I am Denise Waling, a yogini of 15 years who is now able to see life a little lighter, a little brighter and that the possibilities are endless. But it wasn’t always like this. To say it simply, yoga saved my life.
Growing up people saw a sweet, vibrant girl who had the world at her fingertips. But most people had only seen that small part of me. Underneath it all, I suffered from a life of deep depression, anxiety and mental illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. So much, that it nearly made me take my own life. Yoga had developed into the one thing that gave me an outlet from living in my private hell.
My story: I would love to say my journey with yoga began…
In reality it’s: Yoga's journey with me began...
In 1999, a year after moving to L.A. from North Carolina. I’d always been curious about yoga and was told about an incredible instructor named Bryan Kest who taught at his studio, Power Yoga. I decided to check his class out and what I’d left with was a feeling I’d never experienced. I’d always been active, but yoga challenged not only my body, but also my mind in a way I couldn’t explain. After each class I walked out feeling energized and high on life even though I was in a sweaty yoga studio with 75 other people. And because it made me feel so confident and genuine, I thought yoga, being the purest of forms, would be what would finally save me from myself. So I kept going back expecting it to take my darkness away. After a few of years of practicing on and off, I had no choice but to give up thinking yoga was going to set me free. And once again I felt hopeless and another bout of deep depression set in. Only this time, my life spiraled into a life I didn’t even recognize. All I knew was that I couldn't stop the growth of my suffering. What I didn’t know is that yoga could save me, but it was within me to make it possible.
After a painful breakup in 2004, I began my practice with Govin Das. His spirit and guidance helped me create a greater level of self-awareness. But still, having awareness didn’t mean I knew how to be free from self-destruction and I began to accept I’d never make it to see my 30th birthday. Though I was the only one who knew this, it was because I loved my family that I continued my achievements. I wanted them to have proud memories of me after I was gone, so I consciously lived a life I knew was a lie. And during one of my darkest moments I forced myself to go to class. That was the day I felt something shift in my practice. I was suddenly conscious that the movement of my body and breath united with the stillness of my mind. I’d felt the true practice of yoga for the first time. The more I went to class, the more yoga began to break me from my pain, even if it were just for a moment. At this point, yoga had become the only constant in my life and I found myself purposely going to class just so I could feel some kind of release. My practice had outgrown my ego and it was no longer about how I looked to everyone. It was now about how I needed to feel something less than suffering in order to keep going. Gradually, the thoughts of death became fewer and further between. So I continued to practice through the pain and even opened my practice to other teachers. Each one began to fulfill a different part of me.
Over the years, I began thinking, maybe I didn’t have to accept living (or dying) in darkness. It was possible there were other options. I knew I wasn’t able to heal myself alone, so I chose to seek 9 months intensive treatment for BPD and try to move on from the world I knew. The desire to give in to the life I was accustomed never stopped. There were many times I had taken 1 step forward and 10 steps back, but I wanted a real chance at life on the other side. I wanted to feel what it was like to be the person I knew I was in my soul. And with that, I allowed yoga to help me piece together my genuine self. Eventually, I began to feel what it was to love and accept myself with less judgment. Feeling that kind of love made me think, maybe, I too could make a difference in people’s lives…just as all of my teachers had made a difference in mine.
Through my growth, what I uncovered was truly profound. I learned yoga was not only my passion, it was my soul. And teaching was my true calling. After several years of working in the corporate world I was laid off from my job. I had my window of opportunity so I swallowed my fear and signed up for teacher training. I did my training under Tamal Dodge of YogaCo. I can’t say training was easy. I’d never wanted anything more, so emotionally I was challenged to new levels. When I received my certification, the emotion was so overwhelming I actually cried tears of joy. For the first time, a dream had become my reality and it was at that moment…My journey with yoga began.
Yoga had always been there when I needed it most. But now yoga is guiding me so I can fulfill my purpose. And that is to teach what I've learned and help guide others on their path to self-awareness, whether it be through mind, body or spirit.
I truly believe everything happens for a reason, good or bad. Looking back, there's nothing I would change because I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. And as I continue to practice and teach I am reminded of what it took to get here and for that I am grateful for the gift of life. Don’t get me wrong, at times I still struggle to slip back into the world I knew. But it’s because of my purpose that I will always strive to live on this side of life. I will never be free of BPD, but I am a person who's learned to live with it. In 2010 I was fortunate enough to open my own little studio in Downtown LA, the YOGA place. This studio is a beautiful reminder of how far I’ve come and how much further I am able to take my students.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you. For those of you who wonder if I have made it to see 30? I’m proud to say I celebrated my 30th birthday in the summer of 2009. So when you see me and wonder why I'm so genuinely grateful and full of life, now you know why ♥
I must give special thanks to the teachers who have greatly influenced me as a yogini and as a teacher. Thank you to Bryan Kest, Rudy Mettia, Travis Eliot, Govin Das, Tamal Dodge, Jerome Mercier and Jay Co.
One last thing, I want to take gratitude to all of you who have chosen to take your own journey through yoga. Everyone has a reason for going to class regardless if you practice regularly or just to try it once. So thank you for sharing a part of yourselves. None of us teachers would be here if it weren’t for each and every one of you. ~Namaste~