Monday, April 4, 2016

Yoga Helped Me Survive My Disordered Eating

by Ashley Podzius, CSOY Alum 2014 & Yoga Teacher in Chicago


Today, I looked in the mirror and felt a rush of Santosha (contentment) flow throughout my entire being. I felt a sense of gratitude for my body and my life without the need to plan or alter anything. I repeated to myself with confidence that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I realized that all the events in my journey led me to where I am right now in this moment. My pathway here wasn’t easy and it is time to finally share my story.

I am not going to share what happened leading up to my eating disorder, I will not share what happened during my hospitalization and treatment, and I will most definitely not share numbers or measurements. What I will share is a glimpse into my road to recovery, and what lead me to where I am in my life right now.

Adjusting into the real world post-treatment was, to say the least, a process. 

For a long period of time, my whole life was dedicated to restoration. Restoring my mind, rebuilding my heart and re-establishing trust. 

I spent my energy learning ways to cope, and following a plan that kept me stable. I wanted recovery, but I didn't want to see my body change. I wanted recovery, but I didn't want to lose something I worked so hard for, that became the focus of my thoughts every single day. I couldn’t bear to part with one thing that was  truly my own. I spent so much time living up to the expectations of others and living up to what “every other college student” was accomplishing. I felt overwhelmed, I felt lost and without control. The one thing I could control, however, was my body. Letting go of that special piece of me that was truly my own was like losing a best friend. When I was sad, anxious, depressed or feeling overwhelmed- my eating disorder was always there for me. However, later I realized that my eating disorder wasn’t there for me as a form of support, but a way to self destruct.

The first year of my recovery was simply staying stable. I was getting by with the bare minimum of my  treatment plan. I was following rules, but I was never stepping outside the box. I wasn't living, I was only getting by.

One day I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't satisfied and I wasn't being totally honest with myself and where I stood in my recovery. I craved a change and a new adventure. I was also dying to start exercising again. But after years of over-exercising, excessive cardio and long distance running, I needed to ease into movement that was slow and healthy. My friend told me about this thing called Yoga. Like anyone, I had so many misconceptions about the practice. I thought it would be constant sitting, listening to soothing sounds of nature. I was right about the sitting part, whether I was moving my body or in a seated posture, I was sitting with my thoughts and working on staying in the present moment.

I remember my first Surya Namaskar A (Sun A) like it was yesterday. I felt so alive connecting with not only the poses and my breath, but also with the music and the feeling of my body moving. As someone who was disconnected with my body for so long, this feeling was uncomfortable yet absolutely beautiful

After spending a large chunk of my time judging and pointing out my flaws, I was finally able to see my body for what it allowed me to accomplish on my mat, rather than what it looked like from an outside perspective.

Just like my recovery, my practice had its ups and downs. Often times, I felt like I was too busy to practice and that yoga was too expensive. I felt myself starting to slip back into old habits of putting myself down with a large focus on negative self talk. This destructive way of thinking and the negative light in which I saw myself eventually led me into a romantic relationship that was much more toxic than I could ever imagine. Perhaps I chose this damaging relationship because I knew that deep down I couldn’t fall back into my eating disorder. I mean after all, I was studying mental health and I wanted to eventually specialize in treating eating disorders. So instead of falling back into my eating disorder I replaced one form of abuse with another - this one being a relationship that delivered nothing but negative energy into my life. It was an addiction to pain, tears and manipulation, exactly like my relationship with my eating disorder.

Somehow, after a significant amount of events that delivered red flags to myself and loved ones, I decided to make a change. The universe must have known, because it provided me with an angel with the most beautiful soul, an individual that allowed me to return to myself and reconnect with my mind, body and spirit. And this new feeling allowed me to return to my yoga practice. The transition wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I tried to walk away from the destructive relationship numerous times, but I was afraid. Afraid to invite love into my heart, afraid to love myself again and afraid of what this toxic partner would do if he found out I had moved on. I left so many times, I even tried to keep the friendship going because I wasn’t ready to let go of self-destruction. However, the further I distanced myself from this partner, the more pain I was able to identify. Yoga allowed me to step outside my body and see things from a new perspective. The love I was receiving from my new relationship along with the power of yoga and meditation, helped me realize the strength I had within me by being myself. I was filled with this high of self love and acceptance, but the transition happened so quickly that I never had time to process the anguish that developed from staying with a person that had broke me down day after day.

After months of work-related stress and disconnection due to a schedule involving no rest whatsoever, the pain started hitting me again. The depression came full force with nightmares reminding me of unsettling experiences from my past relationship. I didn’t know how to cope, I didn’t know where to turn. I was so mortified by the events that happened with this partner that I felt fear with just the thought of telling someone. I felt that maybe I was overreacting, that I was being dramatic, or that I deserved the suffering I had recieved by staying with someone who brought me into a darkness that took me so long to escape. I also felt an immense sense of guilt since so many important people in my life told me numerous amount of times to walk away from this person and their hate. 

After telling two of my best friends and eventually my family about the depression and even thoughts of leaving life all together, I returned to therapy and dug deeper into my practice. 

I even took my practice off my mat, reading into the philosophy of yoga and getting more into meditation to take me away from negativity and back into myself. I slowly started peeling away layers of doubt and judgements and began craving adventure and a deeper understanding of the practice that allowed me to re-discover myself. This thirst for knowledge eventually led me to register for a 200-hour residential Yoga Teacher Training.

I didn’t go to Yoga Teacher Training with the goal of teaching - I went to free myself from my past struggles and stories and return to myself. I flew to Napa Valley for a month to dive deeper into the background and history of all eight limbs of Yoga. I spent 30 days with 30 beautiful souls including my teachers, Gina Caputo, Kathryn Budig, and Caitlin Rose Kenney. What I gained from that training and constant practice was complete freedom. Freedom from the chains of all the thoughts and acts of my painful experiences, and freedom from negative body image and all the baggage that it came with. Yoga created a complete transformation in my mind, my soul and my outlook on the entire universe. Not only was I able to trust and love those around me, but I was able to love myself.

I finally returned to myself. I was able to identify my values, my goals and more importantly, I was able to identify positive qualities that I had within myself- qualities that were always within me, but were hidden through these emotionally challenging parts of my life

I owe a large part of my transformation and the qualities I confidently posses today, to the practice. I  made a choice and surrendered to all that Yoga taught me about acceptance and truth, and I was able to realize my potential. I had the ability to smile again and actually mean it. The image I had on the outside finally reflected the image I had in my mind and my heart. I felt endless love for the universe and to myself. Loving myself was something I never even thought of, complete release of my eating disorder was something I deemed impossible. Recovery is possible, and I am living proof.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. If you or someone else is struggling, speak up. Take a free, confidential online screening today. 3 minutes can save a life.

Ashley Podzius is a 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher and CSOY alumni out of Chicago. She strives to symbolically share triumphs with the battles she has experienced in her own mind through her sequencing and intention setting in class. Ashley works in the mental health field, counseling adolescents dealing with depression and suicidal ideation through dialectical behavioral therapy and mindfulness. At the end of March 2016, Ashley will be certified to teach yoga to victims of trauma and domestic violence. In her free time, you can catch her running, tasting new types of Mexican cuisine, and spending time with her wiener dog, Lord Webster. You can connect with Ashley on Facebook, Instagram as @ashpodz, and on her personal website www.ashleypodzyoga.com.