My first introduction to yoga was in 2006 when I was in the midst of an eating disorder, depression, and anxiety. In that introduction, I learned that I HATED yoga. (In order of abhorrence) I hated being still and not being as flexible, thin, proportioned, or strong as other students, but what I hated most was breathing into my belly. I couldn’t stand being with myself, my body, my thoughts, or my emotions. I’m happy to tell you that I have come a long way in the past 11 years.
I started practicing Bikram yoga in 2008 and even though my thoughts berated me, my body, the teacher, and the other students for the entire time, I loved the long class, the heat, and the rigidity- they fit perfectly with my desire to punish myself and my body for not being good enough. After my first class, however, I experienced something I hadn’t encountered my entire adult life and that one experience kept me going back.
After the 90 minutes of heat, sweat, cursing, and contorting my body, I left class and my mind was calm. Not silent but calm. As I walked outside, I noticed that I was present with my steps. I saw the changing colors of the leaves on the straggling trees planted in the Philadelphia sidewalks. I felt the hustle and bustle of everyone as they hurriedly walked, biked, or drove their commutes and for once, I wasn’t in that small world. I was seeing everything with wonder and love.
I loved myself, I valued my body, I appreciated the smell of the underground subway, I blessed the guy that bumped into me; I loved it all. Everything was perfect. If I hadn’t had that experience for myself, I would have thought it was bullshit. I never imagined my mind could be calm or that I could cultivate love and peace with a mind still struggling with mental illness and a body still suffering the consequences. I could and I did and I know that you can, too.