I have to admit it: I went kicking and screaming into my first yoga class.
That day I was supposed to go with a friend, and I came up with 12 different excuses as to why I couldn’t. I didn’t have a mat. I wasn’t flexible. My cats might get hungry.
The truth was, I couldn’t stomach the thought of spending an hour in stillness, alone with my thoughts. I didn’t want to spend an hour in front a mirror looking at the unintelligent, unsightly, repulsive girl in its reflection.
But, go I did. I sat in the back corner as far away from the mirror as possible. Completely self-conscience of my body and positive that everyone in that room was staring at the awkward person in the corner, I tried my best to never take my eyes off of the teacher. Silently screaming hateful things at myself, pushing myself to perfection as each pose was presented.
I was silently livid that this was my workout for the day, as my heart rate was not elevated like it was in a real workout. How was I going to burn off the smoothie I drank today?
Then came Savasana. I had to lie there on my mat in silence, just me and my thoughts. My critical, unbearable thoughts. There was no running away. I was trapped. Hyperaware of every sound I heard in the room, desperate to open my eyes, my heart started pounding in my chest and my anxiety level rose. I thought for sure that this was it. This was the end. I was going to die in that room.
Tears of panic started rolling down my face as I cried silently in the back corner of the yoga studio. Thoughts spiraled around in my head like a tornado: You’re not good enough to be here. You don’t deserve this. You’re too fat and ugly to do yoga. You’re stupid and broken. Look around you. All of these people are beautiful. You are not enough.
It’s funny what years of trauma will make you believe.
Finally, I heard someone move, and that meant I could get up too. Freedom. Scurrying around to gather up my mat and water bottle, I ran to my car before the tears started again. That was it. I was never going back to that place again.
But, three days later, I went back.
I couldn’t let anyone think I was weak.
I went through this same agonizing process for three months. Inching my way from the back corner to the middle of the room. About six months later, the only space available at the Wednesday night class was the front corner of the room. Right in front of the mirror. There was no way I was going to spend an hour with my thoughts and my body.
Turning around to leave, I realized someone was parked behind my car. Trapped. Again.
Resolved to stay, I unrolled my mat, acknowledged the grotesque reflection in the mirror and closed my eyes. Realizing 10 minutes in that I could not go through the entire class with my eyes closed, I was forced to face my stringy blonde hair, wide cheekbones, broad shoulders, fat thighs, wide hips and rolls on my stomach. That class was excruciating. Again, it was finally time for Savasana. Finally time to close my eyes again. I laid there listing all of the ways I was going to lose 20 pounds. Tomorrow I wont eat. Tomorrow I’m going to run 10 miles. I’ll have to eat in order to run that far, but I’ll throw it up when I get home. Juice. That’s all I’ll eat this week. How many calories is that? Three cups of juice a day? 500 calories? 500 calories a day for one month. That’ll work. Then I’ll be happy. Then I’ll be able to look in the mirror….
My eating disorder’s obsessive thoughts were interrupted by the yoga teacher’s six simple words:
You deserve to take up space.
I had been so focused on staying small and taking up the least amount of space as possible for so long, it never occurred to me that taking up space was a good thing.
Thank yourself for taking this time for you. Love yourself. Set an intention for yourself today. One, if not all, of these phrases were used during every class. I painstakingly started setting an intention for myself at the beginning of every class. At first, it felt so selfish. You don’t deserve love. My religion had taught me that I was a lowly sinner who was nothing unless the powers that be said I was. The powers that be never did say I was. Countless times, I heard religious rhetoric that insisted we “kill our flesh.” I took that to heart. Fifteen years of eating disorders, yo-yo diets, and promises to myself I would inevitably be incapable of fulfilling. We’re told self-love is wrong and that we have to earn worthiness.
Looking back, these “selfish” intentions were what saved my life.
The next day, that space in front of the mirror was open again. But so was the space in the back of the room. I took a deep breath and rolled out my mat in the front row. On purpose. I sat on my mat, made eye contact with myself, and said, You deserve to take up space. You deserve love. You are smart. You are enough. Every time I made eye contact with myself, I resisted the urge to look away in disgust and instead repeated those words: You deserve to take up space. You are enough.
That corner in front of the mirror slowly became a safe place for me. Every day I repeated those words as I made eye contact with my reflection in the mirror. I realized that perhaps I was intelligent and that maybe I was smart enough to verbalize my ideas, beliefs and opinions. Maybe it wasn’t so much my lack of communication skills, but more that that people do not take the time to listen. In that moment, I vowed to be a better listener. I made a conscience choice to be present in my future conversations. Because everyone deserves to be listened to.
Every day is a challenge, but for the first time, I don’t hate myself or look at myself in disgust. For the first time, I see my body as something of strength, and something that survived. This body ice skates under the fireworks and paddleboards in the Alaskan oceans at sunset. This body runs marathons. This body is smart and brave. This body has a beautiful story of survival to share and for the first time, I really do believe I deserve to take up space.
Yoga teachers yield an influential, fervent position that enables them to change lives. This is the power of yoga.
I share this not for accolades, attention or pity, but because had I read someone’s story like this 10 years ago, I might have realized I was not alone, and that might have saved me a great deal of heartache.
Healing is possible. Self-love is possible.
Maybe, just maybe, a little girl out there will read this and say, “If she can do it, so can I.” This is for you, little girl! You’re enough. You’re worthy. You’re a brave, beautiful survivor with a stunning, unique story to tell.
Author: Katie Evans
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own