Discovering the Yogi Within

It is no secret my eating disorder kept me from enjoying life and putting myself out there. I feared failure like most people fear burning to death. So rather than risk not being good enough, I stayed safely inside my comfort zone – and by comfort zone I mean eating disorder. But I don’t think I am alone in this scenario. Without naming names, I know countless others who don’t put themselves out there for fear of judgement or not being the best.

The leap of recovery forces you to push yourself way out of your comfort zone – new foods, no exercise, forming healthy boundaries and speaking up for yourself. Every minute you are full of fear and full of pride in yourself. As I have grown stronger in recovery, I find myself pushing way past my comfort zone: i.e. saying the words ‘eating disorder’ in public and in front of hundreds of strangers. Even speaking openly about the not so pretty side (if one even exists) of eating disorders, publicly sharing the fact that I have a history of purging, laxative and diet pill abuse, eating from a trash can etc.

Tonight, I went a giant leap further. I was the only one in yoga class who admitted not knowing a pose and even asked for help. Gasp. What’s worse than admitting to eating out of a trash can? Asking.For.Help. O.M.G.

I have a history of exercise class phobia, whether it be Jane Fonda step aerobics or a basic yoga, group classes scare the you know what out of me. What if I’m not the best? What if I suck? What if I fart in downward dog? (You know you’ve thought the exact same thing.)

I hopped on the yoga train a month ago when a friend finally got me to take her class at Agame Yoga and Meditation Center in Baton Rouge. There was such peace in the class and no one laughed at me (and I did not fart thank goodness).I am not a regular by any means. That is not how my life works these days. I do what I can, when I can and when I need it. Exercise is no longer a chore, moving my body is a gift and a blessing. And lately, yoga has given me some major insight into my connection with my body.

My first experience with yoga – real yoga – was at the Carolina House with a yoga instructor named Daya. She was an old soul with a gentle spirit. I simply adored her, but could hardly stay awake in her class. This has nothing to do with her teaching, it has to do with me being unable to connect with my body at the time. I am thankful for Daya and the role she played in the early foundation of my relationship with body movement.

My recent practice at Agame has been a huge blessing in teaching me that yoga is not about being the best. Rather, it is about honoring where you are in your own practice. And much to my surprise, I am pretty flexible and not half bad. Even more surprising, I was awake, alert and mindful throughout each class, soaking in every second of peace with my body and the strength in each pose.

Tonight I’m in Auburn, Alabama. By the grace of God, a mentor and a huge inspiration in my recovery journey, Peach Dumars, lives here and owns the yoga studio Yoga Fly. I became an instant fan when I read her gripping memoir Diary of an Exercise Addict in March 2010. We connected on Facebook – or shall I say I ‘Random Rhonda’ messaged her and she was kind enough to reply. Maybe that was the beginning of me putting myself out there.

Yesterday, I did something bold. I looked up the Yoga Fly schedule. Lo and behold, Peach was teaching at 6:00pm. I was scheduled to arrive in Auburn at 4:00pm, plenty of time. I know myself fairly well and I know the only way I follow through wholeheartedly is if I put it out in the universe. So I picked up my phone and texted Peach that I was coming – and also told my husband. Double Whammy.

At 5:45pm this evening, I found my parking space in Auburn’s tiny downtown. There were massive butterflys in my stomach. Peach wrote on Facebook about doing backbends in class tonight. Yikes. Insert inner-gremlins: ‘I suck at back bends. I have no upper body strength. I am going to be the only one not holding the pose. I should text her I am tired.’ Nope. I took note of the gremlins and marched into Yoga Fly. Peach greeted me with a warm hug and just being in her presence calmed my nerves. I got my mat and found my spot in the back of class. Being in her presence tonight at her yoga studio was nothing short of breathtaking.

Peach started with the explanation of why backbends would be the theme of class. There was yet another bomb threat on campus today, which forced Peach to run and rescue her daughter from the building that was evacuated. She explained how this situation caused her to examine her reaction to the situation. How we can either allow fear to rule us and hide in the covers or find the balance of shedding light and accepting the fear also. Essentially, the concept of vulnerability – putting your heart out there, not knowing if it will be broken or loved. Vulnerability: the courage to be yourself. As she spoke on the meditation of today’s practice, my eyes welled with tears for two reasons:

1. I am in Peach’s class
2. God bless my eating disorder for giving me recovery and courage to be vulnerable.

To say I was blown away by her class is a massive understatement. Tonight was all about pushing your heart forward – literally and spiritually. When it was finally time to do Wheel pose (AKA back bends) I successfully did it. They might not have been pretty, Peach corrected a few things, but I did it. I imperfectly did it – and it was beautiful.

Then she said we would move on to headstands. Shit. Headstands? Last time I did that was when I was a gawky 11-year old in tumbling class. Peach gave options to modify and said if you did not have your headstand that she could help. Without thought, I grabbed my mat and headed her way. I was the only student who asked for help and as I was inverted on my head I had to smile. Yes, this is recovery: admitting that sometimes we all need a little help – even if it is to stand on our heads.

As class came to a close and Peach once again spoke beautifully on the topic of vulnerability and finding balance in light and dark, tears poured from my closed eyes. Not because I (kind of) did a headstand or a backbend, but because of how I felt in that moment. Tonight, Peach’s class and my personal yoga practice gave me the gift of being in my body, feeling its strength, power and grace.

I am in love with this yoga practice that I stumbled upon and for every teacher who has helped shaped it thus far. I plan on continuing it for a long time. It might not be everyday and I might not post yoga pose pics in the grocery store, but it is my practice and I will continue to do what feels right while pushing the limits of my safe zone to discover my yogi within.

Namaste y’all. Namaste.

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  • brittmelton
    April 23, 2014 at 8:22 am

    McCall, this brought me to tears. You put into words what I have not been able to about what yoga can do and what the path of recovery can be. Thank you so much for this. I plan to share your beautiful writing.

  • paigefussell
    April 23, 2014 at 10:01 am

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had those epiphany/tearful moments during a yoga class, especially in savasana. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I can vividly remember the positive, renewed feelings I took away from that class. Thanks for all your honest and unfiltered writing.

  • Aud Goods
    April 23, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    HI McCall! Glad you came last night, it was such a wonderful class. I really enjoyed reading your post; as a yogi & also a recovering bulimic. I believe Peach said you were in Baton Rouge, I am actually moving to New Orelans in July. Maybe we can get connected and have coffee or something. Have a wonderful week!

    Audra Graham
    [email protected]

  • Christy Willey
    April 23, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Hi McCall… I love following your blog as it helps to give me hope for my recovery… Thank you for having the courage to put yourself out there, so that we may all have the strength to put ourselves out there as well…

  • Pam
    April 24, 2014 at 3:09 am

    Thank you for some morning inspiration. I am enroute to the airport from tht beautiful yellow house in the woods and this is the first thing I read. Thank you for sharing all of your journey.

  • Why I Hate Group Exercise | McCall Dempsey
    December 17, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    […] I was not allowed to exercise upon first entering the Carolina House. After the first week, I was allowed to do yoga. And I hated it. The stillness, the slowness. I needed to run out my anxiety – read: my eating disorder needed to run to numb out the feelings. Yoga brought it all up and forced me to be in my body. But as life and recovery would have it, years later, I fell head first (yogi pun intended) in love with yoga. (You can read more about my love affair with yoga in my blog: Discovering the Yogi Within). […]