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By Tricia Moceo, Guest Contributor

I adore my kids, but I don’t always adore motherhood. I’m a full-time blogger, recovering alcoholic, and a grateful mother of two. My demanding 1-year-old and independent 8-year-old keep me on my toes. Add job responsibilities and dedication to my recovery - most days, I’m exhausted. From negotiating bath time with an unwilling hostage to regulating on my wannabe teenager, feelings of defeat overcome me often. As mothers, we are constantly at the hands of our, sometimes ruthless, dependent children.

Motherhood can be overwhelming and our pride can stand in the way of self-care, ultimately causing more stress. The most rewarding and important job on the planet - motherhood is not for the faint of heart. It is quintessential that we continuously make time for taking care of ourselves. The most important piece of advice I’ve received “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Stable mental health is the foundation for cultivating a loving, happy home for you and the little ones you cherish.

Get Enough Sleep

The baby is crying, dishes are piling up, endless laundry covers all corners of the house, and sleep seems impossible. It would be fair to say that a mother’s work is never done. The key to maintaining your mental health is to find balance. A large body of research has shown that sleep deprivation plays a significant role in your mood. Try going to bed around the same time every night and ensure you are getting sufficient sleep. Adequate sleep is not only important for your health but also reduces stress and improves mental clarity. Personally, I have created a bedtime ritual that includes shutting off electronics, restricting caffeine intake after 3 pm, and meditation before bed. This routine prepares not only my body but my mind as well, for sleep.

Nourish Yourself

What you eat nourishes your entire body - your brain included. Moderate amounts of carbs can increase serotonin, a chemical directly correlated with a calming effect on your mood.  Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in fish, nuts, and flaxseed) are known for improving mood and enhance cognitive function. Research has shown the direct impact a balanced, healthy diet can have on your mood and overall wellbeing. If you are in eating disorder recovery, asking for support from a trusted dietitian or other health care provider can be very helpful in providing emotional support as well as helping you to make nutritional choices that support your recovery and overall health.

Practice Self-Care

Most of us have heard flight attendants stress the importance of putting on our own oxygen mask before attempting to put the mask on anyone else. In more practical terms, we cannot tend to the needs of anyone else if we have not met our own needs. Parents, in recovery especially, are plagued by the guilt and shame of exposing their children to their unhealthy behaviors in active addiction. More often than not, we try to overcompensate by setting our needs to the side. I am especially guilty of this. I have neglected asking for help, with a babysitter, to make a meeting. I even justified not having sponsees because it would take away time from the kids. Ultimately, I only caused further suffering to myself and my children. In order to preserve our sobriety and keep our family together, it is critical that we put our sobriety and mental health first to take care of our needs so we can be the best version of ourselves for our children.

Be Present in the Moment

The neverending to-do list can be overwhelming and then the mom guilt creeps in. How do we possibly find the “time” to live in the moment? Mindfulness is rooted in ancient Buddhism practices. The goal of mindfulness is enlightenment which refers to awareness, attention and remembering. Raising awareness, raising attention to, and remembering the goal can help the individual manifest their own ideas. Mindfulness meditation is especially beneficial to individuals in early recovery and others struggling with mental health. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions.

Mindfulness comes in many forms. The idea of "living in the moment" is hinged upon mindfulness. Stepping back, taking an objective view, and accepting things exactly as they are, is the best way to practice mindfulness. Mindful eating, moving meditation (yoga/tai chi), and mindful breathing is other ways to implement this practice into your daily routine. Mindfulness has been attributed to lowering feelings of anxiety/depression, controlling the body’s reaction to stressors, aiding in pain management, and identifying/processing emotions. Parenting requires awareness, balance, and control which can be cultivated through many meditative practices. Chaos and meditation cannot coexist. Meditation cultivates awareness and disrupts unmanageability.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Over the last year, I have found myself grounded in planning out my week and asking for help when needed. For as long as I can remember, I would pride myself on “doing it all on my own.” Little did I know this was a mirage, shackling me to the bondage of victimization and unnecessary stress. I have a list of friends that don’t chastise me when I ask for help with the kids to make a meeting or meet with my sponsor. They rise to the occasion and I get to suit up and show up to do the same for them. I sit down Sunday nights and plan out my week. I find that making a to-do list and executing it weekly encourages a deep sense of accomplishment and eliminates chaos. Studies have proven that children thrive in discipline and structure. Remember, it’s okay to ask for help.

The truth is, there’s no secret step-by-step guide for parenting nor is there a quick fix formula designed to help us maintain our mental health. Trial and error can be the foundation upon which we learn how to best parent our children. Practicing mindfulness can help you find more patience and less judgment when dealing with your rambunctious children. We can learn to pause before responding, spend less time apologizing, and more time enjoying every second with our children. We get the opportunity to teach our children valuable lessons through being the example. We learn to pride ourselves on implementing a more loving and less condemning methodology.

