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Mariel Hemingway: Front and Centered
As the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway and an acclaimed actress, Mariel Hemingway has been the center of public attention at many points in her life. But for the past 20 years, it's her yoga practice that's at the center of her attention.
"Every day when I touch on my practice," she says, "whether it's 30 minutes, 20 minutes or 90 minutes, it puts me back in the place where, 'Ah, this is what matters — that I move and I breathe, and that I'm OK.'"
Of course, finding peace wasn't always easy for her. In her book Finding My Balance, Mariel narrates a life story filled with painful memories and stifling responsibility that fed a feeling of instability. Her family struggles were compounded by the fact that she works in a business that puts incredible pressure on female celebrities to look a certain way. Through yoga, however, she was able to firmly plant her feet, both literally and figuratively.
"I have a lot of issues," she admits. "I think I'm like any woman. Well, not every woman does. God bless them if they don't. But I grew up really insecure. People say, 'You're obnoxious. How can you feel insecure'" But no one really understands what you go through until they go through it themselves. I was having my own experience about my life and my stuff, and I was in the business of insecure vanity and ego.
"Yoga gave me the ability to really step back, because I fall into those places sometimes. These issues come up over time, and they continue to come up."
On the Search for a Good Workout, She Found Something More
Mariel says when she tried power yoga on a challenge many years ago, she didn't expect to get anything more than a workout — and she was even skeptical about that. It turned out to give her a workout that was as much mental as physical.
"In the process of trying to get good at it, stay in shape and look cool in the classroom, it began to change me," Mariel says. "And I started to realize that the way that I felt at the end of a yoga class was different than the way I felt after doing any other physical thing."
"I started to feel peaceful. I started to have a different perception of who I was. And that's really what the key was for me. I began to look at myself in a softer way."
That new perception included self-acceptance. Yoga became a place where she was accepted for who she was, and it gave her the security she was looking for.
"It's not dissimilar to acting — if you stay present and inside a scene or inside an asana or inside a breath, it's the same sensation, the same feeling of connectedness. I don't act as much now, but I get the same sensation when I do yoga. I feel this exhilarating connection to myself."
Being Present Helps Erase Pain of the Past
That feeling of being focused in the moment, Mariel says, is what has enabled her to manage painful experiences from her past and better handle whatever life throws her way in the future.
"Yoga keeps you present. It keeps you in the moment. The best thing you can do with that training is take it off the mat and take it with you. If you're in the present, it doesn't matter what pain comes up. You're just reacting and taking care of business."
Yoga also taught her how to step back from situations, rather than get caught up in the panic of it. It's something she recently had to face when she and her husband nearly drowned in rough waters off Hawaii. It was a dramatic moment that made her put the spirituality she gained through yoga into practice.
Mariel writes in her book, "Beneath the water again, yet now above the experience somehow, I could clearly see that I was drowning & and I became intensely aware of the presence of God and my guru." The acceptance of the situation brought her peace, she writes, and allowed her to keep swimming without frantically fighting the situation.
"Through yoga you teach yourself to pull away in observation. Some days you can do it and some days you can't. But there are times when you feel very connected. People say that when they have out-of-body experiences, and that's what it is. You look down upon yourself."
Looking down on Mariel these days, you see a happy wife and mother of two teenage girls. It's a fulfilling life that has a lot to do with what has occurred day after day for two decades on a yoga mat.
"Yoga — the physical, mental, the spiritual aspect — is really what brought me home to myself," she says.