When I was in the initial stages of my recovery, I started taking yoga – somewhat reluctantly. In my fast-paced, workaholic days, I only valued fast-paced workouts – I felt like yoga would be too slow and boring. Yet I was curious about the benefits of yoga for eating disorders recovery and stress reduction. Not sure where to begin, I did some research on local studios and types of yoga. If you’ve ever looked into yoga before, you are probably familiar with what I found – about a dozen different styles, all purporting different benefits.
Selecting My Style
So how did I decide which type was for me? Well, given my penchant for the moving quickly, I selected Ashtanga yoga. It was described as a vigorous style of yoga, which appealed to my – at the time – aerobic-oriented snobbery. Somehow, I roped my husband into going with me, so I had moral support as I entered into this mysterious realm of incense, chanting music and relaxation.
The first thing I remember worrying about was having to be barefoot. I’d never been a big fan of my feet, so I was feeling pretty vulnerable about airing them to a roomful of students. This simple, silly realization was one of the first awakeners for me. My husband could care less about feet or any other of his body parts – wouldn’t even think twice about it. And here I was, spending mental energy on worrying about baring my feet in class. The awakener was how much mental energy I was spending on worrying about body parts in general. This intense focus and sometimes, fear, of judgment about my body was a major contributor to disordered eating patterns.
In order to move forward with yoga, I had to let go of this fear of my showing my feet. And after the first few classes, I did. I even started to like my feet – once self-judged as wide and stubby – they soon became valued for their stability in balancing poses. It wasn’t just my feet that I started valuing though – it was my body overall. As I moved my body, synchronized with my breath, I became aware of my strength, my flexibility and my courage to try new things. With each new pose, or variation on a pose, I took new risks – that I might fall, do it wrong – and more often, find a new level of grace in my relationship with gravity.
Coming Out of My Shell
I went in as a shy, quiet student and found myself blossoming in class. Yoga is like body-centered psychology. It takes dedication and commitment to a practice, even if you feel like you “can’t do it right” or “aren’t good enough.” With commitment comes advances – but the key is: you “stay on your own mat,” comparing yourself with only your SELF. So here I was, so used to comparing myself to others (another component of judgment), giving this up as I stepped on my mat. I forced myself to keep my eyes focused for concentration and balance, looking at no one to see if I was “good enough.” And leaving my judgment at the door, I felt free to be more of who I really was.
Another discovery was yoga’s effect on my moods. As I placed my awareness on my breath, the poses, my focal point and my alignment – there was no space left for mind chatter. All the thoughts I had clamoring in my head during the day would melt away as I danced to my breath, listening only for the calls from my teacher and feeling the energy of my classmates. It was a beautiful, calming, stabilizing and flowing rhythm – and often transformed any low moods to a feeling of bliss.