An excerpt from an article in the August 2014 issue of Yoga Journal Spain:
I crept, almost crawled, into that first yoga class, acutely aware of the physical strength of the women surrounding me. I had stepped into a photo of yoga bodies straight out of a Lululemon catalog. My cheeks blushed, my breath quickened, and my palms began to sweat. I quickly placed my mat in the farthest corner of the room in an attempt to hide, but the room was small and there would be no hiding. The class began and I quickly realized it was not for beginners. I did my best to follow along, but sweaty hands and feet do not stick to yoga mats and my muscles were trembling. It was a struggle. I was drenched in sweat, face purple from exhaustion, head spinning, body shaking as the class came to an end. Most people in my position would have never returned, but I was not most people.
I was six-months into my recovery from binge eating disorder. I had been attending weekly therapy and was trying to find a form of exercise that would fit my therapist’s criteria of “movement for the joy of movement.” I had found that sensation in Zumba classes - the fun of dancing to loud music without mirrors, without judgement - but there was still something missing. I would soon find that something on my mat.
I had always been intrigued by the idea of yoga and had taken a class or two over the years. They had either been too much like stretching or just like gym class from my school days. I could feel that this time was going to be different. I just knew it deep down in my bones. So, the next Friday, I went back…and the Friday after that…and the Friday after that. And after a few months of weekly practice, I touched my toes in a forward fold for the first time and the pure joy I felt radiated from my very being. It was a joy I had not felt for a very long time, maybe ever, a joy of pride in what my body could do. A joy that hope was real and alive in me. It might have gone unnoticed by others in the class that day, but I will never forget my eyes locking with my teacher Laura’s as she recognized my accomplished and beamed with the same pride. I think it was in that moment that our friendship truly began.
I soon confided in Laura that I had come to yoga because of my eating disorder and that I could honestly say it was helping. She cried tears of understanding, having experienced her own healing on the yoga mat years earlier. She then became my biggest advocate on the mat, striving to help me deepen my mind-body connection and to learn to come to a place of love for my body. She studied and shared her learnings and has taught me so much both on and off the mat and for that I am eternally grateful.
She recently asked me to explain what it is specifically about yoga that has helped me with my eating disorder. First you must understand that eating disorders are a coping mechanism. They can help people control their emotions, calm their anxieties, and numb their pain. An eating disorder has a function, otherwise it would not last so long. The trick to recovery is to learn how to replace the function that the eating disorder served with healthier behaviors. At first, the emotions that rise to the surface feel completely unnatural because you haven’t allowed yourself to feel them for so long and your immediate impulse is to use the eating disorder to push them aside. And it is so hard to resist those urges, they have been your “natural” response for so long. It takes practice and patience, both of which you learn on the mat.
When I am on the mat, I feel the kind of feeling that I want to feel all the time. I feel pure bliss. I am in the moment like no other time. I lose all track of what is going on around me and really focus on the task at hand. I am in my body, not my mind. I am breathing and releasing and moving to the rhythm of my breath. I am happy. When I am on my mat, I know that everything really is going to be alright. I know that I can do anything...and I plan on doing a lot.
Pictured above, Laura Granado of Abi Yoga (my yoga teacher and best friend) and and me, Britt Melton of Oh, How She Blooms!
I truly believe that the life of recovery from an eating disorder is not any different than the life of someone striving to be authentic. As women, each and every one of us struggles to love the body we have been given. We are all affected by the messages we receive from the media on how we should look and dress and talk and feel. In today’s world, it is hard to find your place and feel at ease.
One of my favorite quotes is from Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection. She speaks so beautifully about living an authentic life and embracing ourselves in the here and now.
"Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy - the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
We all have a story to tell and every single story is worth hearing. The greatest lesson I have learned this year is that speaking your truth will set you free. It will set you free because you will no longer have to hide behind the mask you have worn for so many years. It will set you free because you will inspire others to speak their truth. It will set you free because it is so much easier to be yourself than to try to pretend to be someone you are not.
It will set you free, but it will not be an easy journey. There will be some who still believe the messages they receive from today’s society and they, quite frankly, won’t be nice because they just won’t understand. There will also be the voice of the “old you” who will doubt every new and different path you try to take. At times, it will be exhausting to fight back. And it will take a lot of work and effort to learn how to take care of yourself in the right ways, not through crash diets and extreme exercise, but through self-care and nourishment and honoring your body.
Along the way, you will need support and a sense of community. You need to find like-minded people who will have your back. I have found many of these people through yoga. Recently, I have found a whole new group of beautiful souls through an online course I am taking by More to Love with Rachel. For the month of February, we have participated in daily exercises to learn to love, honor and listen to our bodies. There have been discussions on worth, boundaries, and mindfulness. It is one thing to read about these ideas as I have been doing recently, but quite another to put them into action with a community that I instantly felt a connection with. It has been empowering to take the time to do something like this for myself and focus each day on working on another piece of who I want to be.
At the end of the day, you have to discover what works best for you. Sometimes that is the hardest part. It is always easier to pick up the latest diet book or join the hottest gym at the moment and follow their plan. But easy isn’t always right.
I encourage you today to take five minutes for yourself. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Ask yourself, what do I need right now? It might be a snack or fresh air or a nap. Whatever it is, honor your body and give it what it needs in this moment. And right there, you have taken the first step on a beautiful journey of self-discovery. I hope you love the person you’re becoming!
I have learned a lot in 2013. I have learned to let go of insecurities and perfectionism and judgement. I have learned that I am stronger than I think. I have learned that the quieter you become, the more you can hear. I have learned to be kind to myself and face my fears. Above all, I have learned to love me - every little part of me!
I will admit that some days are better than others. But today is the first New Year's Eve in almost all of my life that I am not planning which diet I will be starting tomorrow. Instead, I am planning what I will do every day to take care of myself and nourish my mind, body and soul. And I am planning how to spread the word that we should all spend more time loving ourselves than hating ourselves. We should take today to have a grateful heart for all that happened in 2013. We should take a deep breath and count our blessings and realize that we are ENOUGH. There is no need to change ourselves, only to care for ourselves. So as the media goes crazy telling us how we should do anything and everything to look like the photoshopped models in the magazines that don't even recognize themselves after all the touch ups, look in the mirror and smile. Because you are beautiful!
I am so happy today to officially announce oh, how she blooms! My hope is that it will be an avenue for me to share what I have learned so far on my journey toward recovery from binge eating disorder. Welcome!