I was 13 when I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. I remember my doctor saying that it could cause infertility as an adult, and to expect a wide range of symptoms as I continued throughout young adulthood.
For me, symptoms included excess body hair, infrequent and irregular periods, and weight gain. Other common symptoms include cystic ovaries, insulin resistance, heavy menstruation, depression, acne, hair loss, and infertility. PCOS affects 1 in 10 women in the United States. It is idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown, but it does result in hormone imbalance and increased androgen levels that are higher than average for a female.
PCOS and Body Image
I carried shame and disappointment in my body for what appeared to be a "punishment" it was acting out within me. I struggled with body image and self-acceptance and began a weight loss journey. After a couple years of healthy eating and daily exercise, I was around eighty pounds lighter.
Although my weight loss journey started with loving intention to become healthier, it also was a byproduct of disliking my body. It developed into disordered eating and compulsive exercise habits which carried me throughout college. I began to do competitive weight lifting and found a high in the challenge and ability to continuously "mold" my body.
The problem was, when I would reach one goal, I would just create another...and I never came into acceptance of how I looked or performed. It became an obsession and gave me a sense of empowerment I was lacking in several areas of my life. It wasn't until my mid-twenties that I decided it was time to change direction.
Focusing on the Physical Wasn't Enough
I stopped participating in physical activities that requested I change in appearance or suggested I was "not enough" as I was. I have always been a perfectionist and it was literally hurting me, emotionally and physically.
I had made progress over the years healing my eating habits—and the deep pain that had enabled it for so many years—through counseling, many moments of taking time to feel, and through a light of self-love that was creeping in more with each year. Now, it was time to take it to another level beyond the physical.
Intuitively, I knew PCOS was a message from my body to dig deeper emotionally and spiritually. What was my body trying to tell me?
For me, PCOS was a message to come into acceptance and peace with my femininity, to love and honor my body, and to heal my sexuality.
As a child, I received unhealthy and irrational messages that instilled shame, guilt, fear, and discomfort residing within my own body. I carried fears and conditioning that it was unsafe, inconvenient, and a disadvantage to be a woman. I struggled to be open to receptivity.
As a result, I felt disempowered in my femininity and experienced many relationship dynamics as an adult where this continued to manifest "teaching moments" on how to take my sense of empowerment back. In addition, the uncertainty and challenge of how to nurture and love myself unconditionally, continued this self-disapproval.
I am still moving through this unraveling of what is not authentic to me, letting go, and opening up to the beauty that has been residing within. I have a ways to go, but I am just grateful to be moving in this direction.
How I Started My Yoga Journey
I began yoga with the an intention to rest and rejuvenate my body after years of intense exercising, but also to heal emotionally. Initially, I was focused on how it could mold my body and change it. I read a couple books about Yoga and it was reinforced that yoga is a "work in," not a work out.
As a fitness trainer, this is a hard intention to change, but I have carried it throughout my practice as best as I can. I use it as a tool to sit within myself, to enjoy the presence of my body, to come into deeper self-love and acceptance, to soothe anxiety and fears, and to listen.
Some days I leave my mat energized and optimistic and other days a flood gate of deep pain is opened. Either way, I eventually feel lighter and come into inner peace.
I have noticed improvements in my PCOS symptoms since the onset of this transition and I am so grateful. I have been on the oral contraceptive pill since childhood to assist in managing my symptoms, and it has helped significantly. However, I can still notice a shift within my body as a result of my yoga practice. It is a collaborative shift between my emotional, spiritual, and physical.
My intuition tells me that when it is time to conceive, I will have no issue. If I am incorrect, then I at least have developed trust in the intelligence of my body and my journey to guide me to the right outcome for me and at the right time.
Why Yoga is Better Than Intense Exercise
I have found that intense exercise is counter productive to where I want to be emotionally, within myself, at this point in my life. It is also counterproductive to achieving healthy hormone levels and can even fuel the production of excess androgens, which for women with PCOS, is already an issue.
I researched "yoga for healing PCOS" and the statistics yield evidence that you can reduce its symptoms of infertility risk, irregular periods, cysts, and help to come into a healthier body weight.
I have found Hatha and Yin styles to be of most benefit. They place minimal stress on the body, allow me to connect deeply with my emotional body, and do not influence androgen hormones to increase, like vigorous styles of yoga may. Occasionally, I still miss intensity behind my movement, so I add in Vinyasa a couple of times a week to create a change of pace. But of course, I still listen to my body regarding what is helpful on a given day.
There are still days where the desire to lift weights or go for a run come to me and I honor those too. My intention behind all movement is to be constructive and self-loving, not destructive, and I listen to my body better than I have ever been able to.
Yoga became a balancing agent in all dimensions of my wellness. I love my body more than I ever have and I understand more deeply each day how physical ailments are always an opportunity to listen. When we listen and tune into ourselves, our bodies are the most amazing messengers.
Moving From Fear to Healing
I truly believe every physical disease and pain carries a powerful opportunity to heal something deeper within ourselves. I am grateful for PCOS for it has taught me how to heal. The scared adolescent who couldn't understand why her body was "rejecting" her, now realizes she had unintentionally been taught to "reject" herself.
Our culture places unrealistic, unattainable, and false messages about what it means to be beautiful, to be a woman, and to honor our femininity.
I may or may not completely heal PCOS from within my body and that is okay. From the love and courage within myself, I have found self-nurturing ways to appreciate and honor my body more, just as it is and where it is.
I am excited to see where my yoga journey will continue to take me. I know it will be a beautiful dance of coming into myself more deeply with each movement and moment that I find myself in.