The room was crowded.
The wooden floors were creaky, the lights were dim, and the smell of musky incense filled the air.
I found a corner in the back, and cautiously scanned the studio, looking for familiar faces. When I realized that I didn’t know anyone, I instantly let out a sigh of relief.
I’d done yoga before—quite a bit, actually—but hadn’t in some time, thanks to my two-year-long exercise addiction and newly-evolved binge-eating disorder, a result of devoting the last three years of my life to fitness modeling and bodybuilding.
Things spiralled out of control once I made the decision to embark on the journey to understand true health. I was constantly battling my insecurities and conditioned mind with my deep desire to be happy and confident.
During the early stages of my recovery, skipping exercise resulted in severe anxiety. I would break into a cold sweat, weigh myself constantly, and do countless body checks in the mirror.
Throughout this period, I knew that I was pouring unrestricted care into my body by working to pull myself out of that deep anxiety. I was in the process of figuring out what that looked like for me.
Practicing yoga, however, seemed to make sense on an intuitive level. I understood that this form of movement encouraged a deeper union between my mind and body, while allowing me to move without judgement.
After training and working in a luxury gym, where I was surrounded by body-obsessed peers who weighed food and compared their abs, finding myself in a dusty studio with individuals smiling at me in their sweat-stained tees was invigorating.
I felt validated. I felt at home. These yogis were not in this donation-based studio—give what you can, we don’t give a sh*t—to lower their body fat percentage. They were here for a deeper connection with their physical form.
And I was here to heal, to say “I’m sorry” and “thank you” to the body I had treated so poorly.
Halfway through the class, I couldn’t tell if the salty water I was tasting in my mouth was sweat or tears of relief. All I know is that the liberation I felt after that first class was clearly the missing piece to my recovery, and a key component to the balance my heart required.
It has been almost five years since that rainy afternoon in the yoga studio, and the practice has taught me invaluable lessons that have set an unshakeable foundation for my healing, and for what I’ve devoted my path and life to.
Your body is already perfect, just as it is.
Caring for your body in a tender, nourishing, and mindful way without judgement is the first step to regaining trust within yourself. During my eating disorder and body-obsessed days, my mindset was always “You’re not good enough. You need to work harder. You have to eat cleaner. Train harder,” and that thinking left an imprint on my subconscious mind that needed to be broken.
On the mat, the affirmations that circulated around me were ones of self-love, tuning in to how your body was feeling, and not what it looked like. On the mat, the competition melted away and we were a collective energy, one without judgement, full of acceptance.
Only move in a way that is joyful and feels good.
Your body will respond and react to what makes her the happiest. Yoga can be vigorous and physically challenging at times—however it doesn’t exactly have the reputation for burning the most calories or for being a “killer workout.”
The thing is—when you lean into the movement that brings you the most joy and spiritual satisfaction, you will indeed continue to immerse yourself in this activity. And the more consistent you are, even at lesser degrees of intensity, your body will respond positively.
When you are moving in a way that is joyful and not stressful, your cortisol levels will decrease, your circulation will improve, you will crave the foods that nourish you, and be drawn to other experiences that give you this same emotional and physical satisfaction.
Unconditional self-acceptance is self-love.
When this practice becomes a habit in your mind, your anxiety falls away and all that is left is overwhelming gratitude for your body.
What drew me to the practice of yoga, and what has kept it such an integral part of my life, was the deep connection of the mind, body, and spirit.
When I found myself moving in a purposeful way, with more meaningful benefits then just “being in shape,” I realized that I was engaging in this exercise not because I wanted to look a certain way, but because I deserved a healthy vessel to live my life in.
That was it. That was the missing piece. We take care of our bodies, because we deserve to live a life full of vitality, love, and true wellness. This is self-love.
When I unconditionally accepted my body exactly as she was, and kept my mantras of gratitude for her, the shift happened.
This knowing, self-love, and gratitude became my new state of awareness.
Author: Holly Goodwin
Image: Helen Alfvegren/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson