I used to overexercise to feel in control. Now I use exercise to tap into my deepest self.
Blog by Glenna [Invoke Pilates/yoga instructor, runner, swimmer, rockstar]
Life is a journey, not a destination.
I’ve seen and heard this phrase many times. I never really paid attention to what it means until the last three years, when a transition from a traditional career to a full-time pursuit of my passion for Pilates and yoga led to a major identity struggle at has helped me tap into my true self.
In 2010, I got married, changed my last name and left my full-time job. I was working to finish my masters degree in Public Health while starting Pilates teacher training. I thought I had everything under control. I never knew how much all of those changes would shake my identity to the core.
All the change at once made me feel I needed to clamp down on one thing I thought I could control: my weight. I became obsessed with my physical appearance, my weight and diet restrictions. In preparation for our wedding, I dropped nearly 30 pounds and several dress sizes. And as I shrank in size, I began to withdraw from friends and family situations — often cancelling plans with friends if it meant I would miss a workout or be in a situation with tempting food. I thought of my day only in terms of when and how I was going to exercise and when and what I was going to eat. What had been a desire to lose weight for our wedding had turned into a full-blown obsession.
After two years of this struggle, I accepted that I was losing the battle with control of my weight. I credit regular attendance to yoga classes with initiating my desire to change. One of the main tenants of a yogic life is ahimsa, or non-harming. I knew that with my extreme exercise habits and bulimia, I was harming my body.
I began to research signs and symptoms of eating disorders and found myself calling a treatment center in Indianapolis. I made an appointment with a counselor and my primary care doctor. I decided I wanted to be happy, and my current methods were failing. I decided to tell my family and friends about my struggle. I remember the tearful conversation with my husband — the first honest conversation I had with someone in months.
My journey toward self-acceptance hasn’t been easy. I am still sometimes embarrassed to see friends and relatives, especially those who have not seen me in several months or years. I know there are some people who doubt my ability to be a good pilates or yoga teacher because I am overweight. But I know that my issues have made me a more compassionate teacher, a trait that cannot be taught. That doesn’t mean I won’t challenge my clients to push to the limit, but it means I know when to push and when to let go.
Taking away the shroud of my eating disorder has made me rethink friendships, reset priorities, and change my relationship with the external world. There are relationships that have been strained a little because I recognize trigger behaviors in some of my close friends, who are as competitive as I am. I also still struggle with perfectionism, a common trait among people with eating disorders. For example, I recently came home after a yoga class that left me feeling frustrated with my inability to do a certain pose. Intellectually I recognize that being able to get into side crow or transition from crow to headstand has absolutely no bearing on my self-worth, but I still felt like a failure. The difference is that now I can reflect on those feelings rather than turning to food.
As I work through challenges, breakthroughs happen. I feel like I am able to be myself around more people and am finding new friendships that honor me. I still love to exercise, but it doesn’t control or define me.
Making exercise part of my job has allowed me to to appreciate its power for good — rather than the control it previously exerted over my life. Through my job teaching yoga and Pilates, I help people find a deeper connection to their body and mind. I know I make them smile.
It has been a winding path so far, and I expect things will continue to change as I continue the journey through life. Now I know I can handle those changes — and thrive.
Glenna Nall is a yoga (RYT-200) and comprehensively certified Pilates instructor who coordinates Invoke’s Pilates program. She also coaches swimming and is an avid runner and swimmer. She lives in Downtown Indianapolis with her husband, Alex.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This post was originally proposed as a piece to describe how I changed careers, but it became much more. I did not intend for this to be a story about my eating disorder, but without inclusion of that angle, this piece would have been a half truth. If you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, I encourage you to contact a professional for help. Resources can be found at http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/. Locally, I recommend contacting the The Charis Center for Eating Disorders at 317.295.0608.