This month were sharing the inspiring life story of fellow Brit and yoga instructor Lou Stokes. Having spent several years in a downward spiral of self-destruction she managed to find the inner power to change her life through the healing spiritual practices of yoga, meditation and gratitude. Lou is a strong positive presence and we are so pleased to share her story with you.
N A M E : Lou Stokes
L O C A T I O N : Born in London, resides in Madrid, Spain.
M Y S T O R Y : I have always had an addictive personality, continually searching for perfection and, whilst at the same time also very hard on myself. For many years I was living a life of complete misery, sadness and addiction. I was a 19 year old, attractive girl with everything going for me but I was physically and mentally weak with zero self-esteem. Addicted to starving myself and bent on self-destruction, I became a person with no joy, gratitude or happiness in my life. My diet consisted of apples and the odd banana, my daily routine consisted of working out in the gym and figuring out how I could eat as little as possible without anyone realizing.
It wasn’t until I found yoga and began to practice meditation and gratitude that my life began to change. Yoga has helped me to go inward, to dig deep and reconnect with myself. Rather than beating myself up, starving myself, reaching for alcohol or harmful substances trying to suppress and escape from my feelings I knew something had to change. I could no longer go on living like this. It was not until I made the decision to change direction and make big internal changes in my life that I really began to heal. I chose the spiritual path and it is the best thing I could have done for myself and thereby others. Now, I live in Madrid with my partner and have a healthy, fulfilled and balanced lifestyle teaching various yoga classes each week, alongside my job as a Business Development Manager for Evolation Yoga, USA.
Anorexia had completely overtaken me; it was affecting every aspect of my life, every single minute of every day was a desperate struggle and I felt so alone, fragile, sad and weak. I could barely concentrate or focus and my day job became very difficult as I struggled to execute my work efficiently. I was living with a serious illness; it felt like someone was inside me controlling every single move I made. A cruel inner voice that never ever shut up and would offer me no peace. I knew I could not carry on living the way I was. I had become completely desensitised and was addicted to control.
Eating disorders are very complex illnesses, not only for those that suffer from them but also for those people who do not fully understand why someone has this illness. It is a misconception that its just about a distorted body image, it goes much deeper than that as it has a profound effect on a person’s mental health. By the age of 25 I had began to eat more regular meals and not calorie count as much, however I was still somewhat controlling with my food, my thoughts were still destructive and my self esteem very low.
I knew overcoming anorexia was not just about eating regularly and healthy again, but also about how I was feeding myself mentally and emotionally. I realised I still had a long way to go on my healing journey and had to make serious changes in my life. This is when I began yoga; there was not a day that went by without me practicing yoga. Yoga was my medicine.
In 2011, I sold everything I owned and decided to go to Evolation yoga teacher training. This was a massive step for me but most importantly it was a natural process; I felt this strong calling to learn more about yoga and to share this amazing practice with others. I completed my first yoga teaching training in Evolation Yoga, Buffalo, New York. The training was intense, more than I could ever have imagined and although I went through tough moments it was worth every minute. I truly feel that this was just the beginning of my healing journey.
Once the training had finished I decided not to return to Spain, but to go to Australia where I began to teach. I spent two years traveling the world, studying and teaching yoga on different continents, USA, Asia, Australia and Europe. I studied Thai massage in Australia and Indonesia which led me into deeper self-inquiry, spent some time in a Buddhist monastery in Thailand, in silence, one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life, yet probably the most enriching. During this part of my journey I learnt more about nutrition and ultimately myself, which helped to nourish myself emotionally and physically.
In 2013, I came back to Madrid where I began my second yoga teacher training in Vinyasa flow and self-published my first book Boney & I: Anorexia, Ustrasana and the Lost Apple Core; A true story of my battle to overcome anorexia.
R E S U L T : Yoga completely saved my life. Without the practice of yoga, therapy, and the support of family, friends and my teachers I really don’t know where I would be today. Through yoga and self-inquiry my whole life has changed, now I feel amazing, grounded and inspired. Not only has my body changed, become more sculptured, flexible and strong but also my mind has changed. My mind is more at peace than it ever was and I couldn’t be healthier inside and out. I finally feel happier and more comfortable in my own skin.
Yoga continually shows me my power, strength and limitlessness and helps me to love what I see in the mirror, to accept and have compassion for others and myself. It gives me the confidence to stand tall and be proud of who I am.
There is a way back to yourself to reconnect, to feel happy and healthy. It may not always be a straight easy road, but believe me, if I can do it, you can too.
L O U S T O P T I PS :
- Step by step, day by day
Life is a journey and healing is a lifelong process, the key is to not give up, nor beat yourself up. Accept that every day is different, your journey is unique to you and it doesn’t matter how long it takes, there is no pressure. Everyone has relapses, don’t let that get you down not judge yourself harshly or be hard on yourself. If this happens, just keep going and trust that you will heal. Self-care and loving yourself are the most potent tools to happiness and healing. I didn’t really understand them before because I thought a person was very egocentric if they put themselves first before others, now I know differently.
- Food for thought
Never ever give up
Balance is the key – everything in moderation
Write a journal – Putting my feelings down on paper really helped me, bad days, goods days, thoughts; I also wrote a food journal for some time, writing down feelings each time I would eat.
Develop daily rituals
Be grateful – write gratitude lists
Every morning look in the mirror and repeat I love you 3 times
Do things that make you feel good
Cultivate healthy relationships that work for you
Above all have fun!
*Do you have an inspiring story related to health and wellness that you think could inspire or help others? If you’d like to see it featured in our Life Stories series, please e-mail STG at firstname.lastname@example.org – we would love to hear from you!