Meet The Teach: Alexa Silvaggio Gained Weight And Self Respect Through Yoga
Eight years ago, Alexa Silvaggio, 29, wasn’t the Raphaelite beauty she is today. She had anorexia, aware that her illness translated into a higher probability of landing plum musical theater roles. Praised for drowning in size 0 clothes, she survived on 200 calories a day to power through three hours of dance classes and one Pilates session at Syracuse University.
As a sophomore with a professional stage career, she was 5’7’’ but only 100 pounds.
“Anorexia is a form of self-hatred,” explained Silvaggio, who now wears a size 6 or 8. “Yoga is an act of self-care.” YogaCity NYC’s Ann Votaw enjoyed a fascinating interview with the brainy Silvaggio who teaches a challenging but sweet vinyasa:
Ann Votaw: When did you start yoga?
Alexa Silvaggio: I had done yoga for a long time before I got sick. But it was physical, more about stretching and strengthening the body rather than turning inward for information about my emotional state.
AV: What did rock bottom look like for you?
AS: Rock bottom was my college sophomore year. I was skeletal. I didn’t have a period. My hair was falling out. I had hair growing on my back because when you’re that cold, your body does everything it can to survive. I had lost sensation, which was really the point of my anorexia. I couldn’t feel fullness or hunger. For me, anorexia was a way of checking out so I didn’t have to think about the chaos in my life.
AV: Do you remember when you decided to get healthy?
AS: I was on my way from Syracuse to San Francisco to meet my sister and family after doing a show for six months. For some reason on that plane ride on that particular day, I was reading a book called You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. As I was reading, I felt hunger. I ordered a tomato juice knowing that there were nutrients in it. I asked for the can. The tomato juice had 50 calories, so I ordered a Diet Coke instead. In that moment, I felt sincere tenderness and acknowledged how fucked up I was. The road to recovery started that evening.
AV: What was your sister’s reaction when she saw you?
AS: My sister gasped when I took off my jacket. She said, “We have to find you a therapist and a nutritionist right away.” Because I had that moment of clarity on the plane, I was ready to get well. I ate dinner that night.
AV: What did you eat?
AS: Salad, which was more substantial than anything I had been eating. I couldn’t just eat a steak. The next day, my sister and I went to a sweaty yoga class with about 100 students.
AV: What was that class like?
AS: If it hadn’t kicked my ass, I wouldn’t have trusted it. It was rigorous, but I remember the emphasis on breath. From this place of safety, I could eat.
AV: Why did your body feel so unsafe?
AS: I didn’t enjoy my college experience. I just didn’t feel nourished at Syracuse. I didn’t like the cold winters. A part of me knew I didn’t want to do musical theater even though I was good at it. I also had a relationship that went awry. I couldn’t deal with the discomfort.
AV: You had a pretty impressive musical theater pedigree.
AS: I went to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan with some summers at Cap21 at NYU. I started my professional career when I was a sophomore at Syracuse University. My first Equity role was The Mute in The Fantasticks.
AV: You’re now a bi-coastal full-time yoga teacher. How does that work?
AS: My mom had a rough diagnosis of cancer about a year ago. I moved back to California to help take care of her. Now I flip-flop between coasts.
AV: What is your practice today?
AS: I practice asana five times a week. I meditate each morning to set the tone. If I have to be somewhere, I do set a timer, but otherwise, I just let my body be.
AV: What comes up in meditation?
AS: I definitely have repeated negative thoughts about how my body looks. The eating disorder runs deep. It doesn’t go away. Because I have awakened to my thoughts, I can tell myself, “Alexa, you’re not fat or stupid. You’re beautiful and very intelligent. Your body is magnificent.”
AV: What do you see when you look in the mirror?
AS: I see health. I see femininity. I am a strong fit person, but I also have curves. That was
how my body really intended to be. I see strength and gratitude.
Alexa Silvaggio is an instructor at Pure Yoga when she is not caring for her mother.