“When I was in college, I developed a serious eating disorder,” Alexa says, her usually bubbly voice somber as she recalls the lowest point in her life. Alexa Silvaggio is wearing a white sweater that falls off one shoulder and black yoga pants, sitting in a chair in her living room. She’s 28 years old and has her brown hair buzzed close in a patch above her right temple. The rest of it falls past her shoulders in waves, framing dark eyes in a face that’s almost always smiling. Even now, recalling the trauma she endured, she’s cheerful in the knowledge that those days are behind her. “When I was anorexic, I used to eat 250 calories a day. And do about three hours of dance and an hour of Pilates every day, so my compulsion to exercise and to under-eat was…really, really severe.”
Alexa lives with her mom in a small but tastefully furnished apartment in the Castro district of San Francisco. There’s a framed photo of the Brooklyn Bridge above the fireplace, a cowhide rug on the floor, and a wall of books at the other end of the living room. There’s a tiny porch overlooking Twin Peaks and Noe Valley, where Alexa sits in the morning to drink coffee and write in her journal, and a kitchen connected to the dining area where her laptop sits, filling the small space with eighties dance music. Alexa is happy here, healthy and loving life. But getting here from her illness wasn’t easy. “There was definitely a defining moment, and I will never forget it. I was actually on my way here to San Francisco. I was on an airplane, and I was starving. Being anorexic for a number of months, or a number of years, you don’t really ever feel hunger. But I was starving. I know I hadn’t eaten anything that day, and I was on the airplane and I was going to see my family for the first time in months. So they hadn’t seen me that thin.
“And I was on the airplane, and the flight attendant walked by, and I was, like, ‘Oh, you know, I’ll order a tomato juice, because that’ll give me some sustenance.’ And I asked her for the tomato juice and I looked at the can, and it had fifty calories in it, and I was like ‘no way—‘”
She pauses, looking out the window, almost as though she’s hearing the story for the first time. “I remember just sitting there and crying and going, ‘oh my god, how sad is this? I can’t even eat a tomato juice.’ Like, that’s so f*cked up, you know.” She smiles again. “Sorry. F-bomb.”
When she landed, Alexa stayed with her sister for the holidays. Seeing her sister’s reaction to how thin she had become drove home even further how sick she was, how out-of-control her eating disorder had become. The next day, her sister brought her to a yoga class at Yoga Tree Castro, the studio where Alexa now practices.
Alexa had taken yoga classes before, when she was a dancer, but it was a purely physical practice, designed to help her with strength, flexibility, and recovery. This one was different. “That was the first time that I felt a connection to yoga, to feeling comfortable and safe in my body, and, frankly, from then on, I started eating,” she recalls. “I ate again. It took a lot of therapy and all sorts of other things, too, but yoga was a huge catalyst in my recovery.” Over a homemade meal of guacamole, chicken, black beans, even homemade blueberry-coconut ice cream for dessert, Alexa talks about the person she’s become. “My outlook on my body and my relationship to food and movement has definitely shifted,” she says, winking over a glass of white wine. “I hope that it continues to shift. And I know that through my own self-work, it will.”
For Alexa, yoga wasn’t just the catalyst that set her on the road to recovery. It’s what keeps her there. “Yoga is an act of self-love and an act of self-care and a way to embody your body,” she explains, “and anorexia is an act of self-hate and a way to disembody your body.”
Alexa started teaching because she wanted to spread her practice of self-care to others—to make sure they’re taking care of themselves. But there are barriers to getting that message out. “I know people avoid yoga because they only see one image of, like, a skinny, white girl on her hands or in the splits. And it is a business. It is an industry. But I think we are doing this whole practice a sincere disservice by only showing one type of individual. Yoga is for every body—every single body type, every single individual, no matter what race, ethnicity, color, shape, size, gender.”Now, yoga permeates Alexa’s life. She starts her days with a free-flowing yoga session in her apartment, either on the hardwood floor next to her coffee table or on the roof of her building, where the sun rising over the East Bay hits early in the morning. After her practice, she meditates, taking time to set an intention for the day and collect her thoughts. She practices at Yoga Tree Castro, a cute little studio about a ten-minute walk from her front door, and teaches at the Equinox gym in San Francisco’s towering financial district. A few times a year, she leads yoga retreats to exotic destinations for The Travel Yogi.
“Yoga is everything to me now. I find synchronicities in life. I find resonance between on the mat and off the mat,” she says. “It allows me to wake up and to be a bit more conscious of my thoughts, to be more present and noticing when I’m slipping into old patterns or making bad choices.” She pauses, eyebrows furrowed, trying to find the words. “It helps me…stay.”
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Read on to learn why size really does not matter on the mat, or anywhere else for that matter!