The magic of yoga
How the magic, healing and transformational powers of yoga helped Angela Cheveau find a path through debilitating eating and anxiety disorders.
I was 20 when the monsters first crawled out from beneath the bed and into my head. I weighed around five stone and my body was wasted by an eating disorder that had swept in and left me a washed-out, hollow shell of the girl that I had once been. I was all sharp angles and brittle bones.
I had hypothermia.
It hurt to think.
It hurt to breathe.
It hurt just to be alive.
It was in the midst of this savage internal winter that I first stumbled upon the warmth and magic of yoga. My tormented and haunted mind was caught in a maelstrom of swirling thoughts that swept through my life like a tornado, upending everything and everyone in its path.
My mind was an entangled web of self-hatred incessantly judging myself and counting every last calorie that I allowed to pass my lips. I was plagued with obsessive and compulsive thoughts, riddled with anxiety.
I felt like a tiny boat unmoored, lost on a storm swept sea. Every day was spent trying to ride waves of emotion over which I had no control, which continually threatened to overwhelm me and engulf me, sweeping me out into the depths of the dark sea.
I needed peace.
But where do you find peace when the chaos is inside your own head? The answer came when I found yoga. And, for me, it was like coming home.
Stepping onto my mat for the first time I found a place which held me gently, like a blossom in an open palm. It held me delicately, as though I was a dandelion tuft that had blown on to it on the breeze. I finally began to allow my petals to open towards the sunlight for the first time. To allow the sunlight to warm me. I let go. I let myself breathe for the first time in years.
If having anorexia nervosa was like a sharp, retained breath keeping me rigid, taut against the world, then yoga was the exhale. The outpouring. The softening. The letting go.
The mat became my safe place, my refuge, the place where I could be still and just be. Just be me. There was no judgement. No need to be anywhere other than here. On the mat. Facing myself. Facing the monsters that haunted me. It was on the mat that I learned how to face things. How to accept things just as they were. Accept how I was. Who I was. As I was.
The mat lay patiently in my room each day waiting for me to unroll it and step onto it. It held my hand, sat silently with me while the tears fell like raindrops and soaked into the rubber. It became my refuge from the raging storms within my mind. The place I could tether myself to if I felt that I would be overwhelmed.
My mat and I sometimes sat in silence for hours. It let me curl up on it. It carried me. Cupped my tired feet. It asked nothing of me, expected nothing of me. Only that I turn up. And sit with it.
In and out.
In and out.
In and out.
And so I did.
Again, and again and again.
It was this returning over and over, this cycle, this gentle rhythm, this softness, that slowly but surely began to change my life.
Without me even noticing it, a delicate suffusion crept through my life on soft silver tiptoes. Day by day, like Spring comes scattering petals and the fragrance of wildflowers in its wake, yoga was melting the frozen landscape of my heart, thawing the internal winter that had gripped me in its brutal and freezing grasp for so long.
The more I turned up onto my mat and moved in gentle rhythm and attuned to my breath, the more I began to feel something shift within me. Like the soft breath of dawn light after a dark star-less night, yoga began to light up my life, pour streams of light into the wounded parts of me. The parts of me that I had rejected, not listened to, could not accept. The parts of me that were in pain. My scars.
Through them shone the light. Rays of sunlight drenching me in a sudden shower of rain-washed clarity. The debris and dirt, the silt that had built up over time clogging my mind began to wash away and it was like sunlight pouring through the clouds after a heavy shower. The light that had been hidden away at the very heart of me, buried beneath grimy layers of self-hatred, self-doubt and low self-esteem, slowly began to shine through once more.
The fog lifted gradually, slowly, almost imperceptibly, and the more I focused on my breath the more my mind became like a still, moonlit lake. I had space. Space in my mind and space in my body. Space to breathe. Space to think. To sort through the debris of a once cluttered mind and throw out the rubbish that I no longer needed, making room for new thoughts, new feelings.
Changing and healing
I was changing. I was learning a way to guide myself through the dark and foreboding forests of a mind that suffers. Finding a way to light my path. Yoga was that light. The tiny flickering flame, the glow that illuminated the pathway in front of me, whereas before, I was lost and wandering through a landscape wholly unknown and unfamiliar. It was the first step towards my own becoming.
On the mat, the lessons I learned trickled through my life like sap through the veins of a tree. They nurtured me. Grounded me. Rooted me. I learned that I had no need to push myself. No need to strive. The shackles of perfectionism and self-abuse broke open and slipped from around my ankles.
I place my feet at the top of my mat, together, side by side. Hands together at the heart space. Head bowed in a gesture of humility. My feet blossomed into lotus petals as I stood where thousands of feet had stood before me, an ancient lineage of sacred healing flowing through my veins. I breathed in and out as I moved through the fluidity of a gentle and rhythmic vinyasa practice. My arms reaching towards the sky in Tree pose and my feet planted in the soil of the mat I felt my roots reach down into the dark, damp earth. I was grounded yet also reaching for the stars. I was balanced. I was blissful. I was free.
My best friend, yoga
Yoga for me has been a best friend. A companion through the trauma and the tribulations, the ups and downs, the struggles of life. It has helped me through what I now believe to have been dark nights of the soul.
When I have felt lost, yoga has shown me the way. It is something which I have returned to repeatedly throughout my life during times of trouble and there have been many.
Yoga is prayer. Yoga is poetry whispered to the sky. Yoga is bliss. It is healing. It is recovery and it is all things in between.
Life is not easy, for anyone. No one escapes suffering or pain and it is through this suffering and overcoming challenges that often the beauty of life is revealed to us. We find our inner strength, our inner light, during the times that test us. Like diamonds we are forged, we are transformed by the things that cause us the most pressure and suffering.
Yoga is transformational. It is alchemy. It is magic. A pure, radiating and pulsating light that touches all who fall within its rays with humility and grace. It opens up the mind and more importantly, the heart, and allows the true self, the inner self in all its facets, to twinkle brilliantly in the light of awareness.
Yoga is freedom.
Angela is a new writer of poetry, flash fiction and memoir/personal essays. She is a forever student of yoga.