Today, we have a guest blogger, Poppy Wortman. She is from New Zealand but now lives in India, and studies yoga and ayurveda.
Ask a studio of yogis – be they first class, a year in or long term Sun Saluters – what was their pull to first go to yoga, and the answers will be manifold.
“My doctor recommended it for my tight shoulders”; “I needed some ME time”; “I wanted to get more flexible”; “I had Lululemon tights and wanted to wear them somewhere other than out for coffee.”
My call to the mat and doing a downward dog?
Quiet – and at times, not so quiet – desperation.
From the age of eight-years-old, disordered eating thoughts, patterns and ways of being started creeping up on my psyche, progressively consuming me. By the time I turned 19, my entire being was swamped and entrenched in an eating disorder. This is not the time nor space to delve deeper into that aspect – I sometimes enlighten on my personal blog, www.popyarns.com, should you maybe feel the pull to read into it a bit more.
Years of on-and-off counselling, psychiatry and even an attempt at hypno-therapy proved minimal, if any, recovery. I look back and have no idea how I got through those years; perhaps the perfectionist, high achieving tendencies that often come in partnership with bulimia-cum-anorexia-cum-obsessive-orthorexia got me through (I somehow managed to be awarded dux all three years, which absolutely astounds me when I recall my mind frame). But with assignments and exams and early-20-year-old worries on top of constant calorie counting and obsessive exercising, my mind was a very busy – and never winding down – place.
Upon graduation I moved to Australia to blow off steam. Living in Brisbane with a group of gal-pals, there was a lot of drinking, late night (well, early morning) stumbling back to our flat and irregular eating. Although my consumption remained very limited to a handful of edible options, the alcoholic ingestion and its subsequent binge out on “no-no” foods had me put on a few kilos.
I was in absolute despair.
I moved home to New Zealand – a new boyfriend in tow – and we decided to go travel around South East Asia. The whole trip I would get up at 6am to go running for a few hours and spend the days obsessing over what I was eating, determined to shed back to my “ideal” size. A big divide started to chasm out between us, and after a few months back at home after our trip, we decided to separate. (I think the moment was decided when he asked, “Would you rather be skinny, or be with me?” and I hesitated).
My inner reaction on us parting ways? Good. I can lose more weight without him in my life.
I was irritable and angry all the time. I was starving my body, then ramming it full of food when the cravings took control. Though my outside life was seemingly “perfect” (what even is that?), my head was in disarray. I was deciding whether I should move up to the city and take a journalism job, when one night I had this intense impulse that I wanted – no, I needed – to go to India.
Once the idea was in my mind, I didn’t waver once (well, at the airport as I was leaving I must admit I did have a moment where I considered going back home again). I started researching my forthcoming solo sojourn, looking at the standard touristy places to go and making a list: Varanasi, The Taj, a week on the beach in Goa. Then the idea came to me to maybe spend a few days engaging in a yoga retreat; It’ll be good for clearing my head, I thought.
I looked into a few options, and saw the price for a fortnight of “blissful restoration and rejuvenation” equalled that of a month-long teacher training course. As someone who is somewhat infatuated with the idea of adding more qualifications after her name (again, that high achiever-ness), I decided it was the way for me. I booked one that “felt right”, and come the end of July 2015, I was in the colourful chaos of Rishikesh, Northern India, with my bright pink Nike tights and a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here panic.
Having only ever participated in two yoga classes in my life (I grew up always playing more combat sports like netball, basketball, athletics and water-skiing) I had no clue what I was up to. The other females in my course had been practicing the ancient science for a fair few years, already familiar with the Sanskrit terminology and what-angle-your-foot-goes-at-in-trikonasana. I wasn’t in tune with myself in any way whatsoever; when told to keep hips square or catch my left foot, I was so out of whack with where I even was. After a few initial days of anxiety and considering leaving, I somehow found my zone. By the time four weeks was up, I was utterly transformed.
To say yoga saved me sounds so proclamational and nonsensical. But I believe it truly did. By the end of my 30 days, I had somehow learnt to love my limbs, recognising them for so much more than just their size. I had learnt to applaud my body when it did me proud, looking at it with affection and not hatred. And when it did let me down (nailing a headstand took a fair few attempts), I learnt to give it care, not criticism.
That’s not to say I was “cured” – not by any means. But my head found some clarity as I contorted and meditated and chanted, and upon return home (after a flit up the Everest Base Camp, another transformational experience) I signed up for clinical rehab and only semi reluctantly received treatment. I was able to timidly admit that I was sick, rather than vigorously assert I was as I was as a result of veganism and a swift metabolism.
And here we are two years later, me back in India having redone my 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training (at Rishikesh Yog Dham, the school I came across in my first trip that I vowed I would return to) and currently in the midst of my 300-hour Vinyasa teacher training. At 10kg heavier, my body is far stronger and capable of achieving postures I once would never have been able to try.
I still have those awful eating-disordered thoughts each and every day, but I’m recovering, one moment at a time. And I firmly give that credit to yoga; it gave me the motivation and tools my mental state required to willingly save my life.
Yoga also puts me in my place. I physically cannot be the best; my left knee turns out, meaning any balance is fleeting. I have slight scoliosis, so my back has a little hunch that only semi straightens. But rather than frustrate me as it did in the beginning, I have come to accept these ailments and just look forward to the backbends.
There are many draws to the mat; health, the trend, a bid for self-love or even purely as a form of exercise. But regardless of what made you pick up the pencil and sketch that first stroke, yoga can be extremely beneficial – and sometimes even life changing – to all.
I shudder to think where I would be if I hadn’t found my freedom.
That’s the big picture of what drew me into being a yoga teacher. And what continues to keep me picking up the crayon of taking classes. If someone asks me what got me into it, of course I don’t share this extremely personal spiel; my usual response is something like, “I just decided to try it one day”.
There’s that whole “Keep Calm and Do Yoga” mantra that you often see emblazoned across social media. But I always think it should be flipped about; “Do Yoga and Keep Calm”. And balanced. And at peace. And able to find your inner strength. And your physical. Plus your shortcomings, your ailments and your abilities. Find yourself in general, really.
I know I did, And continue to do so every time I get on my mat.