16-year-old with anorexia says yoga gave her 'life again'

16-year-old with anorexia says yoga gave her 'life again'
16-year-old with anorexia says yoga gave her 'life again' Photo: Maris Degener

At 13 years old Maris Degener was hospitalised for three weeks.

For anyone that asked why, she would make something up. The reality was she was suffering from anorexia.

Now 16, Degener is a happy teen approaching her 17th birthday and preparing to go to university.

All of which she says she owes to yoga.

"My mind was sick, but I knew that the only thing that would keep me out of a wheelchair was getting my body stable and bringing it back from the brink," Degener told CNN.

"And then I found Just Be," a yoga school in Walnut Creek, California. "And I slowly fell in love with my cells again. I fell in love with the way movement felt in my body, the contraction of musculature, the breath circulating through my veins.

"I suddenly wanted nothing more than to feel what feeling alive felt like -- to see if I could find that person I thought had died inside of me long before I got to know her."

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Degener shared her story in a letter to her yoga instructor, Jenni Wendell. A story the instructor was all too familiar with, crediting yoga with helping her through her own struggle with depression and anxiety.

The pair continued exchanging letters until Wendell offered Degener a job working reception, followed by a scholarship to undergo a yoga training course.

"I witnessed that the door cracked open a bit," Wendell said. "This authentic view of who she is started to emerge. I think it was due to her feeling safe and part of the group."

"Yoga gave me life again, a passion and a purpose," said Degener. "I credit Jenni with turning my life around."

Despite where she is now, Degener says it hasn't been easy.

"You won't want to get better, not for a long time. You'll think you'll want to get better, and then get scared and won't. You'll try again, and again, and again. You'll slip up, you'll relapse, you'll feel like a failure.

"But somewhere along the line, you find something, just one little thing, that makes getting back up again feel worth it. For me, it's that little flutter my heart makes when I look around a room, either as a student or a teacher, and just feel like I could float on air from the energy in the room. That moment when you feel like you're dancing on your mat. That moment where everything seems to fall into place.

Blogging about her journey, Degener says she is grateful to everyone who has helped her along the way.

"The only message I want to send is this: Talk about your story," she writes. "Share it. Write it. Sing it. Create it. Nothing but opportunity has come from telling my own. From that first letter I wrote to Jenni, to the CNN article, I have personally experienced the power of authenticity. People want to listen, they want to connect. They want to hear who you are."