Lillie Hussain, 27, from Poole, Dorset, is a yoga teacher and founder of Healing Haven and Loving Life Retreats, inclusive spaces for any body to ‘be’ and experience yoga classes, 1-2-1 healing and workshops. She has always had a burning desire to help others and when asked how yoga and spiritual healing landed on her path, the answer came from an incredible journey of hardship battling with an eating disorder and a triggering relationship with fitness. She now channels all of her experiences and passions into her career, helping others to find purpose, passion and happiness.
Here, she tells her story in her own words: “From an early age, I always had an interest in fitness and being active. I was always trying new things, taking part in gymnastics, trampolining and swimming, I loved to move! But when my attention moved to focus on my GCSEs, I was way less active, and this caused me to gain weight.
In the summer after my GCSEs, I got a job as front of house at my local gym. I was on reception and got to know the familiar faces. I grew to really admire the bodybuilders; I found their world fascinating, all their talk of cutting and bulking. It was around this time that Instagram was really taking off. I started following bodybuilders and became absorbed in this new and exciting world.
This all coincided with me being really unhappy with my weight and it didn’t take long before I decided to explore fitness and bodybuilding. Over the next two years I split my focus between my A-levels and the gym. I won a scholarship to Bournemouth University for a degree in Business Studies starting in autumn 2015. By then, I was fully immersed in the bodybuilding world. I’d jumped at the chance to compete in Bikini Fitness, loving the idea of a new challenge. This took me on a gruelling three-month journey of strict dieting and vigorous training twice a day every day which had a major impact on my health. I was as low as 5% body fat and it had taken its toll, I could hardly string a sentence together.
Something had to give — and it was university. I stopped going just before the competition started. I just couldn’t handle it; it was too much. I didn’t ever give myself the chance to fit in at uni, I was on such a strict and restrictive regime that it shut me off from everyone. I was isolated from friends and family and had no real support network.
‘I knew at this point that I wasn’t healthy, but I continued regardless, and went on to compete in the bikini competition. A lot of people in that world were so proud of me and all I’d ‘achieved’ but there was a small voice in my head saying: Is this what you have to do to be amazing in the eyes of others? I knew my friends were worried about me, and I know my mum was really concerned. But looking back, that was just the beginning.
After the competition was over, everything changed for me. My relationship with food and my body went into freefall. Both physically and mentally, I was in complete distress trying to break free from such a strict dieting routine and searching for a balance. I fell into a cycle of starving and bingeing, trapped in the motion day after day. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what to do, I felt completely alone.
And then I was banned from the gym. Looking back, I know this was a responsible decision from them but at the time it felt like my last lifeline was taken away. This horrendous and hellish starving and bingeing went on for three awful months. I didn’t recognise myself in the mirror. I didn’t know who I was or what I was doing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I should be doing. I was utterly lost and I couldn’t take anymore.
I went to my doctor. I remember telling him it felt like I had a monster inside of me, taking over. My eating disorder had dragged me to the lowest place I had ever been, battered and exhausted, feeling like nothing would save me. The doctor referred me to the Dorset Eating Disorders service where I spent three years working to find my balance with food again. My new self-care routine consisted of a meal plan, which was adjusted here and there, weekly therapy sessions, body image workshops and much more. This service saved me, changed me, and I will never forget the team of people working closely with me.
Therapy was no quick-fix but despite setbacks I pushed forward, I felt like I could see in the future that if I could get through this, I could help others with my story. I began to explore different routes of healing, taking daily walks, starting a new job at Starbucks, implementing a daily gratitude practice, and trialling spiritual practices and yoga.
My first experience of yoga wasn’t a great one to be honest. I found it difficult as a beginner to find a suitable class, and when I did find one, I felt out of my depth. I remember feeling like I stuck out like a sore thumb and wrote off yoga as not for me.
Despite this, I did have a powerful realisation. I felt like a yoga mat acted like a mirror, you become so aware of all that you are, thoughts you want to shed, everything. Moving on, I continued with the other practices I’d built up, and got creative with calligraphy and illustration; I found all of these extra activities such a strong part of my healing journey.