Tricia advocates long-term sobriety by writing, providing resources to recovering addicts and shedding light on the disease of addiction. Tricia is a mother of two, actively involved in her local recovery community, and is passionate about helping other women find hope in seemingly hopeless situations.

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By Cara, Guest Contributor

I was 18, scared, trapped, and unaware that the life that I was living was a lie.  I tried so hard to be the child that I felt that my parents wanted me to be and what I thought society expected me to be. While home from college one summer, and in the midst of struggling with an eating disorder, but in denial, I stepped into my first yoga class.  

Yoga was offered as a group class at the gym that I was working out at for a few hours a day. I read in Shape Magazine that Mary Kate Olsen and Madonna practiced yoga as a way to exercise and tone their bodies.  I thought that if I took yoga classes like them, I would also be skinny and beautiful like them.  

I don’t remember much about the classes that I took that summer, but I do remember that I was enchanted with the physical aspect of being able twist my body into different shapes as well as the spirituality of it.  For some reason, I believed that yoga would be the solution to my problems. So I kept going to classes and began to research yoga philosophy.

At times, I envisioned myself moving to India and living in an ashram. I would be able to live a yogic lifestyle, become adept in the physical practice, have no problems and become skinny like the yogis in magazines. However, over the years, my practice deepened, transformed and evolved by studying with inspirational teachers and working with skilled professionals.  I was becoming more focused on the spirituality of yoga versus the physical.

Eight years after my first yoga class, I was guided to Bali, a place I never heard of for my first yoga teacher training.  It was there that I started to realize that we are more than our bodies and there is more to this life than the 9 to 5 daily grind and having a white-picket fence.

Bali opened me up and life led me to study ashtanga yoga in India.  India led me to my first 10 day silent meditation retreat with S.N. Goenka.  It was there that I learned dhamma and was able to begin to experience that indeed we are more than the body.  I also was able to experience the phenomenon of impermanence, acceptance, pure generosity and love.

With a dedicated and consistent practice, things in my life shifted, but not for the better.  Old painful wounds arose and I knew I had to deal with them. I knew I had to speak and live my truth in order to fully recover.  

It has been 15 years since my first yoga class.  I am amazed and proud of the woman I am. The life I live is beyond my wildest dreams, and I am so blessed and grateful for all of the teachings that I received.  The places I have been, the people who I have met, and the accomplishments I have made are all things that I would have never guessed that I would have experienced years ago.

I try my best to follow yoga’s moral and ethical codes, the yamas and niyamas.  I try my best to cause no harm to myself and others. I try my best to speak my truth and be honest with others.  I try my best to not take what isn’t mine, and take only what I need. I try to practice non-attachment because of the law of impermanence.  I try my best to find moderation and to be content in my life. I try my best to have self-discipline and to observe myself over time. Most importantly, I try my best to surrender to the unknown and have compassion for all beings everywhere.   

I am grateful for all of my teachers, professionals and friends that have guided me along the way.  Thank you. Self-realization is not and easy path to walk, but it is the path I choose to walk.

“You are not the Body, you are the Supreme Self.” - Amma Sri Karunamayi

Cara has traveled the world extensively and lived in Asia for five years studying yoga, meditation, philosophy, chanting and reiki.  She currently resides in New York City and teaches yoga to adults and children. She can be contacted at CFYogalife@gmail.com.

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Art by Victoria Patnaude

By Victoria Patnaude, Guest Contributor

I began experiencing challenges with disordered eating when I was 14-years-old. Recurrent depressive episodes with self injurious behavior, generalized anxiety and social anxiety created a strong undertow which pulled me from my sense of self and connection to my values. I valued the arts more than anything, and found solace in the meditative practices of creation.

When I was 15, I began seeing a nutritionist because I had expressed to my mother that I was feeling concerned about my weight. The nutritionist recommended that I count calories and my obsession with numbers began. I developed anorexia nervosa when I was 16. The fog that had enveloped my mind was so dense, I felt like I was constantly dreaming. In the shower one evening, light headed, nauseous, with clumps of my hair ringing around the bathtub’s drain, I realized I was dying.

I must not die. I must not let this kill me.

I slowly began incorporating the foods I had feared, and while my eating disorder remained, I was beginning to experience some moments of clarity. This continued as the years went on, but my eating disorder transfigured, creating new rules.

I entered college and found the new environment exhilarating and frightening. A traumatic experience blindsided me during my first year of college, and shattered my hope. I developed bulimia nervosa and began having challenges with substances. I turned 20, and realized that I may not live to see 30. I entered a partial hospitalization program in the summer of 2010, which saved my life. I returned to college and found that my experiences in treatment were informative in striving toward normalcy, but in many ways I was stuck between my eating disorder and genuine recovery.

