04/03/2015 11:15 am ET Updated Jun 03, 2015

How to Turn Your Struggle Into Your Gift

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Over the years I've taught yoga to every age from 3-year-olds, to 90-year-olds. In each class, no matter how old or young, I see a miraculous shift occur.

By the time we say "Namaste," they look taller and brighter. They look lighter, happier, more vibrant. Relaxed.

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach yoga to a group of teenage girls. They were giggle-y and shy at first. A few had tried yoga before, and several announced solidly: "Oh, I'm sure I suck at yoga" before we had even started.

I took my place on my mat, and instantly recalled my first yoga class: I was 14 years old. My mom and I rolled out mats and sat down, unsure of what to expect. Annette (I still remember her name, to this day), gently guided us through sun salutations. We had no idea how to do the poses correctly. We felt awkward and clumsy.

Despite that, a door opened for me that day.

At the time I had a severe eating disorder. I ate less than a few hundred calories a day, and would look in the mirror with disgust. I was completely detached from my body. I'd learned to turn off the signals. If I was hungry, I'd ignore it. If something hurt, I'd push through it.

And then I came to yoga; I closed my eyes and breathed. I tuned in.

That moment I stepped on a journey of reconnecting with my body. It was a long journey, no doubt. That one yoga class didn't change everything. It did help start the process, though.

I felt a glimpse of what it was like to connect with my body... and slowly but surely, I began to heal the pain that had been living in every cell of my body. The self-loathing. The deprivation. The barrel of emotions that I never had the tools to understand.

For so long I'd numbed my body as a way to avoid the emotional pain, and in yoga, I began to reconnect.

As I moved through this journey, the perfect people would step into my life to help me move to the next level of healing: counselors, life coaches, teachers, and healers.

And fast forward to today -- for the first time in years, I can honestly, and PROUDLY say, I don't look in the mirror with disgust. I actually like my body and say nice things to myself when I see my reflection. For someone who spent half her life hating herself, that's huge.

I eat in a healthy way, I appreciate food, and I have balance.

And best of all, I've turned my shadow... this awful time in my life... into my light. It's my gift back to the world. Now I get to help others connect with their bodies. I get to help them release the emotions that we store inside our cells. I help them love their bodies, love themselves... and in doing so, we start to receive the love and abundance we deserve.

I've found my calling -- whether it's through yoga, or coaching a client with food issues to end emotional eating, helping people connect with their bodies is what I was meant to do.

I now know that we all have the capacity to turn our shadows and struggles into our greatest light. In fact, I believe that's what we're meant to do. I resisted this for the longest time; I wanted to push my eating disorder away, sweep it under a rug and run from that horrible time. Once I began to see this period of my life as a blessing, appreciating all that it taught me, I was finally released from the chains.

It's my hope that we can ALL turn our struggles into our gift back to the world, because if each of us did that....

The world would be a pretty incredible place. We'd see love where pain used to be. Light where there was darkness. And hope for all the negativity in the world.

It all starts with accepting your story rather than pushing it away. Welcome it into your life, and ask yourself, "what has this given me? How has this served me"? And then watch what unfolds.

For any of you struggling, my heart goes out to you. You're not alone in your darkness, and there is so much light on the other side.


If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.