We sat down and zoomed with Roos Kocken, a long time friend of O My Bag, yogi, advocate for healthy living and plant lover. We chatted to her about self-love and the challenges she faced on her journey to self-acceptance, sharing her tips on how to start the year with a balanced mind body and soul.
Can you tell us a little bit about your life and the journey that lead you to become a yoga teacher?
Hi, I'm Roos, I am a yoga teacher. Although, in the last few years, I turned more into a content creator about plants because of an injury, which I will tell you more about later. I started yoga in 2000 when I was 15, as my parents are yoga teachers as well. And actually, I found out a few years ago that my grandma also used to teach yoga! So, I'm a third-generation yoga teacher, which I think is pretty cool. I started teaching in 2009 and since then I kept teaching next to my studies or my job. Then I slowly started doing more and more classes until the burnout at my office job nudged me to go full time into teaching yoga. So, I'm actually grateful for my burnout to have helped me become a full-time yoga teacher.
What do you love about yoga?
Well, of course, it's a great way to get stronger and more flexible but I love that it makes you feel centered the most. As I have ADHD and my brain is very busy, meditation is very difficult for me because I get easily distracted and I can't sit still. But with yoga, it's like a moving meditation. So, I'm doing something but I am in the moment and I am being mindful in that way.
You're very open on your social media about having ADHD, could you tell us how yoga helps you with living in harmony with ADHD?
I'm really open with all the things that I've gone through for myself so that I don't feel shame around them. But also, I share them on my Instagram in case it helps others to see that other people struggle too. So, I have ADHD, which I actually was diagnosed with just around five years ago. I also have a head injury, which resulted in a lasting concussion (Post Concussion Syndrome) after I fell and hit my head about two years ago. I still get headaches, especially if I do too much or if I have a busy social day or if I have to drive my car.
Yoga helped me with recovery and also managing my ADHD. For example, I didn’t know I had ADHD when I was younger because with women and girls, it's much less common to have it diagnosed. We’re considered to be much better at hiding our symptoms and we usually don't get diagnosed until getting a little older. I went through university, and I got a master’s degree without knowing about ADHD but with the help of just yoga and meditation. I was never structured, but with a few certain exercises like the flowing tree yoga series, I could focus better on studying for my exams. Yoga helped me to manage my symptoms without taking any ADHD-related medication - because I didn't even know I possibly needed them!
What are your thoughts on New Years resolutions, and how do you manage your own mental and physical achievements?
I don't support the “New Year's resolutions” concept. Resolutions usually don't last very long and are not helpful. But I do like setting goals for myself at the end of the year. I do a specific course actually where we review what has happened last year, what I am proud of, what was there to improve, and then setting realistic long-term goals including small steps towards them.
I like to work towards goals from acceptance and from what I would love to do and not what I hate. For example, it helps not to base your goals on “I hate my body and I need to change it”, but instead to shift focus to “I would love to be more fit or have better stamina because I will feel better”. And then set goals for going outside for walks, doing something active you enjoy. The head injury also taught me the importance of rest. Instead of saying “I want to do yoga every day”, for example, try setting a more realistic goal - once or a few times a week. Because probably you won’t be able to do it every day; some days you will be too tired or won’t have enough time to do it, and that’s okay. You always need balance in setting these goals. In short, set goals from a place of love, not hate, and focus on something to improve rather than change, and see how that works for you.
'Toxic positivity' is a term used to describe the pressure we put on ourselves to met unrealistic expectations. How do you manage to keep yourself in balance?
It’s already in the term – ‘toxic’ positivity, which, of course, is not good. However, it’s a challenge for me, because I am personally very positive and always try to look for the good in situations. Sometimes, I have to step back and review, since my immediate reaction is to try to see the positives in that situation. But first, people need time to process what is happening to them in a healthy way instead of switching focus only on the positive. But in the end, I am grateful to all these intense things that happened to me like burnout, head and knee injuries. They all still brought something beautiful to my life afterward. I was able to become a full-time yoga teacher, learn how to adjust my classes to be more inclusive towards people with injuries or disabilities, and learn how to slow down and take time for self-care.
I used to always call myself a body positivity ambassador. But then I learned about how even this term can come across in the wrong way, as if we always have to be positive about our bodies. We’re allowed to say things like “Hey, I would like to be stronger or get better stamina”. So I started saying body love instead. Some people use the term “radical self-acceptance”, which also works with what I believe now.
I like to share real stories and photos now. Several years ago, I used to select the picture for posting that I had looked the thinnest in. I didn't do any photoshopping, but I would always select the one where I'm in a perfect position holding my belly in. Thankfully, I’m done with that. It’s freeing to not have to worry about that and not fixating on how thin I look but, for example, where the yoga posture is great. Or sometimes, it’s just pictures of my face looking upset because I've had headaches for weeks. And so that's one of the things that I like to do to keep it real on social media, to share that it's OK to not be OK and that you deserve love, most importantly, from yourself. I also have a free online course about self-love and self-acceptance. The way you talk to yourself doesn’t always have to be positive, but it should be kind – it’s important to treat yourself how you would treat your best friend, with love and kindness.
As I mentioned before, I used to have an eating disorder. I grew up doing ballet, so my mind was set on “the perfect body is very skinny, no curves” and that's not my body. As I learned and got over my eating disorder, it was amazing for me to realize how much time I have! How much freedom I felt from not always being conscious about my appearance, not always thinking how I'm sitting, and worrying if my belly skin is rolled up. I can just sit however and it's fine 'cause that's my skin and it folds. I want people to get there too and feel that freedom and the extra time that it gives you to focus on things that you love.
A good tip would be to start focusing on the things you like instead of the negative. For example, I was very negative about parts of my body. So I would think of one thing that I did like and for me - very random - it was my forearms. And anytime I was, let’s say, cycling and I was looking at my legs and thinking they are fat. I would then saying to myself “nope, my forearms are great!”. It’s very important, and beautiful, to start training your mind to go from criticizing to focusing on the good part. Once that worked out a little, I could start adding other body parts that I liked. And then slowly but steadily, it became more normal to compliment myself. You start to learn how to re-rout your brain. Eventually, it becomes easier to think about your body from a place of love and acceptance.
We are very thankful to Roos for joining us in this conversation about wellness in the new year and how important it is to focus on things that you love about yourself and your body. You can find more about Roos and the courses she offers on her website and follow her plant page and yoga page on Instagram.