After I graduated, I moved into my first apartment and began working. The two years that followed were steeped in depression, anxiety, dissociation and suicidal ideation. However, those two years also provided unprecedented moments of generative growth for me artistically, as I began exploring yoga, dance, and somatic movement. I had glimpses of peace and stillness which provided me with inspiration to explore those practices more deeply.

I abruptly changed states for the first time in my life: a new city and my first apartment on my own. I was still experiencing challenges with depression, anxiety, dissociation, and remnants of my eating disorder, but I also felt ready to explore listening to my intuition. I began counseling, yoga, pilates, dance, aerial arts, contact improvisation, meditation, drawing and painting. I began striving for balance and ease. I began realigning with who I am, and realizing that that person is naturally calm, feels deeply, and has so much to provide to others. My recovery is a daily practice which has allowed me to become more myself.

Today, I keep trying.

Today, I’m allowing for peaceful space in my mind for hope to grow.

It’s possible.

Victoria Patnaude is an artist living in Chicago. Her work primarily focuses on the subconscious, mental health, and personal narrative through mixed media and autobiographical comics. Her interests include movement, art, and decreasing the stigmatization surrounding mental illness. She currently works at a yoga studio. In her spare time, she enjoys drawing at cafes, practicing yoga, dancing, pilates, aerial silks, hula hooping, cooking, baking, and going on walks along Lake Michigan.
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By Morganne Skinner, Guest Contributor

I clearly remember the day my eating disorder started. Of course, I didn't recognize it as then at the time. But looking back, I remember the day things changed. It all started in high school. I was at a rowing event for my crew team when my coach made a comment about not needing to eat if you didn't work out that day. And it was then I made my first connection to body and performance.

I was in 9th grade, rowing for the high school crew team and running cross country. I started monitoring my diet and following the latest diet trends to try to be the best athlete I could be. I wanted to eat healthy. And at first, I did. But somehow "healthy" turned into eating less overall, which then turned into nothing at all, which then turned into bingeing and purging as I struggled to maintain a slim figure, believing that the smaller and lighter I was, the better an athlete I would be. 

Fast forward 4 years. I felt stuck in my eating disorder. In the beginning, I didn't know I had a problem. It was only when I wanted to stop bingeing and purging that I realized I had a problem, that I was out of control. Although I was in a smaller-sized body, people assumed I was healthy, and that my exercise and food restriction were part of my healthy lifestyle. 

But I wasn't healthy at all. Not physically, not mentally, not spiritually, and certainly not socially. 

This all continued through college, until I opened up about my struggles to my boyfriend (now husband), who strongly encouraged me to seek help. I knew I had to change and made the efforts toward recovery. But in my efforts to recover, I swapped my anorexia/bulimia eating disorder for orthorexia. I thought I had recovered, but really I just moved my disordered habits around so they appeared acceptable.

To the outside world, I was a healthy vegan who ran a lot. I looked strong, smart and healthy. And I even thought I was. This "healthier pattern" of disordered eating kept up for a few more years, past college, and into married life and my nursing career. 

I joined the Peace Corps with my husband and moved across the world to Zambia, Africa where I began working in a rural village. My whole life changed, and amidst the many different stressors, my eating disorder habits reared its head.

I thought it was gone. I thought I had recovered. But, I wasn’t ok. I was running daily and maintaining a vegan diet that gave me control through food restriction and overexercise. So, when my routine changed with the move to another country, my mind fell back on old habits. But this time was different; I recognized it was happening. Struck with fear of falling back into anorexia and bulimia, I reached out for help to my husband and began the journey of renewing my mind. 

It's been a year since, and I've made ALOT of progress in my mental health. I am continuing to work on it. Every day my self-talk is either strengthening my mental health or tearing it down. I now realize the power my thoughts have over my mindset and overall health.

I learned that some rules I have made for myself had to be broken, that my relationship with food is more important than the food itself. I learned that my long-term health and well-being are more important than short-term appearance or accomplishments.

But most of all, I have learned to love and accept myself. My body has been through a lot, and it does amazing things. It's the only body I have, and it's mine. It doesn't have to look a certain way or be a certain size to be worthy of self-love or self-care. 

I am the happiest I've ever been. Are things perfect? No! I still have off days, but they're the exception and not the rule. I have control over my day, over my life again, and it is so freeing!

I am still living in Zambia with my husband, and although we face many challenges that come with living in a different culture, I am happier because I'm finally able to enjoy relationships, to enjoy meals, to enjoy relaxing days when they come. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

I am Morganne Skinner. I am 24-years-old. I grew up in Virginia in the United States. In high school, I ran cross country, ran track & field, rowed on a crew team, and swam on the swim team. After high school, I went to community college to study nursing. I began working in the ICU as a Registered Nurse and went to Liberty University for my bachelor’s degree in nursing. Currently, I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia, where I teach about aquaculture, sustainable agriculture, nutrition and food security. 

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By Jenny Weinar, LCSW, Guest Contributor

Yoga was an integral part of my journey home to myself, even before I knew I was on the journey.

