I didn’t always hate my body.
I remember running barefoot in the soft, freshly mowed grass as a little girl, chasing after fireflies. I remember digging through dirt to pull out weeds in the garden, and planting my mom’s favorite flowers. I remember hiking through the woods behind my house, imagining I was moving among fairies, until it was dinner time.
My body was a vessel for excitement and joy.
The shift from gratitude to hatred happened gradually. I eventually turned to a rigid exercise routine with one goal in mind: to mold my body into something other than it was. My body was no longer a vessel to experience the world, but a flawed hindrance.
This struggle lasted for years and developed into severely disordered eating. I ran and ran and ran, until I was injured, sick, exhausted, and completely disconnected from my body. I pulsed between restrictive eating, binging, and purging. I saw various therapists on and off with little success. One particular doctor told me I needed to stop running away from my body and start coming home to my body. At the time I was confused, but now, a decade later, I understand.
I began practicing yoga initially to heal injuries from many miles of running (so that I could go back to doing just that). But the more I practiced, the more I wanted to care for myself in a nurturing way. Yoga was not a magic panacea, but with time and practice, I gained a greater readiness to break free from my eating disorder and heal my compulsive relationship with exercise.
There were, however, times when my yoga practice was unbalanced and goal-oriented. I was overly focused on how cool the poses looked. I was cleansing and dieting because my yoga teacher did. In hindsight, I recognize that this way of practicing yoga was not in alignment with my path of recovery, nor with my authentic voice.
With help from support groups, therapists, and gentle, nurturing yoga teachers, I slowly began to realize the true magic of yoga—to be present in my body, no matter the size of my belly or the “level” of the pose I practiced.
A committed, mindful yoga practice was an integral part of my full recovery process, because it finally connected me to my breath, the intelligence of my body, and the voice inside me that wanted to heal all along. As time went on, the slower I practiced, the deeper my recovery became. After so many years of trying to run away, I finally knew what it meant to come home to my body.
Yoga has in it both the power to heal you and to harm you. Read the following tips to help you use yoga as an effective tool in healing from eating and body image issues.
- Find a teacher who you really love. Not for the way they look, or for the fancy poses they can do, but for their attentiveness and gentleness towards you. Stay away from classes that mention weight loss or focus heavily on the “peak pose” without modifications.
- Start small. We tend to overdo it. Yoga is about being instead of doing. If you only have five minutes to practice, practice! The five minutes you practiced is better than the hour that you didn’t.
- Bring your awareness to your breath. This seems simple, yet it is not easy. No matter how far into dream land or fear land your mind takes you, bring it back to the movement of your breath in your body.
- Stay in savasana! Savasana, corpse pose, is the most important pose of the practice! This pose can often be hard for those of us recovering from eating disorders because we think we should be doing more, or believe we do not deserve to rest. Stay in savasana for at least five minutes each day. Feel our body connecting to the earth and let your breath be relaxed.
- Last but not least, don’t take the practice too seriously. Yoga can be fun. Life can be fun. Laugh in happy baby, smile when you fall, and keep a child-like playful attitude when attempting to do arm balances. Embrace that inner child.
Sophia Holly is a 500-hour registered yoga teacher, a body image activist, and an Eat Breathe Thrive Facilitator. Through her classes and workshops, Sophia confidently empowers her students with yoga-based tools for healing from within and cultivating self acceptance. In addition to teaching yoga and shifting the consciousness of the way people view their bodies, Sophia enjoys singing (kirtan, karaoke, in the shower), hanging out with friends and family, and practicing spontaneity.