I have a complex history relating to my yoga practice, but before we get there I want to run you over my back story. I’m going to keep this fairly simple as I would rather talk about my present state rather than delve into the past and stay buried there.
Back in March 2014, when I was 17.5 years old, I experienced my first real heartbreak. This then spurred me on a downward spiral of unhealthy and regimented obsessions – excessive exercise and strict nutrition. I delved deep into these as a method of distraction from the painful thoughts of worthlessness, the insecurities I had about my body and everything else that comes with heartbreak. All of these were magnified by x100 during this time. Looking back, I now understand that I have a number of tendencies relating to Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Even though I wouldn’t self diagnose, it does provide that comfortable pigeon hole explanation for a lot of my behaviours. I remember being 13 when these issues really started to surface – I thought I was getting fat and in an attempt to not be seen like that I would walk round holding my tummy in.
It was also during these first few weeks in April of 2014 that I found yoga. Initially through some apps on my phone, but eventually through Instagram. In a nutshell, I would find different photos and videos and attempt to copy the poses shown. It was a fun way to explore loads postures and really challenge my physical body. I eventually built up a large enough bank where I could create my own sequence.
But, during that summer these unhealthy obsessions grew stronger and stronger as I was due to go to University that September and there was so much pressure I put on myself to ‘perfect’ my external image in order to feel more confident. My immediate family, as well as other family members had noticed the changes in my physical appearance and body shape. Obviously worried about me, they made comments expressing how skinny I had become. But this form of external validation only fuelled me further. It meant I didn’t have to work through my deep rooted insecurities, and it also felt like all my hard work, control and regiment was finally paying off. This all worked to trick me into thinking that I was happy with my body. But this so called happiness was dependent on others comments, and not from a place of deep intrinsic change from within.
The obsessive and self-destructive thoughts from the BDD coupled with the regiment of exercising at least 90 minutes every day and controlling my food down to the gram lead me to develop an eating disorder. I had the tendencies and symptoms of someone with not only Anorexia Nervosa (AN) but also Orthorexia Nervosa (ON). In October 2014 I had managed to loose so much weight that at 18 I weighed the same as when I was 12 (34kgs). For perspective, I’m now 55kgs.
Throughout these first couple of months, my yoga practice stayed consisted as I would practice for a minimum of 90 minutes every day. However, it was incredibly regimented and I remember pushing myself to my max in every pose, every time I practiced. It was a competition to me. I want to get deeper into king pigeon, I wanted to be able to do the splits, I wanted to be a human pretzel. This mentality stayed with me throughout my eating disorder and eventual recovery. It was almost a way for me to still have control over something; like a safety net.
It wasn’t until February 2018 where my mentality surrounding my practice was really challenged, during my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Kranti Yoga in Goa. It was the first formal training I had ever really done (I did a handful of yoga classes until this point) and it was during this time that I realised, like REALLY realised how yoga offers so much more to the practitioner than just the human pretzel side. I had no idea that it was a mind-body practice. Meditation? Pranayama? Ashtanga? Never even heard of it, all I wanted to achieve was the splits.
During this period, it was as if someone removed the tunnel vision goggles from my face. It was the first time I really understood the power that yoga was able to provide to the practitioner on a physical, mental, emotional AND spiritual level. These realisations had such a profound effect on my practice that all I wanted to was share this incredible experience with others as a yoga teacher (I didn’t have any intention to become a teacher, I wanted to do my YTT in order to improve my personal practice). What changed was that I stopped practicing through force and out of dislike for my physical body and instead changed the narrative. I started practicing with love for my body’s many incredible abilities like having the strength to balance upside down on my hands, using my breath to get where I wanted in a pose and sit in awareness whilst meditating.
Since my YTT, my practice continues to flourish in ways that allows me to constantly find love and acceptance for my physical body and the parts of it that I am insecure about. There is less judgment and more gratitude. As well as this, I’ve learnt to listen to my body’s wants with more intuition. I move organically on the mat, figuring out what I need that day. Sometimes I have a strong and dynamic 60 minute practice, other times I move like a cat for 20 minutes then take a 20 minutes savasana and finish with pranayama. Having this flexibility and softness on my mat has definitely translated into how I view and accept my body. There are obviously days where those intrusive thoughts come flooding back, but my yoga practice has equipped me with powerful tools to help me rise above them.
If you or you know someone going through something similar, my heart is always open if you want to talk. I am here for you.