Let me begin by saying Yoga didn’t come to me one day and change my life in an instant. Yoga came in and out of my life, like an ex-boyfriend you just can’t let go of…
When we first met, I was stressed, insecure, lacking confidence and completely immersed in fitness. That year was around ‘Year 5 of 9’ of my obsession with food, exercise and my mission to be skinny. I went to my first Yoga class because I read about it enough times in “health” magazines and I figured, ‘Alright…I’ll give it a try.” But my motivations for going to these yoga classes were in hopes to manage my obsessive thoughts and behaviors around food and my body. Key word: manage.
I didn’t recognize yoga as a source for healing and self-acceptance. I didn’t care to learn the rich history or realize it was a practice you take off the mat and continue after Shavasana. I didn’t practice Yoga when I continued to binge on auto-pilot in front of my refrigerator and I certainly didn’t consider Yoga would have anything to do with stopping, pausing, and taking ten deep breaths before reaching my finger down my throat to rid myself of my mindless and furious actions. These had been my habits, patterns and all I had known since I was fifteen years old. Yoga wasn’t meant to interrupt or stop them; Yoga was meant to keep my body lean, escape the prison of my mind for a fleeting moment, and manage these rituals I had created for myself for years.
Our relationship started fast and strong. Turns out I had a pretty flexible back! And with such a strong acting background, I loved playing the part of “Enlightened Yogi”. It was easy! And it felt so good.
For about a month.
The excitement started to wear off slowly as I was grasping for any excuse I could find: “I can’t afford it.” “I want to sweat more.” “ Downward Facing Dog is never going to get easier.”
So I quit. And went back to the gym.
About a year later, I was at a time in my life where I felt completely lost. I was still plagued by my obsession with diet and exercise. My graduate degree proved to be useless. I was in an unfulfilling job and my first, real-life, long-term romantic relationship ended. I was afraid to go to the gym, because I didn’t want to bump into him. I felt worthless and not good enough. Surely, if I was skinny and pretty enough, he would have stayed! I started therapy, and through therapy, decided to give Yoga another shot. So I reached out to my “fitness ex”, and asked if he wanted to catch up. Although, “he” was a stronger, harder and much more aggressive side of Yoga: Bikram.
And I fell back in love again. Just like that.
Sweaty? Check! Affordable? Check! Camels and Bows? Check!
It was like the first time we met, all over again. I picked it up fast. There were no downdogs! And it left me feeling worked and spent. Unfortunately, it was what my body LOVED to feel. Exhausted. Woozy. Sort of numb; an all-too-familiar feeling to my dates with my porcelain bowl. The reality was that Bikram-style Yoga just wasn’t the right fit for my broken soul. It set me back and I didn’t know why. So I got really angry and dumped him again!
I moved to Italy. Then to New York City. My eating disorder stayed with me and I was mad at Yoga for “not helping me” like the magazines said he would. I was 24 years old and completely burnt out. I fell into a real quarter-life crisis. After an intense amount of sadness and pain, I did what I needed to do:
I went home to get help.
Back in Tampa, Florida I knew I needed to try an entirely different approach. I was depressed, lonely, broken-hearted and sick. I quickly found a new therapist. She referred me to a dietician. And with their combined help, I worked my ass off to get healthy and happy. As we discussed different strategies to help me recover, I felt that familiar pull back to my “ex”. We agreed to give it another shot.
I initially went back to Bikram-style Yoga. What can I say? Like a drug, I craved it again. But, like the past, it didn’t last more than a few months. Then the day came that I decided to (literally) walk across the street and into the doors of a captivating Vinyasa flow studio. My “ex” morphed in front of my eyes. He turned into a loving, accepting and healing version of himself. He had music and soulful readings woven into his practice. He educated me. He took the time to teach me the basics of the philosophy of Yoga. He helped me breathe…
My “ex” grew up. I loved who he had become.
So I started to slow down. I read a ton! I got on my mat four to five times each week. I took my practice off of my mat into my recovery. I took ten long breaths before I ate my food. I wrote “mantra” (affirmations) on my mirror and meditated to my reflection. I learned to quiet myself so much, that I started to listen to my body…It was not immediate. It took a lot of practice. My body was incredibly shy and quiet at first. She didn’t know how to communicate to me. But at the end of every practice on my mat, if I could get quiet and still enough, while resting in final Shavasana, I could finally hear her whisper to me…
My “ex” was no longer my “ex”. Yoga helped me discover and heal my body…and she was beautiful. For almost a year, I would shed tears in gratitude that she was still there and hadn’t given up on me. I listened all day, every day, and I began to understand her and hear what she needed. I felt horrible for what I put her through and made it my mission to make it up to her. I nourished her with vitamins and nutrients. I treated her to cookies and ice cream whenever she wanted – because she deserved it. I held her in my hands and cradled her when she felt scared or anxious. I asked her questions and she asked many back. We spent months reacquainting ourselves with each other. It wasn’t easy every day. I messed up a lot! I needed to learn what she liked and didn’t like. But I knew, moving forward, we were in sync for the rest of our lives.
I decided to finally commit to Yoga. He had proven to be patient with me and love me no matter how many times I left him. He stayed by me when I cried, fought, pushed, pulled, quit and came back again. I realized he was forever growing and changing too. He was my rock. And he helped me find my body and my soul.
I am happy to say Yoga and I have been in a strong and solid relationship for the last five years. We decided to take the plunge and get hitched! Eloping to San Francisco two years ago and making it official through a 200 hour honeymoon (aka yoga teacher certification **wink**) There are constant ups and downs and like they say, “relationships take work.” But it’s the kind of work I wake up to each day and am thrilled to take on. It’s love. It’s passion. It’s my healer and my constant companion.
My story is a lot more common than many may know. It’s just not spoken aloud often enough. I wonder if it is because society doesn’t want to mar the picturesque, media-driven image of the “perfect, healthy Yogi” or disrespect the ancient “Yogi Gods”. I believe there is a reason more than just getting a lean body that has led to the growing Yoga industry in western culture. I believe it is a new method to alternative healing that eliminates the prescriptions and pills and holds us accountable for ourselves and our happiness. It puts us in charge of listening to our own bodies and into a space with others that makes us feel ‘not so alone’. I know that when I walk into a yoga class, there are others in the room that can relate to me and vice versa. And together, we support one another through healing and strengthening, from the inside, out.
On my final note, I want to stress the important role professional psychotherapy played in my recovery. I wear recovery like a badge of pride. And I am very candid and open about my history and gratification in being fully healed from my past. I aim to share my story in hopes to help or inspire others. Yoga played one of the biggest roles in my journey to self-love and acceptance, but I could have never come out on the sunny side with out the help and care of the professional specialists who worked with me.
It is my hope in sharing this story that we see Yoga as a journey. It can be messy and imperfect. After all, it is a practice, with no intention for some final goal or reward. It’s the little gold stars we pick up along the way that inspire and shape us to become beings of self-love and happiness.