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Yoga and Eating Disorders

For a decent length of time now, I danced around the idea of writing about my Yoga journey. To be clear, it’s hardly an Instagram-able one. I still haven’t made it into a headstand, let alone a handstand. I still lay my mat at the back of the room and look up to see others, each time the teacher blurbs up words that sound all the same to me - something along the lines of SH-gibberish-ASANA. But today was different.

Today, I found myself in crow pose, for a mere few seconds. I didn’t plan going into it. For the time being I’m still feasting on my recent ability to carry out a Chaturanga flow – using my arms and core to lower down from plank. However, as I was finding stillness in my own variation of crow, my body told me to go for it. It wasn’t telling me to go for the full posture. It specifically told me to go for a tiny jump. One that practiced with consistency would eventually (which to my belief was still a few years out) take me there. But then, something remarkable happened. As my right foot lifted off the ground, I felt my arms strong, strong enough that I gave it another go, this time going for both feet up. And so, there I was, my thighs resting on the elbow-to-shoulder part of my arms, before I hit back the ground.

But let’s start where one ought to start, at the beginning. My first time on the yoga mat, two years ago, I couldn’t even sit legs straight. I was emaciated; my spine and neck impaired by osteoporosis, while my hips were spared the more severe diagnosis, only making it to osteopenia. Having once been strong and flexible I was shocked by what I saw – an inability to move really.

As I embarked recovery from anorexia nervosa, I found a soothing release in Yoga. I couldn’t stand the anxiety and thoughts that came with following my meal plan. But on the mat, my mind was occupied. Also, it was exercise…

If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I’m on about - the high found in putting our bodies into further deficits. Or, using scientific terms, the increase in serotonin levels caused by starvation and/or excessive exercise, to which we become addicted.

While anorexic thought processes get us stuck in highly rigid routines that quickly grow to be destructive, on the crazy spectrum, we still qualify as sane. My rational mind (the Healthy Self, as treatment philosophies classify it) knew better than to injure myself. That’s not to say I didn’t battle with compulsions. But I did know to choose my classes, and went for gentler, more meditative practices.

But this road that I initially embarked to keep busy, with the extra perk of burning calories, lead me a whole different direction: one that, for lack of a less cliché word - saved me.

I learned to observe my thoughts, to choose ones I feed, to let go of those that don’t serve me. I learned to accept pain, to cry, to be grateful for my blessings. I learned to appreciate my body for carrying me through life, for allowing me to come to practice, for keeping me alive. I learned to embrace suffering; I learned to focus on the present moment; I learned to live in acceptance; I learned to be compassionate toward myself; ultimately, I learned to love myself.

I was favoring mindfulness-inspired practices over Vinyasas and more advanced levels. On top of the desire to be kind to my body, I wanted to nurture my mental strength, for I knew it was a powerful mind that would ultimately give way to my body regaining its long-lost strength.

This afternoon, as I consciously noticed my body’s own initiative to go into crow pose, I confirm that strength I have regained. This strength came from practicing acceptance, for acceptance had the immeasurable quality of softening both my body and mind into goals it had set to achieve: the goals of recovery.

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