I’m thrilled to introduce this guest post from Cami Cote, an inspiring yogini who doesn’t let size get in her way of feeling healthy. Cami is owner of River City Yoga in Missoula and (drum roll here…) struck a gorgeous warrior pose in Origin Magazine. I love Cami’s story because she has done what we all have — shed pounds through sheer discipline only to find out that lasting transformation stems from our hearts and minds. Please join me in thanking Cami for sharing her story, first published in MindBodyGreen.
My first yoga teacher had a license plate that read Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a sanskrit word that means, non-violence. This is the story of my journey to learning the true meaning of Ahimsa and finding peace with my body, mind and spirit.
I had a less than ideal childhood: I felt unloved, unworthy, and abandoned. I became an overweight child, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I was teased and bullied because of my size and I felt completely alone and powerless. As I got older, I tried to find ways to control my life any way that I could. My primary outlets for this became diet and exercise. I’d successfully lose weight, but then I’d gain it all back, a cycle that only contributed to my feelings of self-hate.
I had always been interested in yoga, but didn’t think that I could actually do it, until a personal trainer at the gym recommended that give it a try. One day, I finally did. The teacher was kind and supportive and I felt challenged. I was hooked and knew I wanted to learn more.
Soon into my yoga journey, I realized that for the 90 minutes I was in class, I could let go of control, negative thoughts, and feelings of self-hate. However, as I went deeper into yoga, there was a part of me that wanted to be like the other yogis: thin and able to do poses such as upward facing bow pose and handstand. I thought if I looked a certain way and could do advanced asanas that I would finally find confidence and happiness. I became desperate to lose weight; I just knew that everything I had ever wanted would be mine if I could just achieve a smaller body. I drastically cut my calorie intake and started spending upwards of three hours at the gym every day doing cardio and yoga.
And I saw results! I dropped over 100 pounds in less than nine months. However, I was still beating myself up, physically and mentally. My self-talk was negative, and on top of that, I was over-exercising, pushing my body beyond its limits. And ironically, despite the increased activity level and the weight loss, I didn’t feel better about myself because I weighed less; I was still in pain physically and mentally. I had developed persistent knee pain and after several weeks, it hadn’t gone away. I had a series of X-rays and an MRI, which showed I had a torn meniscus and osteoarthritis.
Arthritis at 38, that was difficult to accept! I had to change everything; I could no longer sustain the activity level that I’d been doing.
All of these realizations led to a downward spiral into despair. I gained a few pounds and knew I needed to do something about it, but I couldn’t exercise the way I had grown accustomed to. I felt like I had my life torn away from me, I couldn’t even walk without being in pain, which meant that the aerobic exercise I had been doing was out of question. As a person who has dealt with compulsive eating, body image issues, and depression, it is a real challenge to pull out of that darkness. I gained 20 pounds, 20 became 40, and then 60 pounds. The realization that I might not get back to where I began become a real possibility. I wanted to treat myself with love and compassion, but how could I? I was unworthy at the very level of being able to take care of myself. I had failed.
My knee injury became a defining moment in my life. Isn’t it interesting how injuries become our teachers? I had to give up my strong practice in lieu of a gentle and restorative practice, had to do physical therapy. I went to a counselor and started working on my issues with compulsive eating, self-hate, and body image. I began to meditate seriously and found joy in kirtan (call and response singing). With all of this intensive internal work, my life started to shift and I started listening, I learned to connect with compassion and make peace with my body and mind. I had to find out what worked for me and I had to learn that could not let others determine what I should or should do in my practice.
I decided that I wanted to live and not hide; I wanted to live an empowered life and not see myself as a victim. Between yoga, meditation, therapy, and, surprisingly a knee injury, I learned to make peace with my body, mind, and spirit.
To say that yoga changed my life is an understatement. No one told me I couldn’t practice or teach yoga, and along the way I discovered the true meaning of Ahimsa.
Cami Cote is a yogini, a registered yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance, and a kirtan wallah living in Missoula, Montana. She currently lives with hypothyroidism and arthritis, but doesn’t let those obstacles get in the way of her yoga practice or living life to the fullest. “I want to share my story to inspire people, to raise awareness of the fact that there are full figured yogis in the world despite what you see in the average yoga class, that we are strong, capable and able to practice. Anyone that has the desire to practice yoga should get out there and try it. The yogic path takes dedication, hard work and above all self-love.” If you want to know more or connect with Cami, visit her www.rivercityyoga.net