5 Ways Yoga Helped Me Beat Anorexia

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. The poem is fairly long and I wrote it when I was 19 years old, so I will just share some excerpts. 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.”
The tree is tired, sags like an uneven breast,
One limb lies flat on the stomach of the tree.
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,
stones, roots.

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,
I hang.
 
For many years I hated myself. It started much earlier in my life, but, once I was 17 and I 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 be and all I would be thinking about is: What did I eat today? What did I eat that? Why am I so fat? How will I burn it off? Maybe if I exercise for 4 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. And losing.
 
Then: yoga found me.
 
How yoga has healed me:
 
1) The space in between my mind-chatter. 

I would find that I would have 1 hour or 90 minutes where I was out of my head. I was literally in a space in 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 as I was on the treadmill and criticize myself. In yoga class I started to find the piece of me I lost when I became so sick. I started to return to who I really was without the mantra of : “I am so fat” or “ I am a monster.”

It didn’t happen overnight, folks. I would still feel my rolls as I was in a twist and go into a panick attack or I would all of a sudden remember what I ate an start hyperventilating. But, the spaces in between got longer. Until that was all there was. Until I was living in the space in between which I know is who I am. I just forgot for a very long time.

2) Teaching taught me. It wasn’t until I started teaching that I truly healed. Fully. 

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 be acceptance and love. So 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 are looking towards me for hope? I couldn’t. It was a non-negotiable.
 
3) Mantras or affirmations. Or as I call them, tattoos on your brain.

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 re-wire our brain 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.

4) Joyology. 

I call my self a certified 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. I invented something called Karaoke Yoga (pretty self explanatory) and people are going crazy for it. I truly believe it is because a lot of us have denied ourselves joy for far too long. You must have at least one dance party a day in my book. Especially, if like me, you spent many years having no dance parties.

5) Release. 

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, but eventually I realized I was softening my grip. I was letting go of who I was in order to become who I am.
 
Yoga did all that.
 
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.
 

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About the Author

Jen Pastiloff travels the world with her signature Manifestation Yoga: On Being Human workshop. Featured in New York Magazine, Oprah.com & Good Morning America & published on Salon, Jezebel, The Rumpus, etc. Attend a workshop: jenniferpastiloff.com. Upcoming: South Dakota, NYC, Miami & Dallas.

Jen is the founder of the popular website The Manifest-Station which has been featured in People Magazine, Today Show, MTV, Cosmopolitan, US Weekly and more.

On Facebook, Twitter & Instagram @jenpastiloff .

Jen does an annual retreat every year at Kripalu, guest speaker at Canyon Ranch & does 2 workshops a year in London and an annual Tuscany Retreat.

All workshops listed here. The Manifestation Yoga® Workshop is an experience about life: unpredictable, sometimes messy, beautiful, human. Jen is currently finishing her first book called Beauty Hunting. Jen & author Lidia Yuknavitch (author of The Chronology of Water) are doing a Writing + The Body Retreat in Ojai.

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