How Yoga Saved My Life
With Emily Brough (@Emslou2)
“Yoga brought me out of a dark place.”
On June 31st 2014, Emily Brough was doing what she loved most: enjoying the great outdoors at Gunlock Reservoir, outside St. George, Utah. Brough had grown up near the park; her father had worked there and brought her along regularly and it felt like home to her. She loved paddle boarding, rock-climbing, hiking, and, more than anything, yoga. But today was different. Although she had gone cliff-jumping with her friends many times at this spot, something about the jump made her nervous. As she ran to the ledge toward the water below, she felt a pang of fear. It lasted only a millisecond, but it was enough. She hesitated for a moment, causing her to undershoot the jump, landing directly on the sharp rocks below and shattering her entire left side, including her pelvis, wrist, radius, head of my femur, heel, and ankle. After an 18 hour surgery, Brough was left with 5 metal plates, 68 pins and screws, and a completely different life.
When her doctors told her there was a possibility of becoming permanently paralyzed, she turned to yoga. “I wasn’t getting what I wanted out of physical therapy,” Brough explained to us. So she began returning to the same yoga course at Be Hot Yoga she had been taking for years. Only now, she was a beginner. “My whole left side had zero integrity,” she remembers. Even though she could only hold one position at first, she kept coming back to yoga and, gradually, she began to regain strength. “Yoga,” she says, “brought me out of a dark place.”
“I always wanted to do these really fun things, but I was letting fear get in the way.
Now, almost five years later, Brough has recovered 95% of her strength and flexibility, and continues to heal. She credits yoga for her dramatic recovery and for preventing paralysis. After her accident, doctors were amazed that, despite injuries all along the left side of her body, not a single spinal vertebrae had been crushed. They credited this good fortune to the flexibility she had built up over the years through yoga, a preventative measure that likely saved her spine.
But it wasn’t just her physical strength that came back; she recovered her sense of adventure as well. Brough says that yoga helped her work through the trauma of the accident, and push through her fear despite experiencing flashbacks. “I always wanted to do these really fun things, but I was letting fear get in the way,” she confesses. Today, she continues to rock climb regularly, refusing to be held back by fear, as she was on the day of her fall.
“Instead of posting pictures for other people, I was posting for myself.”
About a year after her accident, Brough started an Instagram account to document her yoga journey and to share her experiences with others. However, she was frustrated with some of the yoga-related content she was seeing online, much of which seemed focused more on showing off than on legitimate yoga practice. “I deleted Instagram for a year,” she says, “I hated how insecure it made me feel. But really, it was because I wasn’t being myself.” Eventually, she realized that she wanted to use her platform to spread the word about the power of yoga, and to do so in an authentic way that would connect with people. She re-opened her account with the promise of being her true self. Incredibly, it worked. “Instead of posting pictures for other people, I was posting for myself. And that’s when I was able to start influencer work.”
The first major brand to reach out to Brough was Free People. She describes being overwhelmed by the amount of product they sent her. “They sent like $600 worth of clothes,” she remembers. From there, her work as an influencer truly took off. Her expertise as a yoga instructor, combined with her real-life experiences with the benefits of practicing yoga, helped set her apart from the thousands of yoga accounts online and allowed her to grow her following and attract sponsors.
“Yoga practice comes first.”
Brough still has concerns about the way social media has impacted the yoga community. Some people, she argues, are getting into yoga for the wrong reasons, hoping to earn sponsorships and notoriety without grasping the positive impact it can have on people’s lives. She asks, “Are you doing this with grace, or are you doing this with ego? You can practice handstands, but are you practicing yoga?” Nevertheless, she thinks the overall impact of sharing yoga practice online has been empowering for her. The point, she believes, is to maintain authenticity and remember that “yoga practice comes first.”
She also advises taking social media breaks. “If I’m going to my feed and feeling bad about what I’m seeing, I need to get off social media and get back to myself.” This allows her to maintain focus on what’s really important: practicing and sharing yoga.
“There’s a thousand yoga accounts, but nobody is you.”
Today, it’s not uncommon for fellow yoga instructors to approach Brough for advice on how to become a yoga influencer. Despite some misgivings about the mixture of yoga and social media, she is always honest and free with her advice. The most important thing, she insists, is honesty and intention. It’s important to show all sides of yourself, your successes and your struggles, and to remember that the goal is to draw more people into the practice. It’s no coincidence that brands are also attracted to people whose message is honest and vulnerable, and being yourself is the best way to find success. “There are a thousand yoga accounts, but nobody else is you. That’s why it works.”
You can follow Emily Brough on Instagram at @Emslou2