Yoga entered my life in college when I was struggling with anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, negative body image, and an eating disorder. Though the awareness of my anxiety and depression only came years later - at the time I thought I was just a huge freak who couldn't get my shit together while everyone else seemed perfectly happy.
The year my eating disorder was at its worst - my sophomore year of college - I started attending yoga at a small studio in town. Weeks would pass where each time I arrived on my mat, I would cry. I didn’t know why or where the feelings were coming from, I just had a knowing feeling I needed to let them out - AND, for the first time, I felt safe to let them out.
Instead of numbing my feelings - a practice I had grown accustomed to for most of my life - I let my feelings flow out of me within the confines of a safe space of my incredible teacher and fellow students.
Several months into my practice (and still well into my eating disorder) I had an epiphany. I recognized the harm I was causing my body, mind, and soul through my eating disorder behaviors and thought patterns.
It was during this epiphany that I received a message that I can only attribute to a higher power.
The message was clear. The message was that I needed to stop. And I needed to begin my healing process.
It wasn’t a quick turn around but I steadily progressed toward recovery. I began to tell people about my ED. I began to enlist the support of friends and professionals. And I committed to my yoga practice - for it was this practice that guided me toward my epiphany and my awareness of a higher power.
You see, it wasn’t learning cool poses in yoga that got me healthy. (Although the learning of cool poses was certainly fun and made me realize how physically and mentally strong I really was.)
It was the understanding and awareness that I was a part of something greater than myself. At the time (almost 15 years ago) I had no idea what this “something greater” was.
I still don’t know FOR SURE. But I trust and have faith that it was and is a higher power, the universe, source, God, nature - whatever you want to call it.
I recognized that there was something truly divine within me and that this divinity connected me to all other human beings and living things on the planet. I acknowledged that if I continued on the path of self-destruction, this divinity (or, we could call it “light”) was never going to shine.
I knew I had to make some big changes if I was to fulfill my purpose on this earth and truly live out the gifts I was born with.
And those changes started with getting better and choosing recovery.
Today, 15 years later, my spiritual practice and commitment to myself and The Universe / God / The Divine is stronger than ever. It is a practice I engage in not just on my yoga mat, but as often as I can in my everyday interactions with other people and with myself.
My practice exists in examining the way I speak to and treat myself. Am I choosing thoughts that are supportive, loving, and nurturing? Or am I choosing thoughts that are self-deprecating, damaging, and harmful to my body, mind, and soul?
I know I have this choice and I get to make it every single moment of every single day.
I am in my spiritual practice when I am aware of this choice and chose to engage in thoughts and behaviors that are from a loving source.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. And to this day I still get triggered.
When I get triggered I acknowledge the pain and instead of numbing through self-harm, I allow myself to feel all the emotions stream through me. Then I will make a choice of action that is rooted in love. Love for myself. Love for others. Love for the divine.
I think people are mislead and believe that spirituality means a constant flow of butterflies and rainbows. While there is definitely an uptick of butterflies and rainbows in my life, there is also darkness.
It is when we try to ignore, suppress and numb our darkness that we can get into trouble.
My advice? Feel your feelings and ask for help. Make sure you have people you can turn to - including friends AND professionals - whom you trust with your whole heart to hold space for you. Eventually, you will learn to hold this space for yourself and it will empower you to continue on your path of recovery.
Remember, it is a choice we get to make every day. May you always chose the path of love, even when it may be the more difficult decision.
Written by: Maggie Converse
Maggie is a holistic health and intuitive coach, a yoga & meditation teacher for recovery from eating disorders and substance abuse, and a guide for individuals carving out their unique spiritual journeys to find inner peace and healing. Maggie is 12 years in recovery from her eating disorder. When she's not writing, teaching, or coaching she loves to spend time outside with her dog or taking a road trip exploring this big beautiful world! If you're interested in a consultation with Maggie, please visit: http://www.maggieconversemethod.com/connect-1/
And here we come to the Cognitive Behavioral Model, first coined by Aaron Beck in the 1960's. This model has since been used to explain depression, social phobia, addiction, and many more mental illnesses. Plus, you guessed it, this model has also been helpful for eating disorders. While there is no one right answer for treating eating disorders, research has shown Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be effective and has been recommended as a best practice guideline in Australia and New Zealand.
So then we come to this question - how can we use this research backed CBT to our advantage in battling an eating disorder? What does this model look like for someone with an eating disorder? Example time. (Disclaimer: one persons experience is not all - this is based on my experience but it could look completely different for someone else)
Situation:I don't receive text messages back from friends I reached out to
Thoughts/Beliefs: they are probably trying to avoid me because I'm annoying or they don't like me
Emotions: sad, lonely, abandoned
Behaviors: binge mindlessly while also mindlessly getting lost in Netflix so I don't have to feel my feelings
Not a great cycle to go through - clearly. Take a few moments and identify your own cycles with this model in mind…. Now - there are only a couple things in here we actually have control over.
Situation: nope - shit happens and most of the time its out of our control
Thoughts/Beliefs: Yes, with some hard work! We can try to distract our automatic thoughts or combat them with facts of the situation. One of the best ways I've found to combat thoughts is to check in with my supports - for instance with the situation above my supports remind me of all the other things that may have lead to them not responding, "it's not you, sometimes shit happens" (ah yes, there is that uncontrollable stuff again)
Emotions: No changing here - what you feel is what you feel and that is 100% ok! Honor it, don’t run from it!
Behaviors: Yes! One of the things we have most control over in this model - something that we can absolutely work to change. Are you able to keep yourself busy with something else like painting or a puzzle, maybe shut doors to bathrooms or put away things that might be tempting for you to cope with in the moment.
This model can be like a road map to change. Hopefully you've taken the time to identify some of the cycles you go through, now take a look at those thoughts/beliefs and behaviors - the things you have the ability to change. Start brainstorming how you can interrupt these two aspects of the model, bring your thoughts to your team or supports! I know in the moment this cycle seems helpless - but there is hope to break free! The model does well explaining dangerous cycles, but it can do even better explaining positive ones. Remember what parts you have the power to change and always move toward recovery!
Written by: Rae Thomas
Emily Estes lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with her Goldendoodle pup, Miss Adley Mae. Recovery from her own struggle with an eating disorder, anxiety, and depression has led Emily to create community and resources to empower others on the journey. Emily owns Sage Nutrition, LLC where she serves as a Registered Dietitian. Her work revolves around her motto that "food is meant to nourish our bodies, not nurture us."