That I am writing this is a testament to how yoga has and continues to transform my thoughts and relationship with my Self. Until now, I have only shared these personal details with a handful of people, but I feel the time has come to continue growing personally and perhaps inspire others.
The first yoga class I experienced was restorative yoga, I was 19. My initial feeling was that everyone was watching me, but then everyone closed their eyes. The teacher said something that began a radical shift in my life: "Relax your belly."
I had been wrapped up in an eating disorder and deep depression for five years. I had not relaxed my belly since I was a kid, and her loving words in that moment inspired me to simply let go. For the first time in recent memory I experienced peace within my body.
"Let your thoughts rest on everything you have to be grateful for," she said. "Relax your jaw. Allow your body to soften and breathe."
Someone was asking that I show my body care and compassion. I had punished and mistrusted it for years. I had tried to end my body's constant craving for nourishment for so long—attempting to maintain control over one area of my life when I felt everything else was spinning into chaos. Here in this room, however, yoga spoke soothingly to my soul—begging me to be loving instead of hateful and compassionate instead of ashamed. I went back for more.
Continuing my yoga practice, I soon realized the asanas were merely a guide on my way to a much larger goal: I had to retrain my thoughts. Where negative thoughts arose, I replaced them with the opposite. When I began obsessing over the petite figure of a model in a magazine, I learned to stop myself and take a few breaths—returning to my center.
At that time, I was extremely quiet and withdrawn. I had been living two lives for so long—in one life performing the perfect daughter and student and in the other fearfully keeping a secret that was destroying my body and mind.
In crowds or yoga class, I kept to myself, trying to avoid attention or notice. So when my yoga teacher stopped me after class one day as I was quietly ducking out, I was taken aback. She asked me if I had ever thought about teaching yoga. To be honest, it had occurred to me. Yoga had significantly impacted my life and I wanted to share this joy. But, per usual, negativity washed over the thought. I wanted everyone to know about the power of yoga, but not through me.
"I think you would be good at it," she said. She gave me the name of the school she received her training from. I kept it for two years while that seed grew.
In the meantime, I practiced and devoured information about yoga, anatomy, and Ayurveda—it made my soul feel good. I began to view my body differently. I eventually didn't have a need for the antidepressants I had been on for years. For me, they never eased my mind the way yoga did.
On the Eve of 2009, the seed my teacher planted two years before had sprouted, and I sent in my application to the Living Yoga Program in Austin, Texas. The day I received me acceptance letter, tears filled my eyes. For years, I had held on to the belief that the only thing I was good at was my eating disorder. I truly believed that I wouldn't survive to age 18 and gave little consideration to my future. With this acceptance letter, I now had something to look forward to and be proud about.
Today, I teach hatha yoga and practice other styles at home and studios. Yoga taught me, above all else, to be grateful for my body. It has shown me how strong I am and that my ability for growth is limitless. While I consider myself to be healthy today, I may always struggle with the negative thoughts that echo from my past. But with the tools I've gained from yoga, I now have the ability to guide my thoughts away from negativity and into a positive space.
My challenge today is reconciling the two lives from my past. While I am in a safer and healthier place today, I still hold my past inside me. I tried for many years to erase my past, but I now know that part of growth is accepting rather than avoiding. And so, with this story, I am accepting my past and sharing it with you in hopes that others can share the wisdom I've gained.
Read more Tales of Transformation here.
Emma Essery teaches hatha yoga and resides in West Texas with her husband, dogs, cats and chickens. She enjoys dancing in empty fields, digging in her garden, and practicing Savasana in the grass. For more information, visit her blog: The Life and Times of a Tattooed Yoga Teacher With Technicolor Hair.