Canadian yoga instructor Cynthia Joanne Naydani has made an inspirational life change that many of us can only dream of.
Today, the 31-year-old Canuck lives in tropical paradise, on a Thai island called Koh Tao, where she co-owns Ocean Sound Dive + Yoga and is studying holistic nutrition.
But life wasn’t always so idyllic for Naydani. During her teenage years, she says she felt “stuck and out of control.”
At age 16, she weighed nearly 210 pounds.
“I was in a terrible mental state. Being a teenage girl is hard no matter what, but with my weight everything was so much harder. I was ostracized and bullied and had no self confidence,” she told Daily Mail Australia.
“I spent a lot of time turning to food for comfort. My size made it difficult for me to be active and my mental barriers made it nearly impossible. I was so self-conscious and unhappy with myself.”
When she became too heavy to ride horses — her favourite activity — Naydani realized she had to make a change.
“I’d been riding horses since the age of six and spending time with them was my one refuges. However, by the time I was around 16 I was so overweight, unfit and stiff that my physical size was making it difficult to ride,” she explained.
“I was losing the one thing that meant the most to me and my riding instructor suggested I try yoga. So, I got a book on yoga for equestrians. I didn’t do much with it, but it started to plant the seeds of change.”
At age 18, she began taking yoga classes, which she says was the first time she began to work with her body rather than against it. “Yoga was a life changer for me,” she says.
Later, she says, the biggest challenge was her for self-image; it took a long time for Naydani to learn to love and accept herself.
“For years I criticised myself and hated my body. I saw exercise as a way of punishing my body for it’s state and food as something to fear and avoid. Every time I dieted or tried to exercise it was because I disliked who I was,” Naydani explained.
“Yoga taught me to operate from a place of self-compassion. So, I accepted my current situation and was then able to see exercise as a way of taking care of my body, rather than punishing it.”
Now, the determined yogi is nearly 60 pounds lighter, living in paradise, scuba diving and teaching yoga.
Not only does she practice some form of yoga every day, but Naydani strength trains six days a week as well. Even more importantly, perhaps, are the major important lifestyle changes she made with regards to her eating habits.
“Healthy food became a way of nourishing myself, rather than depriving myself. Once my mindset changed, my diet and exercise habits were able to change dramatically, permanently and quite naturally.”
Now, Naydani eats a whole foods diet consisting of lean proteins (chicken, fish and eggs), loads of veggies, fruit, and complex carbs, such as oats and brown rice. She doesn’t restrict or count calories, and when she feels like a treat — like a burger and fries or an ice cream sundae — she allows herself to indulge every now and then.
For others who are trying to make a similar lifestyle change, Naydani has some advice, including to set realistic goals and plan meals in advance.
“It doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Transitioning to a healthy lifestyle takes time,” she says.
And for Naydani, the journey was absolutely worth it.
“I have gained so much confidence, not because of how I look, but because I realize I am in control of my own destiny and how I want to live,” she says.
“My whole life is really amazing now — I live in paradise and travel around the world in search of new adventures. My 16-year-old self would never have imagined this to be possible.”