How Yoga Helped Me Live a More Authentic Life (And Let Go of the Wrong Career)

Nathalie Theodore
How Yoga Helped Me Live a More Authentic Life (And Let Go of the Wrong Career)

I’ll never forget the day I decided to let go of my legal career. Three years of all work and no play had culminated in dizzy spells that were becoming increasingly harder to ignore, so I left work early one Monday afternoon to see my doctor.

By this point in my career, I was no stranger to stress and the undeniable impact it was having on my health. My body was in a perpetual state of anxiety due to the unyielding demands of my job, coupled with the fact that I wasn't even particularly passionate about the work I was doing.

Every time my phone rang, I'd have a near panic attack in anticipation of whatever ensuing legal crisis would keep me at the office all weekend.

I knew this job wasn't a good fit for me, but I wasn't ready to acknowledge that.

I wasn't ready to acknowledge and accept that I'd chosen the wrong career. So, I sucked it up and wore the disguise of a confident young attorney who had everything under control.

My one-woman show certainly had my colleagues fooled; one co-worker even remarked that I must've been the happiest lawyer at the firm because I always had a huge smile on my face. But even though my Oscar-worthy performance as a non-anxious person had everyone else convinced, my body definitely wasn't buying the act.

Since starting my law firm gig, I'd made frequent trips to my doctor for all manner of stress-related ailments, including headaches, stomachaches and muscle aches. To be clear, I was a nervous wreck. I knew something had to give, but I was young and smart, and didn’t understand why I couldn’t handle the stress of my job.

My body had been screaming at me for years to make a change, and for years I'd ignored it. But something felt different that day, so I was particularly anxious when the nurse took my vitals and hurriedly left the room.

My doctor wasted no time cutting to the chase. “Nathalie,” she said, “your blood pressure is through the roof. If you go back to that job, I have no choice but to put you on blood pressure medication.”

BOOM. I was 28 years old, and my job was literally killing me.

Faced with the prospect of taking blood pressure medication before the age of 30, my decision was clear. “I’m quitting my job,” I said to my doctor, the words flying out of my mouth before my brain had a chance to catch up.

I'd been contemplating going back to school to study mental health for over a year, and this was the wake-up call I needed to finally take the plunge.

Once I'd decided to leave law behind, I never looked back. But some things are easier to let go of than others. The weight of the world lifted off my shoulders the day I quit my job, and I was even happier when I started my graduate program in clinical social work three months later.

But to my surprise, even though I'd let go of my stressful job, my anxiety didn't disappear along with it. Waves of panic still hit me out of nowhere, leaving me feeling completely blindsided, and I continued to cope with it the only way I knew how—by hiding it.

Finding Yoga

Then one day, by the grace of Groupon, I walked into a hot yoga studio for the first time and was instantly hooked. What started as a month of unlimited classes turned into a daily practice.

A few months into my yoga practice, I was taking a class and noticed just how hard I was working to hold a particular pose. I reminded myself that yoga is about surrender, so I let go of the tension in my body even though I was afraid to fall.

It was there, on my yoga mat, that I began to truly understand the meaning of letting go.~Nathalie Theodore

By letting go, I was able to deepen the posture considerably and hold it with much more ease. What a great metaphor for life, I realized. This is how yoga helped me realize that sometimes you have to let go in order to move forward.

Suddenly, I figured out exactly what I'd been holding on to for all these years. It was shame. I'd been ashamed of my anxiety and tried my best to hide it, and my body had paid the price. Here I was, still holding on to that tension after all this time. It was holding me back in yoga and holding me back in life.

How did I let go of shame?

By embracing my anxiety and using it as a tool to help others. Now, as a therapist and yoga instructor, the focus of my practice is helping women manage career stress and anxiety.

Today, I wear my experience as a badge of honor. It helps me connect with my clients and has led me to a career I love. For years, I fought a battle against myself, and finally won when I surrendered.

One of my favorite quotations is by the philosopher, Lao Tzu: “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Like yoga, letting go is a practice that takes time and dedication. Every day, I take note of what I'm holding on to both physically and mentally, and continually remind myself to let it go.

Some days I balance with ease and grace, and other days I fall flat on my face. But so long as I continue to let go, I continue to move forward.