The Soul Starts Here

“Yoga appeared in my life at the darkest hour.

Yoga arrived as a warrior of truth.

Yoga captured my whole being like a thief in the night.

Yoga put me on my own funeral pyre and then lit it on fire.

I have been burning ever since.”

– Sianna Sherman

Thank you for joining me in this virtual exploration of a sound body, mind and soul. I like to call it my Yoga Trinity. When I was introduced to yoga at the age of 14, it was a time of great need for a young, troubled girl. Two years previous to that first visit at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, I was an avid soccer player and overall athlete suffering from a broken pelvis and torn hamstring. It was caused by a party trick accident that would change the course of the rest of my life. What was prescribed as 6 months of physical therapy with crutches turned into an adolescent journey of self-sabotage and deep soul searching.

Everyone knows the teenage years are rough, but due to my newfound immobility, my early teenage years were wrought with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and a soul seeking refuge from physical disability. Faced with lots of downtime in rehabilitation at 12 years old, I resigned myself to putting sports on hold for a while. What was a girl to do with all of this newfound time? I obsessively poured over health and fashion magazines that fed my already weakened self-image, I read dieting books, I became vegan and then, I gained complete control over it all- or so I thought.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” -Victor Hugo

Even though my fully grown form at 12 was 5’4″ and 120 pounds, I had managed to trim myself down to an anemic 80 pounds in the following year, until counselors at school began to take notice and one in particular, Mr. Star called an after-school meeting with my mother. Had it not been for this all-hands-on-deck intervention, I probably would have ended up in the hospital or with lifelong illnesses due to severe anorexia and bulimia. When what seemed like a dieting “fad” on the outside was uncovered as a deep-seated illness that needed attention, they brought in professional help. We are not talking only about a professional nutritionist, but also a psychologist who could help me face the enemy. Food was the enemy, not the answer to my problems at the time.

What I really needed, as most people with eating disorders do, was a therapist who could help me purge the emotions (and not the food) causing the behavior. I remember visiting her office for the first time, which she ran out of a comfortable study in her house. This very natural, grey-haired woman sat me down on a couch, all 80 shivering pounds of adolescent sorrow and self-sabotage, and asked, “So, what’s really happening?” As she was the first person to address my issue head-on, I immediately broke down in big, fat tears. I told her about my afternoons at home alone when I would eat an entire loaf of diet bread unstoppably and then purge it all through multiple attempts. Then, I would hop on the exercise bike, about the only form of physical exercise that I could do with the injury, for 2 hours to try and work it off. “I can’t stop, I just can’t stop eating sometimes…”

What I realized through talk therapy was that the sports (the structure of my life outside of school) were a way of filling the gap after school before my family got home- a way of escaping the loneliness of single parent syndrome. Those long after-school hours, without purpose, could very easily spiral into drug abuse, ennui and finding the wrong company. Instead, for me, they turned into a time of intense self-exploration and ascetic deprivation with a not-so-healthy outcome.

I know that psychologists are trained to handle patients with all sorts of disorders from all walks of life, but I can’t imagine how she managed to sit there and witness the complete breakdown of this emaciated young girl without shedding a tear herself. I can barely contain myself thinking about it today. Thank god she was so strong- and so caring.

That same day, she handed me a journal and told me to start writing. I’ll never know what she had in mind, other than to provide a young woman with an outlet that could help save her soul- someone to talk to in the form of the written word, even if no one was on the other end. Her gesture provided me with a gift that to this day never fails to help ease my mind. It helps ease the pain of life by finding someone on the other side who is listening, which is essentially myself.

The encouragement to write trickled into my schoolwork as well. At the end of that year, I wrote a paper on eating disorders for English class, which I presented to younger grades at the school. Some of the students wept while listening to my story, perhaps because they too knew loneliness, or were struggling with self-acceptance in those transformative middle school years.  Regardless, it is a powerful thing for young children to share their experiences and realize that they are not all that different from each other.

Through the sound advice of a friend’s mother, I was enrolled at the Ashtanga Yoga Center as part of my physical recovery. I must have seemed like some hippy’s child: a 13 year-old showing up to a yoga class in 1994, but it was a dark twist of events, not a new age calling that brought me there. Instead of running grassy fields and getting kicked in the shins, I was stretching in a dimly lit room that smelled of Nag Champa. Spandex  was meant for Step Classes back then, so we all had loose, cotton clothing on and there was a complete lack of pretension. That same year, the owners were charged with growing pot and forced to close the studio, but the yoga practice they offered remains the real lasting medicine.

In a time of great need, I was given two of the most powerful tools for transformation that still effectively help me today: writing became a path to self-understanding, just like yoga forged the road to self-discovery. Both bring me to a nonjudgmental place from which I can explore my boundaries, psychoses and power to heal from within. In other words, they are expressions of radical self-love. As a modification on a famous quote: practice yoga as if no one is watching, write as if no one will ever read your words and love yourself as no one else can. Welcome to the journey of the soul.

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