Episode #38: Yali Szulanski

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Yali Szulanski, M.A., is a mother to two amazing kids, Zoey, 3 years old, and Eli, 5 months old. She is a teacher and the founder of The “I Am” Project, through which students integrate contemplative and mind-body-spirit practices into their classrooms and lives in accessible and practical ways. As a survivor of trauma and in recovery from an eating disorder now for 10 years, Yali has used her struggles and healing to inform her studies and work. Her personal experiences enable her to speak and teach with compassion and understanding. Yali continuously works to deepen the connection between her work and her learnings in the spiritual evolution throughout childhood and adolescence — and its integration with traditional systems of education. Yali creates spaces in which people can safely explore their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Yali works with groups in the classroom, runs workshops for parents and teachers, and works with people of all ages and origins individually.

When Yali Szulanski was in high school, she realized that the size of her body was something she could control. Her goal was to stay the same weight, not to lose weight, but she ended up dropping sizes. When she went to college, she continued to develop eating disorder behaviors. As someone who has also navigated anxiety, depression, self harm, and trauma, Yali realized that if she didn’t seek recovery, she would continue to lose relationships in her life. On today’s episode, Yali and I talk about the role her husband has played in her recovery (and how she tried to convince him not to date her), the importance of learning self-compassion, and how she practices awareness and cares for her body now that she’s a mom to two kids. We also chat about the lightbulb moment (in the form of a dream) that inspired her to found the The “I Am” Project.

What he would say to me constantly was, ‘You are like an onion, and I believe that there’s a very good, passionate, interesting, healthy core inside.’

Here are some of the things Yali and I chatted about:

  • Her memory of being at summer camp and making friends with trees instead of other kids

  • Moving to the U.S. from France and going to middle school in a completely new environment

  • Her experience of being sexually assaulted at school at age eight, and how she coped with it

  • The pressure of her high school years, and when anorexia and self harm came into the picture

  • How eating disorder behaviors linked to bulimia affected her during her difficult college years

  • Upon meeting her now-husband, giving him a list of reasons why a relationship was a bad idea

  • How, over the years, she’s learned to recognize negative self-talk and have self-compassion

  • How meditation helps with her awareness, and why that’s helpful in challenging moments

  • Why it was important for her to really commit to her recovery before having children

  • How exercise allows her to release anxiety and commit to her body in a way that sustains her

  • Having conversations about food with her kids without using the terms “healthy” or “unhealthy”

  • The supportive nature of her grandparents, and their ability to listen and be open with her

  • The dream she had about her grandfather after he died, which led her to found The “I Am” Project

  • Recently implementing The “I Am” Project in the classroom in conjunction with Judaic studies

The biggest thing I have learned over the last ten years is how to have self-compassion, which I did not have at all before that.

 
 

Follow Yali on Instagram and learn more about The “I Am” Project on the website


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krista gray