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Healer, Heal Myself

How healing others taught me self-love

By Marti MaleyPublished 2 months ago 8 min read
Taken at my yoga training in Hilo, Hawaii

Since the age of six, as long as I have kept a diary, I have signed it, “Love, Me.”

Even as a kid, before countless magazine articles and email newsletters promoting self-worth bombarded my mailbox, I was drawn to the concept of loving yourself…or at least, trying to. Nevertheless, despite understanding this early on, I have spent most of my thirty-two years criticizing, critiquing, and reprehending myself. Judging myself. Wishing I was someone else. And yet, I’ve never given up on my incessant quest for self-acceptance. I read A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson so many times I can quote it. I kept gratitude journals, repeated affirmations, and listened to podcasts. I purchased an absurd amount of bergamot-scented candles. But for some reason, focusing all of this energy solely on myself never quite clicked for me. It wasn’t until I began shifting my awareness to helping others that my relationship with myself finally began to heal.

I began practicing yoga and meditation in my early twenties because, naturally, I wanted the highly coveted “yoga body.” Unexpectedly, what I ended up experiencing was something I had little familiarity with: feeling calm. Growing up, I played a multitude of sports: soccer, basketball, swimming, track, ect. My mom is a multi-marathon runner, and my father just loves athletics in general. My younger brother and I were constantly competing— with each other, as well as ourselves. It paid off; I played Division 1 soccer in college and my brother played D1 football. But I didn’t know how to simply sit, be still, and breathe. If I wasn’t in motion, I wasn’t sure how to function. Discovering the peace that came from holding postures for long periods of time and focusing on the present moment taught me how to be with myself, instead of constantly running towards or away from something. Yoga taught me that I didn’t have to “win,” that not everything is a tournament. Slowly but surely, I began to accept who I was underneath the cloak of competition.

But who was I? What I wouldn’t give to be in my early-twenties again, those fleeting years of confusion, recklessness, and naïveté… not to mention the harsh initiation of reality. After graduating college I was lost and panicked, in a relationship with my first boyfriend, a man in his early- thirties who told me he loved me just three days after we met. Besides friends and family, no one had ever told me that they loved me before; I couldn’t believe it had finally happened. If this person was in love with me, then maybe I could learn to love myself also. I jumped in with both feet, moved in with him, and immediately fell into a deep depression. I could barely wake up before noon, and the only thing that got me out of bed was a lunchtime yoga class. After a couple months of attending the studio daily, I was inspired to travel to Hawaii for a yoga teacher training on a tropical farm, where I became a certified yoga teacher. I hadn’t realized my passion for helping people yet, I just knew that yoga was good for me and something I desperately needed. When I returned, I moved out, and started teaching classes with an emphasis in self-acceptance at a quiet, intimate studio. These classes caught on quickly; I realized I was good at guiding students towards recognizing and appreciating their own significance. I think this is partly because we are gifted in helping others achieve what we desperately need for ourselves. This realization led me to my next chapter in healing others, as well as myself: becoming a reiki master.

My style as a yoga teacher has always been very hands-on. If students were consenting, I would place my hand on their shoulders or foreheads during certain postures and in savasana, the Sanskrit name for resting on your back. This wasn’t something I was taught, I just liked the connection and reassurance that physical touch creates. One ordinary Tuesday, I had a new student come up and tell me after class that I was practicing reiki. I had no idea what it was, but I went to his reiki circle, and realized that simply put, reiki is love. The official definition is that it’s a type of energy-healing originating in Japan, where practitioners place their hands on the body to transfer ‘universal energy.’ It’s considered a pseudoscience, and although doctors might point out that it isn’t evidence based, once experienced it’s hard to deny the soothing powers and stress-relief the practice provides. Kindness, compassion, and gratitude are also key components of reiki. I immediately felt a strong connection, and went through several trainings to become a reiki practitioner. I started combining yoga and reiki into singular sessions, and started working privately with clients. I even started working with patients at Drug and Alcohol Rehabs. This is where I saw the true power of energy-work and meditation. Even the most unwilling and self-deprecating people found themselves breathing, releasing, and accepting themselves. Receiving reiki isn’t easy; usually it requires you to lay with your eyes closed, while allowing the practitioner, who is often a stranger, to connect with you. There is always doubt and anxiety, some internal protest, and then— something drops. Everything seems lighter. The room fills with peace. And in the absence of resistance, there is love.

Isn’t it interesting how practicing reiki on others comes naturally to me, yet receiving energy myself is a challenge? My whole body tenses, I get extremely emotional, and I find myself holding my breath. But then, eventually- I let go. The same thing happens when I meditate. I become almost paralyzed with fear at the thought of being still with just my thoughts, and my brain tries everything it can to stay distracted. It takes time, but there‘s always a moment where something in me releases. I realize that being with myself isn’t so scary after all. In fact, it’s nice. I think the most terrifying thing a person can do is choose to face themselves, because realizing the truth, that underneath everything we are beings of love, is rather overwhelming. It’s easy to fixate on our weaknesses and shortcomings. It’s much harder to accept how magnificent we truly are.

Of all my experiences practicing reiki, the one that stands out the most happened about nine years ago, at a circle for cancer patients currently undergoing treatment. I was a new practitioner at this point, and I was both excited and nervous to be invited to work for the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, something that sounded so official. As the patients started arriving I felt my stomach turn. Already there was so much pain in the room, so much fear and uncertainty. As an older woman quietly sat down next to me, I immediately felt a connection. I just knew that this was the patient I would be working with. I was right. The moment I placed my hands on her shoulders my eyes filled with tears. As she sat there before me, eyes closed, I cried our entire session. I felt like my chest was breaking open, and the only thing I wanted was for this stranger to know that she was loved. After the session ended, we went around the circle to share our experiences. When my turn came, I was too afraid to make eye contact with her, so I did my best to control my emotions and explain how emotional the practice was. Suddenly, my patient released a sob- we still hadn’t spoken a single word to each other- and turned to take my hands. She told me how she felt how powerfully she felt my love and how much I wanted to share that with her. She then explained that she had a tumor wrapped around her pancreas that couldn’t be removed. “With the possibility of death coming soon I keep thinking how much I’m going to miss loving and being loved,” she explained. “Today you made me realize that I don’t have to.” This was this woman's first time experiencing reiki. She had no idea what it was, but wanted to give it a try. To me, this experience illuminates the epitome of connection. Living is hard. We battle so many misfortunes, illnesses, and tragedies outside of our control. It is in these times that we need other people to remind us that we are more than our suffering. That underneath the despair, there is always hope.

Working with people of all different ages, in so many walks of life, has taught me so much about myself. I think the main, perhaps most important thing, is that I am not alone in my struggle for self-love. Fear, anxiety, depression— these are all natural as well as consistent phases of life. If you look back throughout history, you will see that as amazing as we are, we are equally destructive creatures. This is a necessary balance. Despite my competitive nature, what I’ve finally come to realize is that I can’t do it alone. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s beautiful. Truly, I believe it‘s one of life’s greatest lessons: that we are here on this planet to heal each other. To raise each other up, believe in and support one another. To remind each other that we are not our regrets, or past experiences.

We are stars.

Truly, it is a scientific fact that most of the elements in our bodies are made from stardust. I think this is what I tapped into as a young girl, and why to this day I still sign my diary with a love note.

Despite our darkness, our humanity, and our flaws—

at our very core…

we are light.


About the Creator

Marti Maley

Hi 🙂 my name is Marti. I am an artist and healer living in Alaska & Arizona. I believe in good coffee, chihuahuas, and mental health. I love connecting with fellow artists💛 @msmartimaley

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