Like many Western practitioners, I came to yoga initially through the back door of fitness. Having become a compulsive gym-goer throughout my decades-long battle with disordered eating and distorted body image, I longed for the litheness seemingly promised by this practice. Actually, I think I first tried yoga after reading about a few Hollywood celebrities who swore it was all they did to maintain their physiques.

I quickly discovered a relationship to movement I had never quite had before. Some natural flexibility gave me the impression that I was “good at yoga,” and even though I was still approaching the practice from a disordered mindset, this was the first time I felt confident about any movement practice after years of school gym class trauma and a generally tortuous relationship to exercise.

Ultimately with this sense of confidence came a sense of safety with the practice of yoga, which was enough to keep me coming back. It also led me to overstretching and misalignment in the early years when I still believed that “advanced” yoga was characterized by pushing myself into the most intense version of every pose.

As I progressed in my eating disorder recovery my yoga practice mellowed, but it continued to serve as a vehicle for the return home to my body, breath by breath, from the safety of my mat.

When I came to the decision to pursue yoga teacher certification, I was lucky to connect with a local studio that teaches and trains from a body positive, anti-colonial perspective. My previously slow and steady healing process accelerated rapidly during my training, thanks to my incredible teachers and cohort of trainees, all on their own healing journey of some kind.

I learned how much nicer it can feel in my body to use blocks and props, even if I could contort and force myself into poses without them. I came to accept that my body will exhibit different capabilities and limitations every day, which compels me to ask my body what it needs in any given moment and challenges me to respect the answer, even when this conflicts with my arbitrary expectations for myself (hello, ego!).

These practices, which started on the mat, have radically transformed how I show up in my life: how I take care of my body, how I engage in my relationships, how I perceive and treat others. I now understand that “advanced” yoga happens in these moments, on or off the mat, in which I return to my authentic self and act from an embodied place in alignment with my values.

Today, my most advanced practice looks like taking child’s pose while everyone else continues to flow. It looks like skipping class altogether when I’m acutely aware of my body’s need for rest. It looks like turning towards my inner critic and asking what it’s actually afraid of. It looks like setting boundaries with loved ones and speaking my truth. It looks like showing up in my life and taking up space, physically and emotionally. These are only some of the gifts of yoga that I wish for anyone on their own journey home to themselves.

Jenny Weinar, LCSW, is body positive psychotherapist and consultant in Philadelphia specializing in treating disordered eating and distorted body image. She received her Master's of Social Work with a specialization in Health and Mental Health from Hunter College and holds a Bachelor's of Arts from Wesleyan University. Jenny is a licensed Be Body Positive Facilitator and currently training to become a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. She is trained in various therapeutic modalities and certified to teach yoga. You can connect with Jenny on Instagram, Facebook, and through her website.



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By Bethany N, Guest Contributor

There is an innocuous photo somewhere on Facebook taken at a Christmas party over a decade ago. Six college girls pose in a kitchen, grinning widely for the camera. Five are dressed in flattering party attire. I’m hiding in the back wearing giant yellow sweatpants and a hoodie, looking underdressed and more than slightly lost.

The ill-selected yellow sweatpants never fit. But convinced I was on the verge of expanding to fit them at any moment, I wore them more than any other article of clothing for my first two years of college. It wasn’t a sloppy college student phase- I was wildly uncomfortable in anything else. When I did slide into a pair of jeans, I spent the day yanking at the waistband and pulling at the edges of my shirt to make sure everything stayed hidden.

My body didn’t feel like my own. Convinced that I needed to get a grip on my “eating problem,” I was consumed with mentally planning my meals from the moment I woke to the last few minutes before I fell asleep at night.

My actual weight was unrelated to my thought processes. I avoided scales, convinced they would confirm what I feared: that I had completely lost control. For the first 17 years of my life, I regularly heard “You’re SO skinny!” from friends, family, and random people at school and dance classes. (I say ‘random’, because it is still considered socially acceptable to comment on the low weight of a near-complete stranger, no matter what age). I compare it to the enthusiastic height comments my brother has heard throughout his life, with the exception that he was a tall child who grew up to be a tall adult. I was a skinny child who developed an average-sized body and no longer knew how I fit into society. One message I embraced growing up was that my body was highly visible to the people around me and they approved of it; therefore, I could approve of it. When the external recognition stopped, I became frantic to get it back.

While I figured my ever increasing self-loathing wasn’t exactly normal, I didn’t have adequate language to describe what I was experiencing. I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic, but I wasn’t okay. I regularly ate to the point of intense nausea, and I hated myself for it. During a school informational assembly, a representative from the campus health center listed “support for people with eating disorders and disordered eating” among the services offered. I scheduled an appointment with a dietician immediately. Three days of food tracking revealed only that I understood how to feed myself a balanced diet, and I was referred to the campus counseling center. For the next four semesters, I worked with my counselor, Deb (I’m still thinking of an adequate superhero name for her), to begin a new relationship with my body and how I care for myself.

