Becoming a self-taught yogi

I began my journey back in February 2014, half way through my final year at school, after I was inspired to regain my flexibility. When I was younger, I did gymnastics for the best part of five years but fell out of touch with it when I went to secondary school.

I initially thought yoga was all about getting into cool postures and having great flexibility, so when I couldn’t do a pose I got frustrated and seemed to have no patience for the practice. I have since learnt that yoga is far more than just the asanas, and that it doesn’t just have to take place on your mat.

I ended up improving my awareness of the practice by exposing myself to yoga on social media, mainly Instagram. I had initially tried using a yoga app on my phone, but it wasn’t right for me as it wasn’t stimulating nor motivating enough. However, when I came across a handful of bright and interesting accounts on Instagram I was immediately captivated. They regularly posted images of themselves in challenging but incredible asanas, which inspired me to achieve the same.

Over the next couple of months, I expanded my knowledge base of the many asanas and multiple variations that can be created from them. Once I had these solid foundations, I felt comfortable enough to follow my own guidance and make up my own routines. I had a clear idea of what I wanted to work on every time I stepped onto my mat.

However, I soon started to become incredibly obsessed over this notion of a ‘healthy active lifestyle’, that was heavily promoted on social media (there is always an upside and downside to everything, it’s just important to find the right balance!), and would relentlessly fixate on workouts and food. During that summer, before I went to university, my health along with my weight deteriorated rapidly. At the time I couldn’t understand what everyone was worrying about and brushed their concerns to one side.

I continued to lead a very restricted lifestyle, which was hardly healthy. I began every morning with either a 90 minute session of yoga or home circuit training before breakfast, and would then obsess over food for the rest of the day. To make sure I didn’t overeat I would weigh out every single meal and only allow myself a certain amount of blueberries, for example. I hardly ever took a day off, as I would be riddled with guilt until the following day. It was a very difficult summer for my family because I refused to change my attitude and acknowledge how my behaviour was damaging my once perfectly healthy body.

When September arrived, it was time for me to start a new chapter in my life and go to university, some 4,500 miles away from my family. It was a difficult first six weeks and every time I skyped my parents I could tell how worried they were about me, and rightly so. Those first couple of weeks saw my weight drop to its lowest for a long time (39kgs), where I was overexercising and had also decided to go vegan. Since April I had started to cut out certain foods – dairy, gluten, red meat, chicken, fish, eggs, honey – but this was the tipping point for my parents. They just couldn’t understand why I decided to restrict myself even further. But for me, it was an important step. Perhaps it was my new found sense of independence, but there was also a larger factor at play – I wanted to dissociate myself from the unnecessary violence that innocent animals go through just so my taste buds could be momentarily satisfied.

During reading week, which was the seventh week into my first term, my mum flew to England to stay with me. It hurt me to see how upset she got about my deteriorating condition. It was a difficult week where we both cried and argued about numerous things. The most important thing that came from that week was my promise to my family, and myself, that I would work to restore my health to what it was. I had finally come to terms with what I was doing to myself.

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I rarely speak about my eating disorder to anyone, with only a handful of people actually knowing, because I don’t want to force it into a conversation. However, I do feel a certain sense of responsibility when it comes to increasing awareness about this topic. From someone who has personally experienced what it is like to have an eating disorder, and the prevalence of them increasing in our society, I believe we need to educate ourselves on this often taboo topic.

Admittedly, it took me a very long time to release myself from the mindset that I had when I had my eating disorder. I do occasionally have to remind myself that my body is healthy and in good shape, for which I should be grateful for. With this being said, it has shaped the person that I have become today.

However, one of the hardest things that I have found in my recovery is to have a positive relationship with my yoga practice because of how during my first year it felt very forced. It was an incredible negative relationship on which if I didn’t engage in a 90 minute practice, I wouldn’t be allowed to eat. If I’m being honest, I am still working to improve my relationship with yoga, but I have to accept that it is not something that will happen over night.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the time I spend on my mat but more often than I care to admit, it is hard to motivate myself enough to work past those negative emotions. I am getting there, slowly, but everyday there is progress. I feel it is incredibly important that I accept who I am in the present, and try not to compare myself to the scared and vulnerable 18 year old version of myself who would rather force 90 minutes of a stressful practice, rather than have an enjoyable 60 minutes on my mat. The old version of me was simply not sustainable and that recognition is what has allowed me to grow so much as a person.

I learn more and more about myself everyday, whether through time spent on or off my mat.

Namaste.