When I started practicing yoga I had just left treatment in 2012 and was seeing a personal trainer. She understood my Eating Disorder past and fully supported my need to learn how to work my body gently and gain strength without overdoing it. She witnessed my extreme anxiety and unfamiliarity with my body. She saw me struggling to experience my body and how hard I tried to avoid it all together. She suggested I try a yoga class at the gym – I was incredibly self-conscious so she agreed to go to my first class with me.
We stood near the back of the room, unrolled our mats and waited for the class to start. I felt awkward, large, out of place. I felt watched, judged and generally very anxious. When we started to move, all of that was wiped away. This particular class started with a Tai Chi warm up and it awakened something deep within me that I had forgotten. As I allowed my arms to move through the space in the room I was reminded of my days in dance classes. There was a time when I LOVED to move my body! I took jazz, hip hop, tap and ballet classes and loved them all but ballet was by far my favourite. I loved feeling the gracefulness of my body moving in space, the strength that the grace required. In this, my first yoga class, I felt awake and alive like I hadn’t since I had to stop dancing because of my disorder. The whole class was pure magic. No one looked at me and everyone was in their own world. I did a lot of body comparison but overall I focused on my body’s abilities. When the poses and stretches were complete, it was time for Savasana and out came everything. All the anxiety and insecurity that had disappeared during the class was plummeting back down upon me. I stared at the ceiling and just cried under the weight of everything that had plagued me for years. As soon as I could, I got up and RAN out of the class. My trainer asked me to do another class with her the following week, reluctantly I agreed.
I went to about 8 more classes and every time was a little bit different. That’s the thing about yoga – no 2 practices are EVER the same. Sometimes I felt that magical release of anxiety, and other times I was plagued by it. Eventually I stopped crying during class and I even started going on my own! There were, however a few things that I couldn’t shake. I had a fear of being exposed – of being in fitted exercise clothing, tank tops etc. I didn’t want my body to be seen. As I was moving through the poses I felt constantly exactly where my body was in space. I felt the air pushing on my skin and my skin pushing back on the air. I felt the stark reality of my existence and my strict belief that my body should be smaller. I compared my recovery body with the bodies of others in the room. Some were thin, some were not but in my mind, they were all better than mine.
After a break from Yoga a friend suggested I try her Hot Yoga studio – I was afraid, but I heard it was a good workout so I decided to try it out (I was already in my most recent relapse at the time). That November, on Thanksgiving Monday I joined her for my first class and fell in love all over again. The studio was beautiful and I felt this sense of serenity wash over me the moment I walked into the Hot Room. The room was quite, there was no talking allowed, and dimly lit. I lay my yoga mat down and lay next to my friend in the heat. Already I felt amazing – No one could see me in this dimly lit room so I didn’t feel as anxious. The heat blurred the barrier between my skin and the air outside my body – the stark contrast that made me painfully aware of my body disappeared. Throughout the class the teacher focused on breath, gentleness, and meeting your body where it is – being grateful for all the things your body does for you and being patient with the process. This was very different from the “go-go-go, do more crunches” over-active class that I was used to but it was definitely what I needed at the time.