“It is never too late to love yourself again.”
To give you an idea of how sick I was, I will share with you a poem I wrote while in the throes of severe anorexia. I wrote it when I was nineteen years old, and it speaks of how I wanted to fade away, how much I hated myself.
It sees my ugliness, realizes it is becoming part of me, I of it.
I am breaking it.
I am breaking.
For a while, I am still, not yet rooted.
Feet still arched over the earth,
I talk to my tree.
“You are lucky,” I tell it, “you can live on air.”
My body attached to unflinching tree fingers.
Its humanness astounds me.
It wants to know if I’ll fall off soon?
And I will.
My bones too are snapping, I tell it, ready to break.
Pale and brittle: they lack me.
Somehow they can’t carry me.
Slowly I am the cedar, willing myself to bark,
to puncture the earth, to push forward with no sense
of leaving or growing.
I will fall off like old cells, bracelets,
people trying to keep to a certain rhythm.
Like them, I will fall out and off,
by accident, or at night while asleep, or without realizing it.
I will slip into the hole in the earth,
swimming through dark, wet mud,
But while here I dangle
pendulous, I tell the tree what I am,
what has made me, why my bones break,
and why, suspended by thin wrists,
For many years, I hated myself.
It started much earlier in my life, but, once I was seventeen and discovered the addictive drug of anorexia, my self-hatred grew and flourished like a proud peacock. It was my badge of honor.
I couldn’t be with people. Someone would be talking to me, and all I would hear was: What did I eat today? Why did I eat that? Why am I so fat? Maybe if I exercise for four hours, I will be ok. I am a monster. I will not eat at all the rest of the week to make up for what I ate today.
No matter what the person in front of me was saying, no matter what their lips were doing, I was in my own head, fighting with myself.
Then, yoga found me.
The space in between my mind chatter.
I would find that I would have an hour or ninety minutes where I was out of my head. I was literally in a space between my thoughts. Being an exercise bulimic (over-exercising), I was used to being at the gym where all I would do was stare at myself in the mirror and criticize myself. In yoga class, I started to find the piece of me I lost when I became sick. I started to return to whom I really was without the mantra of I am so fat or I am a monster.
It didn’t happen overnight.
I would still feel for my rolls or my “fat” as I was in a twist and go into a panic. Or I would remember what I had eaten and start to hyperventilate. Eventually, the spaces in between got longer. Until that was all there was. Until I was living in the space between my destructive thoughts.
It wasn’t until I started teaching yoga and leading Manifestation Workshops that I truly healed. Fully.
Or as fully as I have been able to so far.
All of a sudden, I felt accountable. I realized I was talking about acceptance and love, and, if I had any integrity, I would have to literally become acceptance and love. So, I did. I became acceptance. And love.
It started with myself.
I also realized that people were coming to me for support even before they knew how much I had suffered, because, to put it simply, I made them feel safe. How could I go back to starving myself or hating myself when people were looking toward me for hope? I couldn’t. It was a non-negotiable.
I started to teach with mantras. For example, this week’s mantra was “I am peace.” Anytime the hands come to prayer in my class, we have a silent mantra.
My hope is that we rewire our brains and our thoughts. I always tell my class, “If you don’t like this mantra, you can always use ‘I am fat or I am broke.’”
It is always up to us. Always.
The hands come to the heart center so many times in my class that there is no way you aren’t rewiring your thoughts if you are committing to the mantra. Yoga has given me that space to do this.
I call myself a joyologist. Obviously, I wasn’t always. I am making up for lost time, I jokingly tell people.
One of the main focuses of my class (and my own yoga practice) is joy. Yoga has again given me that space to play and be free and be silly. You must have at least one dance party a day in my book. Especially if, like me, you spent many years having zero dance parties.
One of the biggest ways yoga helped me heal from anorexia was the release it provided me.
I had stored so much in my body, so much pain and sadness, that often when I practiced yoga, I would sob. I wouldn’t know where the tears were coming from, which used to scare me, until eventually I realized I was softening my grip.
I was letting go of who I thought I was in order to become who I am today. And I get better every day.
I do my best to get better everyday. Better than I used to be.
*If anyone reading this needs support in overcoming an eating disorder, please reach out to me or find me at one of my Manifestation Yoga Workshops in a city near you.
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She is a yoga teacher, writer, and advocate for children with special needs based in L.A. She is also the creator of Manifestation Yoga® and leads retreats and workshops all over the world. Jennifer is currently writing a book and has a popular daily blog called Manifestation Station. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and take one of her yoga classes online at Yogis Anonymous.
Jen will be leading a Manifestation Yoga® weekend retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the Berkshires, Massachusetts Feb 1-3, 2013.
*Photo taken in Bali at Tirta Empul, the healing waters/temple at my last Manifestation Retreat November 2012. Poster by Simplereminders.com