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/
Twelve years old - I'm on a trip with my family feeling overwhelmed by the chaos of our journey and life in general. I felt so anxious that my appetite disappeared and a week later I returned to school in a smaller body. Greeted by compliments and praise, I noticed how people began to look at me different, I became an object of desire. I realized that 'sexy' was my ultimate body goal, if I was sexy then I was wanted. As a young girl searching for validation and identity this was all I needed to associate being wanted with being loved.
It didn't start to consume me until high school, where life circumstances granted stress beyond my wildest dream. My eating disorder became my only means of emotional comfort and regulation. Simultaneously, the pursuit of sexiness heightened as I started modeling, where sexy was a too tiny waist and visible collarbones. My eating disorder behaviors were not just passively accepted anymore, they were required. 4 years went by with my memory of the details in between lost from the effects of the disorder. I remember the moment though, at a conference being asked to lose even more weight in order to model across seas. I remember everything moving in slow motion and hearing a voice inside me say - this will cost you your life. To this day I can’t say I understand where that voice came from or how I had the courage to turn down the offer. But that day I chose recovery and I’m grateful every day that I did. A change in life plans and one application later – I found myself off to college.
Six years later and I’m months away from getting my masters in counseling, intensely passionate about helping others fight for their recovery. No part of it was or is easy, this recovery journey is messy. But messy in the ways that finally allow you to breath, to love again, to be at ease in your body. Along the way, I’ve found myself grateful for every thought, emotion, and experience that makes up the mess. Life has begun to look more like gallery worthy abstract art rather than a child’s finger-paint. So here I am 6 years later in this beautiful mess of recovery, fighting for others to create their beautiful recovery too.
Written By: Rae Thomas
Recovery from an eating disorder is complex to define. It looks and feels different to everyone. However, the stamp on my recovery came in July of 2010 as I began to discover my infinite worth in Christ. As a little girl, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and unworthiness consumed my heart. I craved to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. In an attempt to fit in, I sacrificed my core values which left me feeling torn and regretful. The eating disorder was a master manipulator in that it filled my mind with empty promises; “If you lose this much weight you will be pretty.” “If you don’t eat past this amount of calories you will feel good about yourself.” Lies. They were all lies. The truth is, there is no magic number that signifies self-love. Although, the eating disorder will fight till the end to convince you otherwise.
Treatment centers became a revolving door in an attempt to keep me alive; 10? 11? 12? I lost count. I remember asking myself, “Why is it that others are choosing recovery from the eating disorder yet, I continue to be imprisoned by the obsessions and compulsions of Anorexia?” The amount of hopelessness I felt was suffocating at times. In early 2010, I hit the bottom of rock bottoms. I began experiencing something I had never felt before; my body deteriorating. It was screaming for love, for nourishment, for rest. The truth was, I didn’t know how to give it those things. For the first time in my life, I feared for my life.
What happened next is nothing short of … well, God. I remember very clearly getting ready for bed one evening in January when God spoke loud and clear to me. He said, “If you don’t seek help, you will die.” I prayed. I called out to Jesus. He heard me. I firmly believe God guided my footsteps from that day forward. He led me to the Kirsten Haglund Foundation who provided a treatment scholarship where I not only found recovery, but God. I found my worth in Him and in Him alone. Today, almost 8 years later, I can honestly say that I love myself. I appreciate my body. I enjoy nourishing my body with satisfying food. Through recovery, God blessed my husband and me with our son on July 5, 2016. July 5th was the day I said goodbye to the eating disorder and hello to life. Redemption is sweet.
Written By: Kaylin Boni, Survivor
My journey to better health has been a learning experience not all that different from learning to walk. A child learns to walk by first learning to stand, and then wobbles and falls many, many times before he gets it right. I spent many years trying to learn to stand, as I tried all the popular diets and plans, and each of them failed me. It was not until 2010 that I finally gained the support I needed to stand. My doctor, who was concerned about my health and obesity, suggested I work with a campus dietitian. The most important thing the dietitian did for me was make me realize that I did not have to give up the foods I love, nor did I have to eat foods I loathed just because they were healthy, in order to have a healthy and balanced diet. I realized after many failed diet plans, they all had one thing in common – I was no longer enjoying my food. Once I learned to eat the foods I loved in moderation, healthy eating became much easier. Then, eventually the exercise component came along, as I joined a program full of supportive people that helped me learn not only how to exercise properly, but how to enjoy it.
I have also wobbled and fallen a great deal along the way. Life gets in the way sometimes – major changes and disruptions in my routine caused me to fall back on old habits. But, each time I have fought my way back to becoming healthy again, and in fact I am doing that right now. But it has become easier to get back on track now, because I have been here before and I know what to do to make my way back to a healthier lifestyle. Am I walking yet? Not exactly, but I think I am getting there. Given my experiences, the best advice I can give is to think of working toward a healthy lifestyle as not a sprint, but a marathon. And, be sure to enjoy life while running this marathon, or you may not get to your destination. Do what is best for you to get there, and hopefully you will begin walking soon too.
Written By: Crystal Stiles
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."