Right now I'm sitting on a yoga mat on the rooftop of 2309 Main Street in Santa Monica, California. Just below me is a giant red wall painted with the words "YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL," and there are two ten-foot tall inflatable dancing man balloons blowing in the wind beside me. There are men and women walking by on the sidewalk below, a beautiful community garden across the street. The ocean is just visible in the distance. This is #OccupyYouAreBeautiful.
Between today and Wednesday, September 19, this yoga mat will be my home. I will stay here all day and all night—I will eat here, sleep here, and I will be joined by yoga teachers, musicians, speakers, and other members of the community. #OccupyYouAreBeauitful is a public demonstration of solidarity with people who struggle with food and body image issues on all ends of the spectrum. Together, we are taking a stand—for life, for happiness, and for the right for all people to feel beautiful in the bodies they inhabit.
The statistics around eating disorders in this country are discouraging. Nearly 24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, and millions of others struggle with food and body image issues at a subclinical level. This disease kills nearly half a million people every year—daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, and spouses. That's not okay. 32-year-olds shouldn't be dying of starvation.
My own personal story started at Children's Medical Center in Dallas at age 15, when I was admitted to the hospital at less than sixty pounds. After a five-year battle with Anorexia Nervosa, my body had reached its breaking point. The valves in my heart were leaking. My skin was yellow from liver failure. I'd had a stroke and was hanging onto life by a thread.
I spent the next sixteen months of my life in the hospital. The journey back to health was long and arduous, but fortunately I had an incredible team of medical professionals there to support me when my legs weren't strong enough to carry me. I left the hospital when I was 17, and while I'd made almost a complete recovery physically... I was still entrapped in the mental prison of an eating disorder. I was sure I was doomed to relapse.
It was just a few months after I’d left the hospital when my therapist encouraged me to try yoga. She was certain it would be good for me. I did not agree. I thought yoga sounded too touchy-feeling, too new-agey, too gentle for my tastes. But I went, most mostly because I felt my body was getting too big to tolerate. The eating disorder was by no means gone, and I thought yoga would be a good way to burn calories and prevent myself from getting fat.
Over the next several months, yoga re-introduced me to a body I hadn’t felt—truly felt—in years. The practice taught me how to listen to my body's needs, appreciate it for its functions rather than form, and cope with emotions I nearly killed myself trying to starve away. Yoga gave me practical tools for fighting an eating disorder—it answered questions that traditional treatment simply couldn't address. This is what hunger feels like. This is how you stay calm when sh*t hits the fan. This is why you take care of you your body.
Over the past several years, I've put a lot of thought into which elements of the yoga practice were helpful in my recovery and which weren't (I think some aspects of yoga culture can actually exacerbate an eating disorder). I developed a program called Yoga for Eating Disorders, which is designed to help people with food and body image issues tune into hunger and fullness signals, cope with difficult emotions, and learn to relate to the body as an ally rather than an enemy. Eating disorders—from anorexia to binge eating—take a huge toll on our healthcare system. As a complementary treatment, yoga can give eating disorder sufferers tools that pharmaceuticals and talk therapy simply cannot provide; potentially shortening treatment, reducing relapse, and ultimately saving lives.
On July 30 (my 24th birthday), I launched a crowd-funding campaign with the goal of raising $50K to take Yoga for Eating Disorders to treatment centers around the country at no charge, collect data for an evidence-based study on its effectiveness in treatment, and do a series of pro-bono talks about eating disorder prevention at local schools in each city the program is offered. It is an ambitious campaign, but I know in my heart that it's a necessary one. With nearly $20,000 raised so far, there is no doubt the community is behind it. But with less than six days left in the campaign... it was time for something drastic.
Inspired by my friend Will Baxter of the Don't Let Will Die campaign, I decided to climb on top of the "You Are Beautiful" building, lay my yoga mat down on the roof, and stay up there 'til all the funds for Yoga for Eating Disorders are raised. I can't let this campaign fail. This practice saved my life. I won't get off this mat until others get access to the same opportunity.
If you want to participate in #OccupyYouAreBeautiful, I would love for you to get involved. We will be live-streaming the entire event online, so you can tune in 24-hours a day September 15, 16, and 17 for free yoga and meditation sessions, music, public talks, and more. If you live in the area and want to volunteer, email me here. We welcome anyone who can offer a service (musicians, yoga teachers, speakers, etc.) or individuals who want to serve as hands-on-deck by telling those walking by about the campaign or bringing food, water, and supplies to the roof. Click here to add it to your To-Do list.
You can also help make Yoga for Eating Disorders possible by making a donation and sharing the campaign with your friends and family.
There is no reason this has to be the only #OccupyYouAreBeautiful. I encourage you to join the movement and host one in your own community.
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