My eating disorder began as one intent on not gaining weight as a pre-teen; hoping to stay light enough to be the fastest on our high school track team. This meant going most of the day without food and only eating a small dinner in the evening. It didn’t have a huge affect on my body weight itself but the damage to confidence and ability to have self-compassion was magnificent.
I delved further into the depths of my eating disorder in college at Penn State. I was free from my parents and the ingrained expectations of my hometown and I began to adopt starvation and excessive exercise behaviours. I would distract myself from the intensity of the hunger pains with chewing gum or excessive shaking and tapping of my legs during lectures. Sometimes I would eat once a day and because this habit had the effect of a laxative, I would run to the toilet after that meal where diarrhoea was inevitable. My weight dropped low enough that I failed to menstruate for several years;
I continued to restrict meals and began incorporating excessive amounts of exercise into my daily routine. I would run for 2-3 hours a day, often without intent. I was still a competitive runner at this point but I found no joy in competition or the simple act of going for a Sunday run. My behaviours continued well into my final year of University meaning that I formed very few meaningful friendships, spent more time thinking about food and running than coursework or relationships. When I was in my first year of graduate school I began a relationship which meant enough to me to reflect on the choices I was making regarding food.
I sought help through the student health services at University and was given a clinical diagnosis of anorexia but was never admitted for treatment.
My behaviours continued but I began to tire of the feelings of starvation, the lies, the amount of time necessary to run 2-3 hours per day.
Slowly these behaviours faded to the point where they were no longer dominating my life, but my self-hatred and lack of confidence and compassion remained within me.
Later, in my adult as I noticed my patterns of disordered eating come and go depending on how ‘in control’ I felt of my own personal circumstances, I decided to seek help again. I sought help through counselling and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy); these ‘talk’ therapies helped me verbalise my feelings and experiences in a non-judgemental supportive environment and helped me work through and recognise behaviour patterns, but I remained disconnected from my body in so many ways. I remained committed to ‘recovery’ but for some reason I just couldn’t complete the journey through these talk therapies.
I first entered a yoga class (Iyengar style) in Pennsylvania, USA in 2005. Like many other ED sufferers, I sought out a yoga class as yet another method of loosing weight. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that (if taught in a truly compassionate way) the class will most likely challenge the student’s initial intention, leaving them with the transformative feeling that many people get from experiencing their first yoga class. The feeling that maybe, for the first time in 5 or 10 or more years, they have paid attention to their breath, that they have moved their bodies in a respectful and nonjudgemental way through a series of postures, that they have, if only for one brief moment, been able to get their mind and body to work in unison.
They may leave feeling a little taller, a little lighter or maybe deeply emotional. And those were the feelings I was left with after my first time on the mat; feelings that kept me returning to the mat, to my yoga class, that first one being a catalyst to begin the journey towards healing the whole self.
That was almost 10 years ago now; since then, I dipped in and out of yoga classes wherever I moved. Globetrotting brought me to Scotland in 2006. In 2010 my boyfriend bought me a gym pass for Christmas; that may have been the best present anyone’s ever given me. I found myself forgoing the treadmills and stair masters in favour of stepping into yoga classes twice a week, doing much more yoga than I had ever done in my life. It was Ashtanga, power yoga as that suited my personality and my fast-paced lifestyle, but it was yoga nonetheless.
After a few months, those four hours of weekly on-the-mat time began to have a life changing effect on me. I began to feel different, started making different choices about food and about life in general. My running career began to flourish and I was able to secure a place on the Scottish International Cross country team; more importantly I began to enjoy my running and take pleasure in the strong momentum of my body gliding up and down the hills.
So, the journey towards healing continued, and two years later after finishing a PhD, giving birth to twin daughters and establishing myself as a successful long distance runner, in 2012 I made the decision to abandon the academic hamster wheel and enrol on a yoga teacher training with Brenda Louw at West of the Moon.
The transformation continued as I was able to experience an in depth study and practice of yogaasana, pranayama (breath work) and meditation on some intensive retreats with Brenda; here, away from the day to day demands of life I found myself continue to make better choices. I began to develop my own practices, my own yoga sessions, rather than trying to follow someone else’s prescription!
I’d get on my mat, sit for a few minutes and focus on my breathing, taking stock of how I felt that day, what my body, mind and soul really wanted from me for the next hour or hour and a half, and then I learned to listen—not to the monkey chatter in my mind, but to the intuition welling up from the depths of my soul.