Of the many insights I gained, the greatest centers on why my eating habits caused me so much pain. When I left home for the first time and moved across the state for college, feeding myself became my primary source of comfort. As I navigated new friendships, entirely re-worked my belief system, and tried to determine if I was skilled enough to pursue my chosen major, I sought respite in the moments where I could isolate and feed myself. My public, cafeteria eating appeared normal, but my hidden binge eating left me disoriented, sick, and ashamed. In those moments when I felt most vulnerable, more aggression and verbal self flagellation only propelled me to eat more.

I experienced incredible relief with the realization that my impulse to overeat was a signal that I needed care. As one of my favorite experts on emotional eating, Geneen Roth, writes, “For some reason, we are truly convinced that if we criticize ourselves, the criticism will lead to change. If we are harsh, we believe we will end up being kind. If we shame ourselves, we believe we will end up loving ourselves. It has never been true, not for a moment, that shame leads to love. Only love leads to love.” I committed then to learning how to talk to myself with kindness, as if to a friend, asking what is needed instead of automatically trying to heal myself with food.

For the past ten years, my relationship with my body has been easier. I would love to say that my disordered eating habits have entirely disappeared, but they still serve as a cue to slow down and pay closer attention to my feelings. I’m far more sensitive and responsive to when my eating habits go awry, and I know to lean on other skills I’ve developed to care for myself well. Making time to dance, practice yoga, hike, and take walks through the neighborhood with my family brings a huge amount of joy to my life. I generally stay away from exercise settings that are results-oriented, opting instead for more organic ways of moving that connect me with myself and the people I love.

 As a yoga teacher, I am intentional in the language I use to support my students’ practice, ever conscious of how so many of us berate ourselves over the imperfect nature of our bodies. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the only physical yoga posture (asana) mentioned is the sitting position for meditation. The wide range of fascinating yoga poses that yoga practitioners perform is for the purpose of sitting comfortably in silence for extended periods of time.

Learning this shifted my perspective on how I approach movement, prompting me to continuously ask, “Does this pose, and how I approach it, create space or is it coming from a place of aggression?”

Indian spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar discusses the purpose of asana in this way: “What brings comfort? The shorter your comfort zone, the more miserable you are. If you are comfortable only in a limited sphere, then your life becomes miserable. Your happiness depends on the extent of your comfort zone. Yoga asana expands your comfort zone.” That word again, comfort.

As obvious as this all appears in writing, at times I still feel vulnerable to falling back into hurtful eating patterns. When this familiar anxiety arises, it’s then I remember that my relationship to food is so often a reflection of my relationship to life itself. While I can’t create a future where everything aligns exactly the way I want and where I feel externally validated at all times, I can create a supportive, comforting space for myself in the ways I think and move my body. I find peace knowing that I now have the language and resources to process what I’m feeling, as well as to find healing and love through each season of my life.

Bethany is a Yoga Instructor (RYT 200) and certified K-12 Visual Arts Teacher with a BFA in Studio Art. She spent a year teaching English in South Korea, where she also led a children's yoga class and worked as an actor, director, and designer with a local theater group. For the past four years, Bethany served as an Art Teacher and Regional Team Specialist in Denver Public Schools. She and her husband recently relocated to Pittsburgh, where she now teaches yoga and co-organizes a Spanish conversation group.

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Hannah in Thailand. Check out her blog post on How to Travel Bangkok on a Budget.

By Hannah Latimer-Snell, Guest Contributor

In Fall of 2013 I started my first semester at University. I was so excited to get a fresh start in a new place surrounded by new people. On the outside I was ready for a great year but on the inside I was crumbling. Everyday was a challenge. Each moment was spent obsessing over what I should and shouldn’t eat or how much to exercise. I was tired all the time but was barely sleeping.

Halfway through the semester I was given an ultimatum from my University; go to residential treatment or leave University. Back then, University was everything to me. I would work all night in order to get the A+ that I thought would make me feel worthy. So to be told that I could lose the one thing that I knew I was good at was terrifying.

The week of Thanksgiving I packed a bag and moved into Cambridge Eating Disorder Center. I spent a month there before moving back to Oregon to start treatment with Monte Nido, Eugene. In treatment, I worked through my history, I learned how to trust my hunger and to speak up for what I wanted and needed. Treatment helped me identify my triggers and learn strategies to work through them.

Throughout my entire recovery process yoga played a part in helping me learn how to connect with my body. I have practiced yoga for roughly five years. I started practicing yoga before my life was consumed by my eating disorder. At the start, I used yoga as a stress reliever. I was a very anxious child, still an anxious person, and yoga taught me how to control my breathing and take a step back from the anxiety of the day.

