Talking Yoga and Recovery with Paige Elizabeth

By Nathan A Thompson 01/04/18

It would be a lie to say I love my body today, but I can’t deny the fact that yoga taught me how powerful my body is and that is what I think about if I move too far into self-hatred.

Paige Elizabeth doing yoga
Yoga saved my life because I was suicidal for years. Image via Author

Paige Elizabeth is a yoga entrepreneur currently bringing her brand of pragmatic instruction to the internet via her Dharmic Path business. She is one of only a handful of women in the world who have completed the Advanced B series of Ashtanga Yoga, a backbreaking series of poses concocted by Indian guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. But it is not the hardest thing she has done. Paige Elizabeth discusses overcoming a life-threatening eating disorder, facing early trauma, and her passion for yoga with The Fix

When did you realize you had an eating disorder?

It started when I was 11 and people said I looked chubby. Looking back, I realize I wasn’t chubby, I just had a round face but I ended up with such a distorted body image that I went on a diet aged 11. It worked and lost weight. Soon it became an obsessive thing and I weighed myself in secret every morning because knew if my mother found out she would try and stop me.

What stages did it take?

I started starving myself: taking the anorexic route until my mother noticed and tried to take control of the situation. But I wasn’t having that so I would eat to please her and then go and start vomiting. I was bulimic for three years and then I started cutting and self-harming to punish myself for not being good enough. It was also a way to attack my body for not being perfect enough.

What was behind it?

My therapist thought I was a sexual trauma victim but that wasn’t accurate but, during therapy, I did remember witnessing the molestation of my brother which could be equally traumatizing. That could have been the seed but I don’t want to pin it all on that; sometimes I wonder if it is due to karma from a past life because the sense of being unloveable goes so deep. The only way to survive was to dedicate my life to transcending that wound and replacing all that damage with self-love.

So it was a family trauma?

My brother became a heroin addict and died when he was 30. It’s interesting how family dynamics follow certain patterns. For example, when, after years of therapy, I took my power back from my mother, that’s when things started to fall apart with my brother. There was always a scapegoat in my family and I think he fell into that position.

It’s quite saddening that my mother treated me like a burden, but my brother she smothered to the point of not allowing him to do his own thing. It was two very different dynamics and both were damaging. She was still cleaning his house until the day he died.

My dad comes from a family of seven and my grandfather hated him so he was more inclined to be nice and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be here. Crazy as my behavior got, he trusted I would pull through but my mother wanted me to go an institution. I would have hated that. I’ve always been a freedom whore.

How did you get into yoga?

I was a gymnast and got tired of coaches saying I was never good enough. In gymnastics, no matter how high you jump, the bar always gets set higher. I went to my first yoga class when I was 16 and I remember feeling like I could use my body in an expressive way and I loved that there was no element of competition. I started going to yoga throughout my recovery from the eating disorder and learned that my body was an incredible thing. I learned that, while I might not like the way my body looks, I can appreciate what it can do.

What other tactics/treatment helped?

I don’t want to say yoga became my new addiction but it was something I could put my energy into that was healthy and helped me focus. It saved me from a lot of bad behavior because I was just doing a lot of yoga and all my friends were doing it so I wasn’t interested in drinking and partying.

As the years went by my yoga practice deepened and I started feeling emotions beyond the eating disorder and uncovering shadows of body dysmorphia which is a harder thing to conquer. Tight yoga clothes can trigger it, I mean, what am I going to do? Wear parachute pants to practice?

It would be a lie to say I love my body today, but I can’t deny the fact that yoga taught me how powerful my body is and that is what I think about if I move too far into self-hatred.

Was there anything harmful in the yoga practice?

I see a lot of former addicts replace their drugs with yoga and they can become like born again Christians: so self-righteous and dogmatic about the poses. Teachers who have not evolved past their own dogmatic shit can be harmful and even start dictating what people should eat and create shame if someone can’t do a pose. If someone tries that on me I’m quick to put them in their place.

What kind of differences are there in how you approach yoga now compared to when you first started?

Yoga saved my life because I was suicidal for years. Recently I have finished the fourth series of Ashtanga (a very advanced sequence of poses) and now I feel it’s my duty to be of service to others and help them through their process. My practice now is less about digging into my own stuff and more about teaching. Sure, teaching advanced poses is great but more than that I want to help people learn to love themselves; if you live like that it’s amazing how easy life gets.

You start to make choices based on what is good for you and that streamlines your life. You also see things differently, like the beggar who is not an imposition on you but is part of God. You become more willing to be of service to others and you don’t get offended so easily because you see what happens on the outside doesn’t pertain to you. We are only triggered by areas that we haven’t uncovered and healed from.

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Nathan A. Thompson is the president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, where he has been based since 2013. He has reported for VICE News, the TelegraphGuardianSlateSalonand Christian Science Monitor both in Cambodia and across the region and currently works in editorial at He writes travel articles, essays and released his first poetry collection, I Take Nothing Strong Only Lightning in 2016. Follow Nathan on Twitter.