I’ll never forget the moment returning to my ballet program after a challenging summer struggling with disordered eating, when my dance director scanned my unhealthy bone-thin body and said, “Wow, you look incredible.” It was a defining moment for me not just because it was one of the few words of praise I remembered receiving amidst a sea of critical feedback, but because I felt like I’d finally cracked the code on how to be successful -- both as a dancer and as a woman. That reducing the size of my naturally muscular thighs was the doorway to being noticed and maintaining discipline and an image of “perfect” was the key to being successful.
Keeping Myself Small
That moment sank deep into my bones that day and followed me for many years as I continued on my movement journey. Even after I left the ballet world, that sense of harsh discipline seeped into my newfound love for yoga and fitness. No matter how tired I felt, I would bounce from HIIT class, to cycling class, often doubling up with hot yoga afterwards just to feel like I “earned” enjoying myself that day. I was obsessed with pushing my body to its absolute limit, not because it felt good, but because I was so terrified of what might change or fall “out of place” if I loosened my grip. Because feeling small in my body and “in control” felt safer than my curiosity for what was on the other side.
It wasn’t until I pushed my body so far past its limit, that I completely blew out the disc in my L5/S1 (lower spine) and could barely get out of bed without intense low back pain and sciatica down my left leg. I was devastated. In a matter of moments, the one outlet I had to feel like myself was stripped from me, and I honestly didn’t know how to be in my body without it. It was in a really low moment that I forced myself to get out of my house and head to a yoga class in San Francisco’s Mission District. I rolled out my mat in the back of the class and feeling slightly insecure, laid myself down in supported Savasana (reclined resting pose) to rest. As I sank deeper and deeper into my body, listening to the 100+ students moving and breathing around me, tears began to stream down my face. I felt a gripping energy of tightly held sadness, anger, pain start to soften and flow through me like a river. I had one of the most cathartic and liberating practices I’d ever experienced that day, lying flat on my back, knees supported by a bolster and breath moving through me like a river. I felt more connected to my body and breath than I’d ever felt.
I came back to my mat weekly after that experience -- not to move vigorously, or much at all -- but to just practice being in my body. To practice meeting myself exactly where I was without needing to push down or run away or fix anything. To practice just being present with all of it. As my curiosity started to build, I began working with and studying under somatic movement practitioners, training in new breathwork techniques, and learning about healing trauma through the body. And slowly over the next 6 months I healed my spine (without surgery!). Slowly over the next 6 months I started to remember what the feeling of freedom, joy and ALIVENESS felt like again. Slowly I started to learn how to take up space with that feeling and witness the space I created for others to do the same.
Let’s practice together
This journey is what led me to create my signature mindful fitness practice, Come Alive. Bringing a deeper awareness to what we’re experiencing mentally, emotionally, and energetically as we move through a physical practice is a powerful thread to release. It’s a powerful path to transformation. It’s a powerful gateway to healing. And it’s even more powerful when we show up and do the work together.
What about you? How have your greatest pains been gateways to your greatest healing? How have you been guided to take up space in your body and in your life? What makes you feel most alive? Share below and let’s explore this ever-evolving journey together.