But with my eating disorder brewing inside me it was easyto manipulate yoga and turn it into another way to over exercise. When you just look at yoga as a way to lose weight or get fit you lose the spiritual part of it which I would argue is the most important part.

 When you practice yoga there are times where you have to relinquish control and then rein it back in. You learn to be present and to breathe through the moment. In many ways yoga is a great form of meditation. But with a constant stream of comparison, self-judgment and shame it loses that meditative element.

When I got back to Eugene, after spending the semester at University and in residential, I was finally able to see yoga in a new light. I started a gentle yoga class. I wasn’t allowed to exercise too much because I was still on a weight gain meal plan. But my treatment team said that a gentle yoga class would be okay.

 It was exactly what I needed.

The class took the focus off of weight loss and exercise and moved it onto body awareness and breathe work. It was gentle enough that I didn’t feel exhausted afterwards but I still felt like I had moved my body.

Slowly over time I regained the ability to breathe with my movements and started to gain back some strength. As my mind healed and I started to eat according to what my body needed, yoga taught my body how to be strong. It taught me how to physically support my body. It helped me understand each part of my body and what each part could offer me physically.

I still practice yoga today, but tend to practice in a more personal setting. Each time I practice yoga I set an intention of nonjudgement. My focus is to not judge myself or those around me and to just be. I try to avoid large group classes at gyms because I find them triggering. Instead, I look for meditation-based classes and or practice with friends or on my own.

 Through it all, yoga helped me understand what my body was capable of. It reaffirmed my inner strength both physically and spiritually. And it taught me that physical strength is only part of the practice. What really affirms the practice is the mentality behind it. 

Hannah Latimer-Snell is a writer, a filmmaker, and an adventurer who travels the world and helps others do so too. She is the founder of Bold Destinations, a travel blog that focuses on helping others cultivate balanced mental health while traveling. Hannah has a degree in International Relations from Portland State University and a background in documentary film and media production. She is dedicated to breaking the stigmas behind mental health and eating disorders and encouraging more people to travel the world.

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The view from where I was teaching in New York City. Think Coffee was directly below the venue.

On my mind: The extraordinary power of shared experience. 

Now home from a weekend of speaking and teaching in NYC, I find myself refelcting on the many interactions I shared with others--the bright, wise individuals I had the good fortune to meet on this trip. 

I'm so struck by the natural, deep connection born from shared experience -- how I can be in a room of strangers, yet they are not strangers at all. Our pasts, life situations, and stories are different, yet we share the recovery journey, and this common thread in our personal narratives instantly creates connection. We speak the same language. There's an intimate understanding, a knowing of each other and the resilience required to exist a little more fully each day.

 Today, I am feeling gratitude for  every individual I met this weekend, including the kind taxi driver and parking garage attendent who may (or may not) share in a recovery story, but can certainly relate to hard work and probably several other shared threads of life experience.

I can't wait to go back to NYC, and for more Think Coffee!  

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Motivational sayings about working out are highly beneficial for many people, inspiring them to make fitness a priority in their lives. However, sometimes words and phrases that incite the spirit of combat are embedded in motivational fitness language, making the act of exercise about battling or manipulating one’s body rather than enjoyment and health.

Because fitness training has its roots in warfare and survival, current social and cultural messages about personal fitness for the non-soldier or noncompetitive athlete reverberate with themes of combat and threat. The language of warfare, complete with messages of self-sacrifice (like “No pain, no gain”), is overwhelmingly pervasive in the fitness industry. One need only scan the motivational workout memes on social media or the headlines in fitness magazines to spot combat language. In the name of self-sacrifice, the seemingly highest ideal, we are beckoned to join the Great Body Battle: to fight fat, burn off flab, and turn soft flesh as hard as steel. We are sold the belief that, like warriors, we must do battle and push at all costs to tone and tighten, burn and shred, and eliminate bulges and bumps. From these messages we are taught that our bodies are the enemy.

The lengths we will go to get fit and feel validated, like “working out until I drop dead” or “pushing it to the limit,” may seem like a small cost to pay when compared to the tradition of ancient warfare. However, personal fitness is not an act of war, and our body is not an opponent. Still, due to a desire to embody fitness in a world that can feel unforgiving to the unfit, many of us try to survive by containing, training, and shaping our bodies into an acceptable size. Even if that “ideal” size is reached, the inescapable language of warfare in fitness culture may leave us feeling uneasy and always on guard, for sometimes it can seem like we can’t entirely trust that our bodies will not turn on us by gaining weight, turning soft, or failing us in some other way. Therefore, to be(come) fit is a personal battle reinforced by the social ideals that keep fitness tied to a militaristic mindset versus one based purely in health or enjoyment.

Without fail, the focus on working out and changing our bodies intensifies in the beginning months of the New Year, with marketers convincing us we need to lose weight, join a gym, and eat less. The repetition of these messages can cause us to question if we “fit” in and flare up body image concerns. Can you relate? If so, we promise you aren’t alone. And we also would like to offer a new, more affirming way to embrace fitness in your life—and it begins with your words.

