(Editor’s note: the author and I both realize a more appropriate title might have been, “Embracing the Demons of Anorexia.” See what you think.)
In the past 15 months yoga has stepped into my life and reintroduced me to myself. And the Self that I’ve grown to know is lovely, dynamic, and healed.
At age 17, I suffered a life-threatening eating disorder. The ensuing years left me in a heap of confusion, bobbing in swells of emotion that would come in and out like the tide. I don’t mean to insinuate I was unhappy; I’ve always been a brilliantly happy and vibrant individual, save for the year and a half that I was crippled by anorexia. I came out the other end, but turned a blind eye on my experience. I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t think about it, and I didn’t acknowledge it as a part of me. I had beaten the odds and left the sickness in my wake. That was my mistake. I was ashamed of my experience, ashamed of the memories and deeply traumatized by what I had put my mind, body and loved ones through. That blind eye had yet to see what yoga has since taught me: that we must accept ourselves wholly, fully, and unconditionally.
Yoga reintroduced me to myself. The practice handed me the key to my own holistic wellness and, once unlocked, I was welcomed into a world of healing, hope and utter prosperity, both physically and mentally. My soul came alive when I realized that yoga is a deep and permanent part of my being, as much so as was my battle with anorexia. I am well and long-since recovered, but I’ve learned that our battle wounds are not something to cover or ignore. My practice has allowed me to see my body through new eyes;
I see my body now as an “instrument, rather than an ornament,” as Ashley Turner so poetically describes.
A little yoga backstory. I took my first class at the age of twelve. I vividly remember learning to press down with the four corners of my feet, and to use my big toe and pinky toe to balance in tree pose. From then on yoga had a place in my heart, though my practice was incredibly sporadic throughout my teens as I played every sport under the sun. I worked at a health club where I would practice as I began college. My practice grew even further while living in Florence, Italy for a semester abroad. My flatmate, also my dearest friend and fellow yogi, and I would practice each evening in our foyer, and on Sunday mornings. It has really been in the past year and a half, though, that I have truly began to study the practice of yoga. In this time, yoga has become more than a soothing and peaceful activity, it has become a mode of survival.
I am a “Type-A” perfectionist individual. I had always been an athlete, a social butterfly, and during my senior year of high school, I succumbed to the dark and devastating disease of anorexia. My once bright life morphed into one of doctors’ appointments, weigh-ins, half-hearted senior year classes, and a traumatizing prom full of stares and looks of concern. My “bright life” became one of huddling over the flame of a candle trying to beckon warmth for my shivering, waiflike frame. It was sad. It was sad and I thought I’d never climb out of the hole into which I’d fallen.
I remember thinking to myself, “I’ll get to have chocolate again one day, I’ll let myself have it on my wedding day.”
I had chocolate before my wedding day. I had broken into a thousand tiny pieces. My psyche, my heart, my body, all of it just crumbled. I had completely and utterly lost myself. I had been faced with hospitalization and I had one last chance to stop my weight from falling. I was beyond reluctant to eat the chocolate truffle cake that the waiter placed in front of me. I sobbed through every bite, but to this day I remember it being one of the most cathartic acts of my life.
Yoga has allowed me to look back on a part of my life that I viewed with regret and denial, and to accept it. It offered me the means through which to do the work of unlocking a lost part of myself. When one is handed a key, they still have to figure out which door to open. The practice has allowed me to welcome that piece of me, that piece that was lost and tortured and say, “you are part of me, I love and accept you, and without that darkness, life would not be so filled with light today.”
Yoga, like life, has many different aspects and niches. I practice Vinyasa Flow, am partial to restorative poses before bed, and have a burning desire to discover Ashtanga Yoga. I have practiced Sivananda Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Yin Yoga and Hatha Yoga. While I always loved my yoga, until recently I just never fully understood that is the key to holistic wellness.
It has also helped me learn to use food as fuel and nourishment. Food was once something that I greatly manipulated and had developed a very disordered relationship with. Through my study of yoga I have grown to realize that eating what I like is very important, but thinking first about how my human vessel, my body, will benefit from the “fuel” is equally as important. I fell in love with Ayurvedic cooking techniques during my retreat on Sivananda Ashram and Yoga Farm last September, and I have since copied many of their delicious creations in my own kitchen. Because of my past, I don’t adhere to a specific label when it comes to food. I could easily be a vegetarian, even a vegan, because I frequently prepare my meals that way. I could be a pescatarian because I adore fish, and could easily live without other meat. I don’t digest dairy well and avoid it 98% of the time, but I choose not to dive into the world of veganism - as I did at the age of 18, in my struggle to recover and redefine “healthy eating.” I feel I’ve spent too much of my life allowing anorexia to restrict me, boxing me into a label, keeping me from enjoying my life to the fullest, from sharing meals with my loved ones. I choose for myself on a daily basis what fuel I put into my human vessel, and I find no solace in adhering to any other label than “me.”
This practice has allowed me to be flexible and embrace moderation in all areas of my life. I practice daily, but when my body asks for rest, I listen. Yoga has led me to introspective parts of my own soul and heart that I didn’t know existed. It has allowed me to slow down, look inward, and trust that nobody knows me better than I do.
Holistic wellness means something different to us all, because we as human beings are all beautifully and radically different. Here is what it means to me:
I have the capacity to chase my bliss energetically in a healthy body, with a clear mind, and with a passionate soul. Yoga stirs the deepest elements of my bliss from the depths of my being. Yoga gives me energy and a strong, able body to chase my dreams. Yoga wipes clean the slate of my mind, calming chatter and offering serenity after exposure to chaos. Yoga unveils my truth, allowing me to look back on every experience I’ve had and embrace each one equally. Yoga sparks the passion within my soul, making me feel more at home and alive in my own skin than I ever thought possible.
Yoga has allowed me to accept myself, to worship and honor every bit of my own being. My flaws are my perfections because they are unique to me. My likes and dislikes are dictated by no one other than myself; my thoughts, actions and words are manifestations of the wellness I cultivate everyday on and off the mat. I am well, I am whole and I am a product of the blissful practice of Yoga.
I have a spare key, care to use it?