Be What You Want to Be

The following is an original essay by Inès Xhayet who is ShareLove.Fund’s youngest program graduate at 14 years old and ShareLove.Fund’s Spanish yoga teacher for incarcerated women at Rosie’s, the women’s ward at Rikers Island jail.

The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” is a wildly common one.  However, have people come to the complete understanding of the meaning behind these couple of words?  Within society, there is no shortage of stereotypes.  Individuals being judged simply by this overly simplified and general view of their outside cover. Skin… race… hobbies.  This human instinct takes over our subconscious, in our minds, classifying something as dangerous, or weird. Are all Latin Americans uneducated?  No.  Are all BIPOC people living in economically disadvantaged communities a threat?  No.  Are all Caucasian varsity athletes necessarily arrogant?  No.  But today, the question I will address is, does gender determine what can and can’t be done?  And similarly, the answer is no.

Just like skin color and race, gender is a very stereotyped topic.  The expectations between males and females are on separate ends of a spectrum.  One is a lazy housewife and the other is the knight in shining armor providing for his family.  Take your guess as to which one represents males, and which one represents females.  Although over time, the lines between gender roles have become more blurred rather than rigid, rising companies in which women are empowered, such as ShareLoveFund, will allow for those lines to disappear.  As a young woman myself, I have learned from a young age to always be alert of my surroundings and the constant agony of having to depend on others to feel safe.  That sure isn’t what any teenager wants to keep in mind whenever in public.  Is this too revealing? Is it okay to wear my hair up?  Keep in mind, a woman’s everyday actions can determine whether or not she will come home that day.  Throughout history, a woman’s role has always been to depend on her husband, and procreate.  That a woman’s “vulnerable” state didn't allow her to be in a working environment surrounded by alpha male figures.  Which brings to question how historical women such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, had such a life altering impact on NASA, a space in which they were pushed down and rejected.  As a 14 year old female, still somewhat shielded from the real world, not many gender issues have arised.  But rather than being ill prepared for the future, I chose to use it to my advantage.  Surrounding myself with women who have had many altercations, and others who are like me, just peeking into the unfairness from a back seat.  If nothing else, ShareLove.Fund has taught me that just because I am a woman, doesn’t mean that I am any less. 

History has proven that taking risks very often leads to success.  Whether conquering land or discovering new scientific inventions, it is usually men who have been behind it.  But the rules are always bound to change.  Stepping out of your comfort zone is no easy task.  In my case, I had been an athlete my entire life, continuously following the same routine. School, tennis, homework, and during the winter, race skiing on weekends.  The same friends, teammates, even coaches. 

When my parents found out about the ShareLove.Fund Junior Teacher Trainee Program and asked me to apply, I had concerns from the onset.  The program enables youth to earn the RYT 200 Alliance accredited adult teaching degree, and the prerequisites include being 16 years old or older and the completion of high school biology.  The reason for this requirement is that the course curriculum is a dense 375 page manual with over 100 pages in additional handouts involving 30 hours of study in Anatomy, Physiology and Biomechanics (as well as 30 hours in Yoga Humanities and Philosophy, 50 hours in Professional Essentials and Ethics and 75 hours in Technical Asana or Pose Training!).  As I joined nearing the end of ninth grade, lacking in both age and a final biology grade, I had to prove my maturity and professionalism in addition to demonstrating my mastery of functional anatomy.  Driven by my passion for science and the invigorating feeling of forging my own path, I welcomed this challenge!  I performed well on the evaluation and agreed to continue excelling in my school biology class.  I felt confident that I would not be a burden on my yoga classmates and I strived through hard work and preparation to actively contribute to the collective knowledge of my fellow trainees. 

With the coursework component solved, I still had reservations about whether I wanted to feel like a breadstick among pretzels upon discovering that the training class included gymnasts and ballerinas.  Hypocritically, I did have my own stereotypes about yoga.  Respectfully, I saw it as just stretching and breathing exercises to pass time.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  More so than physically, yoga benefited me mentally more than I could ever imagine.  By inhaling, I take in oxygen needed for my body to properly function, along with all the good thoughts and energy to make myself happy.  While exhaling, I eliminate carbon dioxide, which is acidifying my body, and all the negative thoughts flow out as well.  One of the biggest misconceptions about yoga is that yes, it is a sport, but it is also a mindset.  Being able to control your thoughts takes time and practice, and sometimes all you need is time for yourself.  The increase in self-esteem and the sense of having an open mind improved my everyday life. 

This junior teacher trainee program encompasses even more than merely instilling a teacher’s level of knowledge on the subjects of yoga asana (pose techniques) and pranayama (breathwork).  Upon entering on my first training day, lesson leaders, Ludmilla Lebbrecht and Ashley Erin Holness, greeted me with a palpable sense of encouragement and welcoming enthusiasm.  Within the first hour, I felt a strong bond of trust with all the amazing girls in my training group.  Ashley Share, Esq., the Founder & CEO of ShareLove.Fund, cared deeply about her students’ learning experiences and she demonstrated that by constantly innovating to keep us excited to come to class each week.  She taught us how to be creative and compassionate teachers by creating adorable handouts of lesson plans with small children modeling yoga poses; she also gave us ShareLove.Fund equipment and clothes so that we could wear ShareLove.Fund’s lotus flower logo with pride and feel connected to something greater than ourselves; and, she also set up special workshops to teach us advanced yoga poses and business essentials by introducing us to other female entrepreneurs, which was inspiring.  In that environment, the camaraderie between my fellow teenage teacher trainees and myself flourished!  For ShareLove.Fund to build classes with teenage girls from different schools, who did not previously know each other, was a substantial risk; however, it greatly paid off. 

ShareLove.Fund helped me center my awareness on building myself from the inside out and using that deep sense of inner strength to my advantage.  While I cannot control external circumstances such as the existence of stereotypes and judgement, I can take command and choose my affiliations wisely.  Our environment critically impacts our everyday lives. Being able to positively influence others is a tremendous gift; however, to do so, we have to be comfortable with ourselves.  The environment in which I surround myself will influence me and possibly determine my future occupation.  I constantly ask myself, will I grow up to uplift others or to bring them down?  I now know, as a product of my introspective work at ShareLove.Fund, that my successes and failures depend on my actions, and I focus on building the best version of myself without blame, comparison or jealousy of others - that is the ShareLove.Fund lesson.  In becoming my own pillar, I am self-reliant, and that is empowering!