One of the most profound ways we lose hold of our personal power is through our language, especially when we negate instead of affirm, belittle instead of empower, chastise instead of validate ourselves. Our language is everything: it shapes our reality, reinforces our body image, and reflects how we feel about ourselves. How we absorb or internalize others’ words and how we speak to ourselves directly impacts our body image and self-esteem.

One powerful way to release hold of the belief that you must workout to change your body is to challenge the combat language that you read, hear, or say to yourself and find the higher personal or spiritual gift in doing the activity in the first place. For example, let’s take the popular slogan, “Just do it.” “Just do it” remains heavily mainstream, as does the brand it represents. These three little words have become synonymous with “Go for it” and are found on posters, mugs, T-shirts, bags, keychains, stores, and gyms. Motivational images of this slogan abound on the internet and social media. With such a strong physical and digital presence, “Just do it” is embedded in the social consciousness, both inside and outside the fitness world.

This slogan can be internalized in different ways. For some of us, “Just do it” truly is motivational and even helpful in overcoming fear, trying something new, taking a risk, or confronting a challenge. For others, moments when “just doing it” isn’t an option for whatever reason can lead to feelings of inadequacy, comparison, guilt, and shame. Others might also interpret this slogan as the pressure or obligation to exceed healthy limits.

Take pause and consider these questions: How do you interpret “Just do it” in your life? What are the positive and negative connotations of this slogan for you, and how do they influence how you feel about your body and abilities?

To begin chipping away at any disempowering connotations of this expression in your life, try integrating words that honor your body in your inner dialogue. We encourage you to find your own expressions or mantras, but here’s a few examples to help get you started:

  • I am capable.

  • It’s okay to ask for support.

  • Giving my all includes honoring my body.

  • I am fit in mind, body, and spirit.

  • I flow between rest and effort.

Bring this language into your workouts and when you hear that voice inside calling you to “do battle” with your body. These gentle reminders will go a long way in giving you permission to workout for enjoyment, health, and other higher personal and spiritual benefits, such as connection with nature or community, to improve heart or mental health, to increase energy, to improve mood, and simply because you live being active. Embracing the joyful qualities or health benefits and integrating more positive and uplifting language about fitness into your inner dialogue and conversation will reduce the “combat” energy in your life and open you up to appreciating your body and experiencing more joy in your activities.

Adapted from the book, Body Mindful Yoga, by Jennifer Kreatsoulas and Robert Butera. Reprinted with permission from Llewellyn Worldwide.

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By Allyson Pesta, Guest Contributor

I run. I run faster. I run longer. I lift. I lift heavier. I lift harder. I jump. I jump higher. I jump intensely. I go. I go. I go. Rest is not for the strong. Rest is for the weak. I must do more. I am not enough. I am not fast enough. I try to run faster. I am not toned enough. I lift longer. I cannot jump high enough. I try to jump higher. I am not thin enough. I meticulously count every morsel before it enters my mouth. Too much – the food in my belly. Not enough – me just as I am.

Keep doing more, you aren’t thin enough yet. Keep doing more, you aren’t disciplined enough yet. Compare yourself to every person that passes and if they are “fitter” or “thinner” than you, then you are not doing enough. You must be more. You must be the best - the replay of thoughts over and over.

These thoughts, on replay, consumed my mind every day. There was no room for other thoughts, no time to have conversations with friends, no time to challenge my brain with things I once loved, like writing and singing and playing volleyball. I did not understand what love was anymore. I only knew how to exist as a skeleton consumed by thoughts that I was not enough and to punish my body for not being enough.

I thought that if I could control the physical aspects of my life down to a science, then I would be fulfilled. So I meticulously tracked every workout; I tracked every raspberry that touched my lips, every sweet potato I bit into, every rice protein “pancake” that entered my body. I had no control over what was occurring around me, yet if I could gain a sense of control over my body then I would be happy- then I would find joy. At least that’s what I believed - the lies my eating disorder told me.

I was controlled by the grip of my eating disorder starting at the age of 16. While nuances and factors of my eating disorder had certainly developed throughout adolescence, I did not start to develop more severe behaviors until I was 16. The first time I was hospitalized, with a dangerously low heart rate and a blood sugar level, was when I was 17, a soon to be senior in high school. Most seniors were dreaming of what colleges they would get into, all of the incredible “lasts” they would have with their best friends, the pranks they would pull, the final tastes of high school freedom. But for me there was no freedom. Instead, there were four white walls of a hospital room where I lay for 8 days. My body - depleted of nutrients, my brain - foregone of functioning neuro-pathways and my heart - shrunken physically and emotionally.

