mental health

Fearlessly Authentic: Meet Maris Degener

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” - C.G. Jung.

A few weeks ago, I had one of those days where I felt lost, broken, lonely, and was being cruel to myself—insulting my appearance, my weight, and judging myself for not “being” and “looking” how I felt I should be at this point of my life.

To distract the distressing and negative thoughts that were racing in my head, I turned on Netflix, went to my instant queue, and felt a magnetic pull towards the documentary titled I Am Maris. Thinking this documentary would be about yoga, I had no idea how powerful, vulnerable, healing, and inspiring of a story Maris’s story would be, both on and beyond the yoga mat.

Maris, at just age 20, has traveled quite a journey since she was a child and battled anxiety, depression, and a life-threatening eating disorder as a teenager. Her documentary, with the loving voice of friends and family, shares the details of her healing journey of recovery to being certified as a yoga teacher at just age 16, to now being an empowering and compassionate mental health advocate—all while being a college student!

Putting into words how strong, powerful, brave, authentic, and vulnerable Maris’s story is doesn’t do it justice. If you haven’t seen her documentary on Netflix, please go do so now. It will inspire you to be fearlessly authentic, help you not feel alone in your battle(s), help give you the strength to begin your healing journey, and help remind you of how strong your inner and outer voice truly is.

After watching the documentary and feeling an inner sense of strength and community, I reached out to Maris and asked if she would share her story on my blog. Her story inspired me to cultivate more self-love, and helped me realize that it’s a sign of strength and authenticity to be vulnerable and share our struggles with one another.

Maris.jpg

What do you do?

M: I write, speak, and raise awareness about mental illness and the hope that exists for healing. In alignment with that purpose, I teach yoga to connect students with their own inner power and provide tools for emotional processing and expression. I am also a full-time college student at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

How did you get to where you are today?

M: I’m grateful for the strong women in my life that have mentored me and helped show me the way. My mother, my therapist, my yoga teachers, are all huge inspirations to me that remind me of my purpose. They helped me transform struggle into service.

What inspires you?

M: I’m inspired by storytelling: sharing, hearing, and healing from all of us speaking the truth of who we are.

What are you passionate about?

M: I am passionate about mental health awareness, yoga as an accessible resource for healing, and social justice.

IMG_0042.jpg

What is/are something(s) you would tell your younger self?

M: I would tell my younger self that things will get so much better than she could ever imagine. I would tell her that she is worthy, as she is. There’s no need to change to “earn” love from herself or anyone else. I would tell her that I love her, and I hope she’s proud of me.

What is the best advice you’ve received?

M: “Talk about the shit you don’t want to talk about,” said to me by my teacher, Malia.

What is the best advice/pieces of advice you have for others who are on their healing journey?

M: Whatever method of healing you choose, it’s not there to “fix” you. You are not broken. Whether it’s therapy, or yoga, or medication, or anything else: it’s not there to fix you, it’s there to help you find the beauty that’s already in there so that you can share it with the world.

What is/are the biggest life lesson(s) you’ve learned?

M: That I can do hard things. Just because something isn’t innate or easy to me right off the bat doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing or that I will never be able to accomplish it. My worth is not defined by how effortlessly I navigate the world.

What do you do to balance your life when it feels unbalanced?

M: I get outside into nature and disconnect from the world.

DM9A3030.jpg

An East Bay Area native, Maris Degener is a yoga teacher, mental health advocate, writer, and UCSC student. Since becoming certified in Vinyasa at 16, Maris's love of yoga and passion for sharing its offerings has only grown. Using the physical practice of yoga, Maris’s classes allow students to access the internal strength and power within themselves. Maris’s classes are empowering, loving, and push students to find their own unique edge whether that be physical, emotional, or otherwise. Maris's teachings and writings have been recognized by CNN Health, Seventeen Magazine, Girls' Life Magazine, and others. A documentary about her healing journey through yoga, “I Am Maris,” is available on Netflix.