I have a confession to make. There’s a bio floating out there (somewhere) about my yoga background and it is – get ready for it – a lie. Not a whole lie. A half-truth. And one made unintentionally. But I want to come clean all the same.
I started practicing yoga from a dvd in my bedroom, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. My partial-truth bio claims “as a complement to dance”. Which is true. I was a dancer (a not very good one) and I thought increased flexibility, which I heard I could get from yoga, might make me better. So the way I remembered it, I bought a “yoga for flexibility” dvd. I vividly remember practicing it in my bedroom – for some reason seated twists stand out in my memory. Maybe that dvd had a lot of them.
Memory is a funny little selective animal. Often it cages out the aspects on which we don’t want to focus our attention. Last winter, in the middle of a move, I came across that dvd again. The title was actually “yoga for weight loss”. Not flexibility. Aha – now all the twisting-postures make sense. The reality is, when I was in middle school, I had an eating disorder.
I used to limit myself to less than 1,000 calories a day. I worked out obsessively –running, swimming, dance, and, apparently, yoga, as long as it promised to turn me into a size zero.
The irony of it is – I started practicing because I wanted to be smaller, but instead, yoga had the opposite effect.
I have heard that eating disorders often originate a means for control. Which, in my case, makes sense. As a kid, I was an oddball. I got made fun of, and had a hard time fitting in. I remember one time, riding the bus home from third grade, a girl telling me the clothes I wore were weird and that I should dress more like her. She was wearing blue-jean overall shorts with bright flower patches sewed on in random (“fashionable”) places. That same day, shopping with my mom at Kids R’ Us, I saw those shorts. I asked my mom to buy them for me. That girl and I ended up becoming friends, when she realized I had the same shorts she did. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
We didn’t have cable until I was eleven, and to this day I still don’t know how to play video games. I think those were the kinds of things that made you cool back then, but I’m not entirely sure. I remember making a new friend when we moved in sixth grade who, upon realizing how shy and awkward I was, stopped being my friend. I have always been an introvert – and in middle school, being quiet and shy was just plain not cool.
I think the combination of getting picked on, and my sensitivity, led 12-year-old me to subconsciously realize that I could never control other people and what happened around me. As a means for coping, I gripped at controlling the one thing I thought I could – myself. Namely, my body. I became obsessed with being perfect. I thought perfection equated happiness. Because people who, in my eyes, appeared perfect, also seemed to be happy. I forgot that inherently, I am happy. Always have been. My mom claims she never met a happier baby. And as a child, I may have been a goofy weirdo, but I loved every minute of being a goofy weirdo.
That “yoga for weight loss” dvd led me to my first “real”, instructor-taught yoga class, which I took at my high school. It was taught by the gym teacher, a marathon runner who I doubt had any kind of yoga-teaching credentials. This was back before yoga was all that popular in the US (and a smidgeon of the size it is now in DC). I told someone about this and he told me I’m “like an original hipster of yoga”, because I did it before it was cool. I think that comment will make my family laugh. At the time, armed with a field hockey stick and a slew of pink hair ribbons, I was the epitome of a catholic schoolgirl, and basically the opposite of hipster. I think the most ironic thing I did was go to a Fall Out Boy concert. And, apparently, do yoga.
I have nothing but fond memories of my freshman-year yoga class. I went to a large public school, and felt lost there. I had very few friends, and spent many an open-lunch period wandering the halls by myself, because I couldn’t find anyone to eat with. But in yoga, none of it mattered. Students of all ages and social statuses took the class, and in the “yoga room”, we were all equal. The teacher would write on a chalkboard the poses we were going to learn that day. Every Friday, she put on meditative rainforest-sounding music, and we did savasana (i.e., corpse pose, otherwise known as the yoga version of naptime), for the entire class. It was awesome.
My first yoga teacher did not wear lululemon (if that even existed then). She did not chant or take photos of herself doing fancy poses, or teach us rigorous flow classes with a peak pose (at least, not that I remember). What she did do was offer us a safe space, in which to explore our bodies through the practice of yoga. She read the room, and gave us what we needed (deep rest). She planted the seeds of yoga, which, for me, have since cultivated into a lifelong practice.
That year, I started eating again. I also, unknowingly at the time, learned to listen to my intuition. I made the challenging choice to transfer to a smaller, all-girls school, where I felt less lost and more at home to be myself.
At first, eating again had the opposite effect – I went through bulimic episodes, and frankly, blew up in size. My journey with food has been a long, hard-fought, solitary battle. It took me years to get to a place where I did not count calories or feel guilty about what I ate. Today, I eat a highly intuitive diet that works for my body. I focus on whole, unprocessed, natural foods, and have eliminated foods that don’t serve my body’s health. I have written briefly about my journey with food here.
Exploring my sensitivities, and which foods do and do not work for my body, led me to another version of my former eating-disorder behavior. This time, instead of focusing on loving myself because of how I looked, I turned my focus to loving how good I felt, as a result of practicing yoga and meditating everyday, self-care rituals, and living a clean, healthy lifestyle. Yet I was still missing the point. Because both of those versions of living involve conditional love – loving myself because I look or feel a certain way.
I realized this recently, when several instances of control-related issues emerged in my life. I believe we attract into our lives what our souls require for higher growth and learning. And I needed to learn the ugliness of the control-gripping monster.
Last week, I saw a photo of myself, and I realized that I was viewing it in a different way than I was accustomed to. A great deal of my life, I’ve seen my photo, and immediately began analyzing the parts. But last week, I looked at my face, and saw the whole person. I looked at my image just like I look at other people. I think this is what it means, to love myself unconditionally. Loving myself in entirety, no matter how I look, what I can do, or how I feel.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about the beginning stages of my yoga journey. I think this is why I love teaching yoga to all ages, but especially kids and pre-teen and teenage girls. I have visions of one day starting a mindful living club for teenage girls, where we practice yoga, meditate, and talk about mind-body health.
For me, yoga is (and was) a game-changer, the gateway to my own healing. I began practicing because I wanted to be a size zero, and I thought “yoga for weight loss” would get me there. I think a lot of us start a yoga practice because we want something specific. Writing this reminds me of the song lyrics – “you can’t always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”. I never did become a size zero, from that dvd. Instead, I got exactly what I needed.