There are many details of my story that I have began to unpack overtime, attempting to understand all of the complexities that perpetuated my eating disorder. Those details are too much to share on this one post, yet I hope that I convey that an eating disorder is so much more than a mental illness where one “doesn’t want to eat,” or “works out too much.” It is more than just control or wanting to look a certain way. It is more than skin and bones and being “sick enough.” It is a state where your mind is consumed by something else, something that is so hard to control, consumed by thoughts from a deceitful place of unworthiness disguised as discipline and strength.

So how does yoga come into play in all of this?

After my first hospital stay the only form of movement I was allowed to engage in was yoga. I was so resistant to this idea. My mind began another train of thoughts: Yoga is not exercise. Yoga is for old people and those who are lazy. I won’t even sweat during yoga, so it is not even worth it. Yoga is stupid. Why would I do exercise where I am not pushing my body? How can I eat if I am only doing yoga? Yet after three months of no movement, as I attempted to re-feed my body, I figured that some movement was better than nothing.

The first yoga class I walked into was on a Sunday morning – an all levels yoga vinyasa flow taught by a lovely instructor, Jackie Quinn. I borrowed an extra mat that my mom had lying around the house and she came with me as I reluctantly agreed to go. The first moment in class, Jackie told us to breathe. I instantly thought this lady was crazy. Breathe? I know how to breathe. Why is she telling me how to breathe? And then we started moving our bodies in weird ways. I was so focused on whether my belly was flat enough in the yoga pants or how my thighs newly touched or if my body was as fit as others in the room. I don’t remember much else about the class, except that the resistance I started the class with had not left when the class ended. Instead it was more intense. I walked out of the class, swearing I would never do yoga again. “It’s just not for me,” I told my mom, frustrated.

Yet somehow the next week I went back. I don’t remember exactly why I went back, but I did. And the next week I went back and I continued to go back, again and again, throughout the weeks. I continued to move my body in this new, strange way. I felt parts of me engage, physically and emotionally, that I had never engaged before. I started to breathe more in this new way; a way that seemed to soothe my heightened senses and provide moments of peace and silence in my over-stimulated mind. I did not realize these benefits at the time and for the first year or so of my yoga practice, I mostly continued to go because of the physical benefits. I felt challenged in new ways that I hadn’t felt challenged in running or lifting and it helped my body feel stronger when I did run or lift. But over time the physical benefits began to shift. I did not crave to go to my mat only to feel sweat drip down my face, but instead to feel my heart light up in ways that still seemed foreign to me.

For so long I only knew exercise and movement to be a form of punishment. Practically for my entire life, running and lifting and jumping were ways to change my body because it was not good enough as it was. Conditioning was a form of punishment done in sports I played, like volleyball, when we weren’t playing well enough or when we messed up. I did not understand how exercise could be a form of self-care and self-love. I still did not even know what those two phrases, “self-care” and “self-love” meant for me. Yet when I continued to come back to my mat, small shifts continued to happen. I noticed that the constant replay of eating disorder thoughts began shifting slightly- they weren’t as loud, they weren’t as frequent. Instead, thoughts of messages I heard in class began to interrupt the thoughts that I was never doing enough. I began to gain small glimpses of what “self-love” could possibly look like.

This process of understanding self-acceptance, self-love and gaining the tools that my practice has given me was not overnight, nor was it linear. I went back to the hospital in May of my senior year and took a semester off of school during my freshman year of college. However, each time I took a few steps back, I was still further ahead then I was before. Because these times I had my breath. I had my practice.

And practice. That’s all that this life really is. Each and every day we are practicing - practicing self-love. Practicing self-care. Practicing listening authentically and honestly to ourselves and others. Practicing understanding - understanding our body cues, our needs that day. Practicing non-judgment. Practicing resiliency. Choosing each day and each moment to practice life in a way that is self-serving.

My own practice has empowered me to become a certified yoga teacher and share this gift with others. I am fortunate to say that I have been in a place of recovery for almost four years now and I owe so much of my recovery to the empowering people who support me, inspire me and love me just as I am. I owe so much to my therapists, counselors and doctors who pushed me to places I did not think I could go. I owe so much to my teachers - professionally, personally, on and off the mat - who help me to see life from so many eyes. And most importantly, I owe much of my recovery to my breath - my breath that I learned to cultivate during that first Sunday class and I continue to return to day in and day out- sustaining me, empowering me, reminding me that I am enough - I am whole - just as I am. I deserve self-love and acceptance. And that I always have the power to begin again.

Allyson Pesta is a 23-year old friend, daughter, partner, teacher, learner and mover. She is the founder of allyraeyoga and seeks to use mindfulness, yoga and meditation to empower others on a journey of self-love and self-acceptance. Her passion is working with adolescents to develop resiliency tools and healthy coping mechanisms in order to prevent and address mental health issues in key developmental life stages. She lives her life through these three phrases: Rooted in wonder. Empowered by love. Resilient through breath. She craves connection and would love to connect with any and all individuals through her website allyraeyoga.com or on instagram @allyraeyoga.


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