How Yoga Taught Me to Love Myself Again
Alright, friends. It's about to get real personal up in here. Please sit this one out if discussion of disordered eating is not healthy for you.
I was in the 3rd grade getting ready for a friend's pool party the first time I simply despised what I saw in the mirror. I remember that I didn't like that I "had" to hide my rounded belly under a one-piece while all my friends "could" wear two-pieces without a second thought. I remember letting a few tears slip before pulling myself together and leaving the house. I remember hearing the advice: "Stand up straight - you'll look 10 pounds lighter!"
By the time I was in middle school I was mentally keeping track of every single calorie that entered my mouth. (Plus side: I got really good at mental math!) By the time I was 12 I got weight loss tips from my peers in ballet. I learned that green tea would help boost my metabolism, drinking a ton of water would help me shed "water weight," I learned what water weight was, and that I should always punish myself for eating "naughty" foods. Both of my parents and both sides of my family participated in all the fad diets, so I remember it being way easier than it should have been to hide the fact that I was holding myself accountable to eating only a handful of calories per day.
I viscerally hated my body, and I wasn't growing out of it. I would only look in the mirror when necessary - when perfecting eyeliner or making sure an outfit was cute enough or, unfortunately, to check in on what progress I had made at withering myself away. I’m a competitive perfectionist, and I got to a point where 110% of my self-worth was determined by how thin I was.
In high school, I would get offended if someone dared ask if I had an eating disorder. I was in such denial.
The change began when one of my dearest high school friends invited me to a local yoga class, raving about the teacher and how much she thought I would like it. I didn't like it, I loved it. But I loved that first class because I was good at it (you know, the whole perfectionist thing). Taking ballet classes meant that I was hyper-flexible and that I could easily practice many of the yoga postures and make them look "good." But hey, that was enough to get me hooked to the practice, and this practice f*cking saved my life.
At first, I pursued the hardest yoga classes I could find - the ones that would make me sweat buckets and burn calories. I was adding these classes to my already-strict workout routine. Being new to the practice, however, I was moving quickly and intensely with terrible form and I ended up with a near-tear on my rotator cuff that forced me to be still and gentle for about 6 weeks. This planted a seed in my mind about caring for and loving my body, but I would have to wait several years before that seed germinated.
In college I went right back to what I knew best, all because of the sheer terror I felt regarding "the freshman 15." Two-a-days, hard yoga classes, walking as much as I could, and generally exhausting and abusing my body. Towards the end of my freshman year I accidentally went to a Yin yoga class at the campus rec center and I remember unexpectedly crying in Savasana. I had no idea what was happening then, but now I can look back and know that those tears were a "thank you" from my body. A "thank you for slowing down and taking care of me." I became a regular of that class for the entire time I was in school.
That Yin class started to teach me that my body was not my enemy. The instructor of that class gave me the space to re-learn how to listen to my body, how to love on it, and how to start taking better care of myself. At some point during my college love-affair with yoga, I deleted the calorie-counting app I had been using since high school. I found myself excited (rather than filled with dread) to go out to eat with friends and I found larger amounts of space between the monstrous, body-loathing thoughts. I also found myself better equipped to quiet those thoughts down when they did creep in.
I had spent so many years disconnected from my body, and yoga re-connected me. The lessons I learned in yoga helped me to see my body as a magical machine worth celebrating. The mental tools I gathered on my yoga mat equipped me to take on this beast I had been fighting in my mind since I was 8 years old. Granted, it's a beast that still lives up there and she rears her ugly head every once in a while, but I am stronger and better able to put her back in her place because of what I've learned on my yoga mat.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness also gave me the strength I needed to seek out therapy a few years after I graduated from college. And holy shit was that needed. I started weeping before I even made it into my therapist's office that first day.
I share my story to help illustrate my love for this practice, and why I've adopted the teaching philosophies that I have. I believe that movement should always be a celebration of what your body is capable of and that it should be done in a safe and healthy way. I truly believe that no matter what you're struggling with the yoga practice can teach you powerful tools of self-determination... as in taking the reigns to determine your own destiny. It's on our yoga mats that we learn how to write (or rewrite) our stories, quiet our minds, and be more compassionate to all beings - including ourselves.
Thank you all for committing to celebrating movement with me.
If you think that you may be struggling with an eating disorder, you can use the tools below to help you begin your recovery journey. Feel free to reach out for support and love.