By Amanda Holmström
Until only a couple of years ago, the present moment for me was a terrifying and painful experience. I was constantly living in my head, creating lists of what I had to change in order to be worthy and good enough. But with the help of therapy and yoga, I could eventually recover from my eating disorder and find a place of peace within myself.
I don’t know exactly when and why it all began, but I believe it was an unfortunate combination of being highly sensitive and suffering from low self-esteem.
From early on, I had learned that “bad” feelings aren’t welcome. My reaction as a child was to abandon myself emotionally and suppress my insecurities, anxiety, and fear.
Ironically, this only created more of them.
I do not blame the 14-year-old me anymore. I know I always did my best with what I understood and made sense of at that time.
“For years, I hoped that one day I would be able to accept myself and allow me to be happy, peaceful and to be able to take care of myself.”
Somewhere during my teens, as I was struggling with increasing trust issues and decreasing body awareness, I desperately gripped for something to still my inner chaos. For some reason, I believed that if I could control my outer self, what felt incomplete inside might heal as well.
But my desperate attempts to “fix myself” and escape my emotions with the help of starvation, binging, puking and numbing myself with alcohol led me into even deeper despair.
Eventually, I had led myself to a point where my life was too big of a mess to handle. Yet there was something inside me not ready to give up on life and a long road to recovery from my eating disorder began.
I was lucky to have supporting friends, family and the best of therapists and doctors by my side. But I knew I had to do most of the work myself.
Through therapy in various forms, I gradually began to understand myself on a mental level. However, befriending feelings I was terrified of and healing on an emotional level was nothing I could talk myself through.
My mind-body connection was completely off after years of mistreating my body and not listening to its signals. I was ashamed of everything that might be considered needy and I really had no idea of how to begin to take care of myself again.
I started by reading every self-help book in the local library. After that, I read books about ethics, philosophy, and mindfulness. And finally, I found the yogic philosophy.
I had tried yoga before without understanding its depth. And, frankly, I didn’t have the patience for it. But now, determined to give life a second chance, I thought I might as well give yoga a second try.
I remember my first real aha moment on the mat. I was lying in Savasana, the final relaxation pose in yoga, and to my surprise, I experienced a space between my thoughts.
There was a moment of silence and an absence of negative mind chatter that I – as far as I could remember – never had experienced before.
“From now on, I stood up for myself.”
My restless body was calm and the brokenness I usually felt like an echo in my chest was replaced with clear awareness. I realized that this is what they are talking about in the books, this is yoga.
This experience of my mind and my body not being each other’s worst enemies gave me faith to believe that I could be able to work with myself instead of against myself.
My doctor used to explain the illness by comparing it to living in an abusive relationship, except the abuser lived inside me. When I started to do yoga more regularly I made a promise to myself never to practice out of guilt and never to practice with the intention of changing myself.
The illness, the abuser, would not be allowed to interfere with my yoga practice!
This meant I had days when skipping a yoga class was the yogic thing to do.
From now on, I stood up for myself.
“The loving-kindness I cultivated on the mat gave me the courage to make healthier and more supportive choices off the mat as well.”
On the mat, I began to observe my thoughts and remind myself, over and over again:
“In this moment, in this pose, with this breath – all is fine”.
In the beginning, I didn’t truly believe the words, but slowly they made an imprint and new thought patterns began to develop. It is true what they say: “Practice and all is coming”.
Slowly I noticed that the loving-kindness I cultivated on the mat gave me the courage to make healthier and more supportive choices off the mat as well. I found space for my inner voice, my needs, and desires to be heard. And I began to understand that the pain I had created in my head didn’t necessarily have to be my reality nor my destiny.
The seeds of confidence for breaking free were sown.
“In this moment, in this pose, with this breath – all is fine.”
By breathing through layers of tension, stiffness, sadness and shame, stored in my body for years, I began to un-identify with anxiety itself and with my inner self-critic, realizing that I am more than my illness and pain.
I knew I wanted to help other people, but I also understood I had to help myself first. My dream was to share the wisdom of yoga and attending a yoga teacher training became a practical goal to work towards.
Teaching yoga has taught me a lot, and it still does!
I am now grateful for my challenges and all steps of my journey as they have led me to where I am today. As cliché as it may sound, the shadows have allowed me to appreciate the light.
It didn’t happen overnight. Yoga is no quick fix. But gradually, I was able to replace fear with trust, to trust my path, and trust that all I need already lies within me. This became the solid foundation on which I could re-build my life.
Yoga is not about fixing anything, changing yourself, or creating a perfect outer shape or pose. It is, in fact, the opposite: To peel off the layers of illusion, of un-identifying with the body and un-identifying with the mind to connect with your heart’s longing.
Sometimes I still consider my sensitivity my weakest quality, but at the end of the day, I know it is what makes me strong. I want to live an honest life, through my heart and not through my head.
I wish we could stop being ashamed of our sensitivities and allow ourselves to be more vulnerable. I wish we could allow ourselves to be more present, here for each other and for ourselves, accepting that we sometimes take two steps forward, and sometimes one step back. Yes, we will fall at times, but we will get back up again.
I wish we could realize that all the strength and wisdom one needs already exists and that all we need to do is to uncover this truth, that we already are whole and worthy of living life to its fullest.
Amanda Holmström is a yoga teacher, massage therapist, and blogger. You can read more about her journey at http://amandasyoga.blogspot.fi/
Photos by Saara Oinonen