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“Peace for yourself, peace for your neighbor, peace for the world.” Imaging a practice that could cultivate and establish all three. The answer my friends, is in the art and practice of yoga, a dual mind-body exercise with the capacity to truly change a soul, spirit, and life.
The first time I stepped on a yoga mat I was in a hospital. I clearly remember lying in Savasana, or corpse pose, thinking how badly I wanted to get up, give up, and just forget the whole darn thing. Daily yoga was a regular part of my eating disorder treatment program. It was incorporated in order to provide patients with a mental outlet from the stress and anxieties of recovery.
I was told I would earn increased body and mind awareness and develop a new acceptance and understanding of myself through yoga.
As great as this all sounded to me, I thought it was complete and total bogus. I was convinced it was merely a way to torture me into trying to confront and battle all of my unwanted thoughts and emotions. Which is why every day after lunch, we would pull out our mats, start our deep breathing, and I would panic, close off, and fill my mind with every distracting and engrossing thought, story, or pattern of cynicism I could muster up.
In my stubbornness I was determined to remain immune to the penetrations of yoga, and the mental release it required. Unfortunately, I failed to realize I was depriving myself of a practice that would ultimately save my life.
Becoming a yogi did not happen overnight, but slowly and surely my mind, body, and heart began to open to the idea of yoga.
I remember the first time I found comfort in my mat, and was able to last a whole 20 minutes without thinking about anything but my body and its sensations in the present moment. Although this may not sound like a difficult task, for someone who is in eating disorder recovery and thinking about food, calories, and weight almost every minute of every day, a 20 minute vacation was pure bliss. Over time this 20 minutes extended, and I began to truly appreciate my practice and all it offered me.
As I began to confront and understand my mental and physical signals, every session became a new discovery . These sensations became addicting and gave me the strength to push through each day, as I now had a release where I could empty myself of fear and fill up with peace.
After being released from the hospital, I knew finding a way to continue my yoga therapy would be essential to furthering my recovery.
So with both determination and fear, I bought my own mat and signed up to take a class at my local studio. At first I worried I would be unable to find the same mental release I did in the hospital. However, I soon realized yoga will always provide me with the same mental and physical harmony and comfort whether done at home, on the beach, or even in my bedroom, .
As I walked in and found my place on the floor, I was in shock to see the diversity of classmates around me. To my left was a grandmother who could hold herself up in headstand better than any other yogi in the entire room and to my right was a male football player with as much poise and grace as the daintiest female in the studio.
All around me were individuals of different sizes, shapes, and physical beauties all coming together to rediscover their sense of self and attend to their unique emotional and physical needs. It was beautiful, inspiring, humbling, and eye-opening all at the same time.
I left that day with more acceptance of myself and my needs than I had ever felt in my life.
Furthermore, I became strong and confident in the belief I would continue to learn self-love and reach my recovery finish line with the help of yoga.
Currently yoga is used as therapy for hundreds of different medical and mental illness, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. Yoga offers a natural restoration environment and helps people understand, experience, feel, and attend to their emotions and thoughts. My success with yoga is teaching me the beauty of imperfection and helping me realize the importance of “being a yes.”
The first time I was told to “be a yes,” I looked at my yoga teacher like she had asked me to solve world hunger. However, through yoga I learned “being a yes” means being open to life, change, transformation, and new experiences. By “being a yes” I have been able to expand my physical and mental boundaries and to potently soak up every ounce of life surrounding me.
More importantly, in my yoga practice I learned I am imperfect…which is perfect!
As I fell out of poses and struggled to maintain balance, I looked around and found others doing the same. Through this realization I began to accept perfection is unattainable for all humans. By slowing down my mind and body, I became aware of my mind and body. I got to know and learn every curve, line, and flaw, and began to love myself for exactly how I was made.
Although yoga has been my ultimate form of alternative therapy, it is important to realize yoga is a double-edged sword. As beneficial as yoga is, it must be used for the right reasons and not to numb pain, achieve artistic perfection, or become a new addiction. Monitoring your yoga practice, pausing, and reconnecting with your sense of self is essential to reap the benefits yoga can provide.
I encourage all of you this week to start exploring the art and therapy that is yoga. It has saved me, and I hope it will also serve you well.
Shelby is currently working on completing a double major in Psychology and English from Central Michigan University, and will graduate this spring. She recently applied to graduate school for doctoral programs in Clinical Psychology, and hopes to pursue a career in eating disorder treatment and yoga therapy. She is incredibly passionate about increasing advocacy and awareness for eating disorders, and has devoted her life towards providing support, guidance, and love for those inflicted by “ED.” She hopes she can use her experiences and writing to encourage victims towards recovery. In her spare time, Shelby enjoys running, yoga, and spending time in the great outdoors. She someday hopes to travel to Africa and help provide mental health services and yoga treatment to the African population as a part of the Africa Yoga project.
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