TW: Eating disorders, restrictive eating, self-harming
In the summer of 1998, I was 14 and — like almost every summer since I could remember — I was enrolled in an intensive dance camp, primarily classical ballet with the occasional modern or tap class thrown in.
As dancers of all ages dressed and undressed in the changing rooms, stories of food restriction, binging and purging, laxatives and “diet Coke and cigarette” diets bounced from wall to wall — embedding themselves in the vulnerable inner narratives of young girls, like me.
That same summer, puberty began to unfold in my body, and the long, thin limbs that I was known for grew thicker, softer and rounder — adjectives that were particularly unwelcome in the classic dance world.
Something was happening.
Like an earthquake that shakes apart the Earth’s tectonic plates — opening chasms of empty space, causing irreparable damage, separating what was once intrinsically connected — I was experiencing the inner turmoil of separating myself from myself.
“If you were a little smaller you could get better parts.”
“It’s hard to find a partner that can handle you right now.”
“I’ve noticed you lost a few pounds. Whatever you’re doing is working! Keep it up!”
Threaded together with the trauma of early adolescent sexual assault, the deterioration of my nuclear family, and the recent cancer diagnosis of my Mee Maw, my body’s perceived revolution against my will for perfection and self-control resulted in the spark that lit the embers of disordered eating.
Just like that, my body became “other.”
It was as rapid as a natural disaster — and just as destructive. Suddenly my body was untrustworthy, uncontrollable and required constant subjugation.
For the next 14 years I would stumble in and out of various forms of eating disorders and self-harming behaviors. I visited countless therapists, practiced innumerable forms of therapeutic treatment, worked with nutritionists, ultimately stopped dancing completely, went into recovery only to relapse, and relapse again and again and again, like a hamster wheel that I couldn’t escape.
For almost a decade and a half, I was in constant opposition to the present moment. Everything I did was an act of resistance against reality. In mindfulness terms, I was practicing the antithesis of accepting things as they are.
Being in the present moment required physical embodiment, and my body felt unsafe and unpredictable. I had abandoned myself and segregated my body and mind and soul so completely from one another that I no longer remembered who I was.
At 25, I experienced my worst relapse to date, which ultimately resulted in a broken engagement, a departure from my dream job and a move home — across the country — to attend daily therapy sessions and be taken care of by my family.
A little over a week into therapy, Dr. B handed me a Post-It note with 3 simple words on it:
"Go to yoga."
I bristled. “No!” I didn’t want anything to do with tight clothing, mirrors or judgmental teachers editing my body to achieve perfect alignment. This felt like an obligation to go backwards, and in many ways, it was — back into the wound that was still wide open and had never been healed.
I’ve always been a good student and a rule-follower. So, of course, I went to yoga.
And I wanted to hate it.
But I didn’t.
What I found was everything I loved about dancing, without any of the judgment or expectation. When I heard teachers encouraging me to adjust my alignment for my own unique anatomical architecture, what I heard was that my body was not a mistake.
For the first time, my body was not a problem to be solved.
As author and teacher Geneen Roth states in her book Women, Food and God, “The problem isn’t that we have bodies; the problem is that we’re not living in them.”
As I progressed through that first yoga class, and then continued to attend classes multiple times a week afterwards, what I observed was a process of revitalization — the method by which I slowly began to inhabit my body from the inside and stopped thinking of it as “other.”
In the spaces of long postural holds, or the meditation at the end of the practice, or the deep belly breaths of my body sleeping while my mind stayed awake in Savasana, what I experienced was the long road home to myself.
And for the first time, in a very long time — perhaps since the earliest days of my childhood, that felt like a perfectly safe place to be.
“There is no way back to the body; the body is the way…And it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been gone; what matters is that you’ve returned.” — Geneen Roth, Women, Food and God
This blog is a snapshot of my own personal experience with eating disorders (ED) and self-harm. I acknowledge my privilege in embodying a very familiar image of ED-related disease: White, female, petite, middle-class. My story is powerful by the same nature that everyone has a powerful story to tell; but in the space of privilege that I inhabit, I want to acknowledge that there are many diverse — and equally important — stories of ED-related suffering that impact BIPOC, LGBTQ+, disability and all marginalized communities.
Guest post by studio BE teacher Jyothi Behne.
Based on the values of healing, growth and authenticity, Jyothi's classes are a combination of storytelling and intelligent sequencing. After battling eating disorders and self-harming behaviors for over 14 years, Jyothi's discovery of yoga in 2005 saved her life. She is now living her 9th year of active recovery.
In 2010, Jyothi left her career as an Education Policy Analyst to become a full-time yoga teacher. She lives with her husband, Bo, and their two vibrant and creative children, wherever the Navy stations them (which is always changing).
Feature image by trihubova/Adobe Stock