEND**)
— Venture capital’s newest star
— The Warren Buffett of Apopka
— The family that doesn’t feel pain
— The woman collecting your genetic secrets
— The first rapper billionaire
PEOPLE TO KNOW.
The NBA’s money whisperer: Dubbed “the money whisperer,” Joe McLean manages the wealth of the super-rich NBA elite. It’s his job to protect his clients' assets no matter what form they take. Their cars need customizing. Their houses need renovating. Their private bowling alleys need polishing. To retain his services though, each player must agree to put aside at least 60% of every dollar he earns. Otherwise, they’re gone. This is a really good one.
“The power of paying the bills is seeing when someone’s trying to exploit them.”
Venture capital’s newest star: The majority of Serena Williams’ fortune came from her brand rather than her backhand. Worth $225 million, the tennis superstar has quietly deployed $6 million into 34 startups through her newly-announced venture firm Serena Ventures. Williams focuses on companies founded by women and minorities. Although she’ll continue competing on the court, Williams has transformed into a cultural icon that transcends sports.
“I want to be the brand, instead of just being the face.”
The Warren Buffett of Apopka: Eddie Brown is one of Wall Street’s greatest untold stories. He was born in Apopka, Fla., in 1940 to a 13-year-old mother. Brown rose from poverty in the Jim Crow South to the top of Wall Street by following an old-school stock-picking approach. Since Brown launched Brown Capital, his flagship small company fund is up 22-fold. This is a remarkable story about grit, perseverance, and triumph.
“I wish I could sit here and tell you that we have all these incredible algorithms and a very sophisticated way. It really is fundamental research.”
The family that doesn’t feel pain: Colleagues call Letizia Marsili “Superwoman” because she seemed made of steel, impervious to injury. She onced went skiing in the Italian Alps when she crashed shoulder-first on a double black diamond run. Marsili felt a jolt of pain, but it quickly subsided, so she went on to ski another 18 miles. Then she was surprised to find out her shoulder was broken. Now, geneticists are studying her family’s insensitivity to pain in hopes of understanding how to treat physical suffering. (Shout out to Profile reader Vishal Katariya for this one)
“She was feeling the good pain, the pain that alerts us to danger. Then it disappeared. The bad kind of pain, the chronic pain, the ongoing pain that we take painkillers for—she simply didn’t feel that.”
The woman collecting your genetic secrets: Anne Wojcicki is worth an estimated $690 million, almost entirely from her stake in genetic testing company 23andMe. Her company had an abrupt crash in 2013 after the FDA ordered her to immediately stop marketing its health tests because it had failed to provide enough evidence that they were accurate. She’s gone on to build the world’s biggest genetic research database, and now, she’s betting on the next medical breakthrough.
“I’m really not a believer in the Silicon Valley world of, like, you should live forever. But I’m a really big believer that you want to die in your 90s or 100s —and you just want to be healthy.”
The first rapper billionaire: Jay Z just reached billionaire status, so I wanted to resurface this excellent profile on him from 2012. What happens when you go from rapping about the ultra-rich to becoming the ultra-rich? In one conversation with the reporter, he tells her that the Occupy Wall Street protesters should be more specific because not all people in the 1% are bad.
“As I started getting life experiences, I realized my power was in conveying emotions that people felt.”