I became a yoga teacher because I wanted to be slim.
After a breakup in 2011, I lost a lot of weight on a diet that became an eating disorder and started practicing yoga.
One day in a yoga studio, I observed a group of size 2 yoga teachers, literally discussing love and light, and I thought to myself, “This must be how they all stay so. lean â. They teach yoga all day long, doing a lot of âvinyasasâ and abdominal work. My body would never look like this sitting at a desk all day, just doing yoga after work and on weekends.
And so, I started my journey to become a yoga teacher.
Do not mistake yourself ; I loved yoga. After running the New York Marathon as a failed weight loss attempt the only thing I had to show was a knee injury. Before yoga, all exercise was a punishment. Its sole purpose was to make up for what I ate and shape my body into something more acceptable and desirable by societal norms.
I was sure I hated my job and most other aspects of my life because I wasn’t skinny. It was definitely the reason why I didn’t have a boyfriend. If I shrunk my body to next to nothing, I would have the perfect life. That’s the promise of diet culture: lose weight and everything happens. It was my mantra, adapted from the famous quote from Ashtanga yoga founder Pattabhi Jois, âPractice and all is comingâ.
I was considered a yoga teacher after paying $ 3,000, showing up for 10 weeks, and receiving a piece of paper signed by another white yoga teacher under the age of 25. My job still sucked and there was no romantic prospect in sight. I blamed my situation on my body. I needed to improve my eating disorder by doing more yoga and eating less.
“My yoga practice started out as a way to punish my body because my life was not perfect.”
I couldn’t figure out the part of doing more yoga while simultaneously paying rent in NYC, so after a year of DIY I moved to Houston, where my sister assured me the cost of living was a lot. lower and new yoga studios were plentiful.
In Houston, I managed to teach yoga full time and build myself a semi-living wage. I wasn’t skinny enough, however. I thought the manner I was teaching yoga must be the reason.
When I was freelance, jumping to different studios, I was so exhausted from teaching six classes a day that the last thing I wanted to do after was take a yoga class. Even teaching over 20 classes a week, I was barely doing it, so I accepted a position as a yoga teacher at a public elementary school. The job has provided me with a stable schedule, benefits, and the promise of a summer vacation.
I loved schoolwork, but still didn’t have as much time to practice as I wanted. So I applied to become the director of a yoga studio. Part of the job was following other teachers’ lessons and providing feedback. My eating disorder was excited about the idea: more time to exercise and lose the 15 pounds I had gained over the past few years by not exercising multiple times a day.
Unsurprisingly, working as a director didn’t make me leaner or happier. It was the worst of all. As the studio director, I was very visible. I was expected to fill my classes with people, be effortlessly wise, and make people want to be like me. Quite a task when you have an eating disorder voice in your head saying that you are worthless, that you are not kind, and the reason people don’t come to your class is because you are too fat.
Thanksgiving 2015, I was on the keto diet. I was left with asparagus wrapped in bacon and mashed cauliflower. I peed on a pH strip every hour, making sure my body was still in ketosis. I was constipated and my skin was bursting. I stepped on the scale the next day and had gained three pounds. I knew I couldn’t live like this anymore, and it was time to get some professional help.
During my second session with my therapist, I burst into tears when I realized my entire career was built on an eating disorder. I made a living teaching people an ancient spiritual practice when my primary motivation was to shrink my body.
I slowly started to move away from teaching. I spent months mourning my eating disorder and the feeling of false control and purpose it gave me in therapy. I discovered diet culture and its patriarchal influences. I have learned that women use diets to distract themselves from doing meaningful work. Then came perhaps the scariest job of all if I wasn’t a yoga and diet teacher, what was I? Who was I? What did I love to do if I didn’t go to yoga or diet?
âDuring my second session with my therapist, I burst into tears when I realized my entire career was built on an eating disorder.
During the grieving process, I realized that I wanted to be a therapist to help others overcome their eating and body issues. When I moved to Seattle for my graduate studies, I knew I had to take a step back from teaching yoga. I took the time to reclaim my yoga practice. Recovery from eating disorders has helped me become attuned to my body’s food needs. Now was the time to do this work with my yoga relationship.
I have practiced letting go of expectations about what my yoga practice should look like. I didn’t set any rules for how many classes per week I had to take. I went there when I wanted to. I trained to trust my body to tell me when it needed yoga. I always verify with myself the intention behind my practice each time I roll out my mat. I wonder: if I was 100% sure this move wouldn’t shape my body or burn calories, would I still feel like doing it?
These days, I mostly practice at home in my living room. Sometimes my body wants to practice in community and receive advice from a teacher. Trusting my body is still a lifelong learning process, and I don’t do it perfectly all the time.
About a year after living in Seattle, a position became available to facilitate yoga therapy at the eating disorder treatment center where I work. Before accepting another teaching position, I listened to my body for a few days. The idea of ââteaching yoga to people struggling to recover from eating disorders was interesting and exciting. My body told me yes.
Even when my mind is not sure which way to go, my body helps me decide through the sensations I feel in the present moment. I use this concept in yoga therapy all the time. We train ourselves to enter the body by feeling sensations. These sensations contain information on the best choices of the moment.
My yoga practice started out as a way to punish my body because my life was not perfect. Now yoga is one of the main ways I practice connecting and trusting my body. My teacher once said that yoga is just a tool, like a hammer. You can use a hammer to hammer a nail into the wall or you can use it to hit someone in the head. Today, through recovery and therapy, I have finally learned to stop using yoga as a weapon.
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