I felt happier and happier until, three months later, I went back to yoga. I found a different teacher and a class that was perfect for me, and this is when I started my yoga journey for real.
“I wanted to find meaningful work in my future so I could help others make positive change in their lives and also because I wanted a deeper understanding of my own experience, of how the mind works.”
My yoga practice developed. I began building a home practice as well as a regular weekly class; it became my outlet, my expression, my greatest healer, healing my relationship with my mind and body, one yoga class at a time. Alongside my yoga and my job at Starbucks, I studied counselling and hypnotherapy part-time. I wanted to find meaningful work in my future so I could help others make positive change in their lives and also because I wanted a deeper understanding of my own experience, of how the mind works. I started reading self-development and self-help books. I’d spend hours in Waterstones where I saw the most vibrant beautiful book cover I had ever seen, The Goddess Revolution, which called to me. After reading the blurb, I felt this book was absolutely everything I needed and more. I was so excited, it was like the author, Mel Wells, was speaking my language, page for page, excitement, eye-opening, absolute hope. Later in the week, I sat down with my mum and told her all about the book I was reading, and she discovered Mel Wells offered retreats.
That year I was blessed with the greatest birthday gift of all as my auntie and mum had booked a place for me on Mel’s retreat in Bali. These 14 days for me were the start of a new beginning, a new chapter of my journey, leaving all that I had gone through behind. I met other likeminded women, I made everyone a beautiful piece of calligraphy to keep, I explored the depths of self-love and body image work. My work with Mel was truly transformational and I thank her to this moment; she left such warmth in my heart and strength to continue on my path.
I found that when I immersed myself in my yoga, I got curious, and began to reach for more. My life shifted and a world full of possibilities revealed itself to me. When I got back from Bali, I started living more boldly, my mindset and outlook on life had taken a huge turn and it activated such spirituality and love within me. I walked into 2018 knowing I was ready to make big changes. I had overcome so much already and I knew I was ready to take on more.
I’d qualified in counselling and hypnotherapy and the next step for me was qualifying as a yoga teacher. Yoga had helped me so much and I wanted to learn how I could share this with other people who needed it. That’s how I found myself booked onto a 200-hour yoga teacher training course in Goa, India. Nervously anticipating my arrival there, I Googled “what to expect from yoga teacher training”, and it told me: “Your life will be forever changed. You will cry, laugh, and shed tears of joy. You will do the weirdest shit ever. You will lose friends but make new ones. You will question your entire world. You will become a better person. You will be a yoga teacher.” And one thing’s for sure, all of that is true!
“For all the dark nights I endured, where I couldn’t see the light, not even a star, I hope to be a light to remind people that even in the darkest times, there is always a way forward.”
I loved every minute and learned so much. I was up at 6am every day for yoga practice which went all the way through to 9pm exploring different styles of yoga, teachings of meditation, spirituality and much more, day in, day out. By the time I got to the final teaching exam, I had never ever ever felt so at home; it was like an inner knowing, that I had been teaching yoga for years. I was exactly where I needed to be. I will never forget that feeling: this was me, this was how my message would inspire, this was my path to helping others navigate life and their hard experiences, how I would help others love and respect their bodies.
Before I even got home, I knew what I needed to do. I was, like Google had said, going to be a yoga teacher. I was emailing studios back in the UK seeing if they had space for me to have my own class. And, luckily, I’d already built up a strong following on Instagram as I’d been sharing my recovery journey so I already had some people I knew that would be keen on coming to my classes.
This community, my work — from regular classes to retreats, from the Loving Life app to Zoom classes — my heart and soul is in it. For all the dark nights I endured, where I couldn’t see the light, not even a star, I hope to be a light to remind people that even in the darkest times, there is always a way forward. I think from an outside perspective, some people who might not have been through it, may see body image and eating disorders as attention seeking. But having been there myself and being completely alone in my battle, my views are different now. If I once felt like I couldn’t go on, I didn’t want to live anymore, to where I am now, anyone can turn their life around…and if you are reading this then I wholeheartedly believe in you!
Lillie Hussain is a qualified yoga teacher offering online and in-person classes and transformational retreats with Loving Life Retreats. Find out more at: lovinglifelillie.com or connect on Instagram @lovinglifelillie