Sixteen year old Maris Degener had suffered from anorexia since the age of 13. After she was hospitalized for 3 weeks she decided it was time to turn her life in a different direction. “For a while, that was my only motivation — to get better,” Degener wrote in her iReport. “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.”
The doctors told Degener that she wouldn’t be able to do any physical activities for some time due to the weakness of her body. When she became more stable she decided to tell her doctor that she was interested in doing some physical activities. Her doctor suggested that she look for gentle practices such as yoga.
In her junior year of high school, she finally tried it and her life changed. She attended a free class one Sunday at Just Be Yoga in her hometown of Walnut Creek, California. She hadn’t been able to find the mental healing for many years. “And then I found Just Be,” she wrote. “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.”
Degener began to explore her blossoming passion for yoga and became a regular at the studio. Jenni Wendell, owner of Just Be Yoga, remembers the day that the quiet young teen handed her a letter before walking into a class. Within the letter was Degener’s story in her own words. Wendell was both shocked and moved by the letter. In return Wendell wrote a letter back to Degener which shared her experience with emotional pain. “I had depression and anxiety, especially at work,” Wendell says. “I took time off and it turned out to be a gift. I realized that I was meant to help others and share what I had been through. I wrote Maris back and told her, ‘You’ve been through something awful, but you’re not a victim. You can get through this and inspire people. And you’re not alone.'” Degener was still very shy so they continued to exchange letters for the time being.
Wendell gave Degener a book that had changed her own life “The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice.” Degener said the book inspired her, too, to see yoga as more than a hobby. Wendell and her team at Just Be decided to hire Degener to work at their front desk. They later gave her a scholarship to attend a 200-hour training course so she could become a certified yoga teacher. Degener has written her experience through a personal blog that continues to inspire many people. “Yoga gave me life again, a passion and a purpose,” she said. “I credit Jenni with turning my life around.”