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Eat to Live

When I am truly in my eating disorder – anxious, rushed, stressed – I become (or my life becomes) much like the life of a food critic. I no longer go about my day grounded in the present moment. I am not focused on the tasks at hand. My day becomes about food!

A food critic and an anorexic may seem incomparable, but the both must plan their day (to some degree or another) around food: when, what, and where they eat. It becomes strategic, an ordeal even in some cases. It can become stress provoking for both parties – pressure on the anorexic to eat, and pressure on the critic to accurately critique the food.

The other day I started to feel like a food critic; thinking about what I would eat when, and carefully scrutinizing anything that passed my lips. It took me awhile to remember that food will always be around, there will always be a next meal, and that I rather live life for life rather than live life for food. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, maybe you want to stop living like a food critic, and eat to live rather than live to eat.

Transparency

I walked into an LA yoga studio yesterday, a big corporate place, and struck-up a conversation with a young woman named Sarah. She was kind, with a gentle face – giving me the impression that I had walked into more than just a studio, but a community. I was grateful for this, because when she asked me the question “are you from the area?” I was left with two options – to be completely transparent, or to skirt around the question… in this instance, I chose transparency.

It was to be my first outside yoga class in four months. Physically, I was weaker than I had been; emotionally, I was a little worn-down. I was in the perfect position to approach the class as an expert-beginner. I had experience, but not in this body. I knew confidence and mental strength, but we had been apart for some time. It was my first class outside of Monte Nido Vista, a residential treatment home, and EDCC, a day program in LA, that I would be taking. I can hardly begin to describe the anxiety that I felt when the teacher first walked into the room. Something told me that he would know I hadn’t practiced in some time.

As far as my conversation with Sarah goes, I told her everything. A complete stranger, and I chose to open up about everything. What surprised me the most was how well she received my story and how touched she was that I shared. She opened up about having gone through some rough patches in her own life as well. It was as if we were close friends, just catching up on our time apart. And I felt stronger in the process – I owned who I am and where I am going in my life. I didn’t put up any kind of facade, and I was rewarded with a rich experience.

I believe that there is something so powerful about being transparent – an untapped connection, a new experience, an opportunity for growth… we far too often hide from our own lives and from other’s, creating a stigma around struggle and an unrelenting drive for success. If we could meet one another with transparency we could open a new gateway of expectation, one that relies more on honesty than competition.

Being Seen

It’s incredible, the feeling of being seen. Not only seen, but heard too. In times of uncertainty and struggle one of the most touching actions from another is hearing that they see you, and that they care. No intervention needed, just a caring witness, someone who knows and acknowledges how hard you are trying.

These are the moments that catch me and stick with me the most. It happened when I was young and on the cross country team, one of my coaches took the time to acknowledge how hard I was trying. He hardly knew just how much I was going through at home, but he could still see how hard I was trying.

It happened when I was sitting in my psychiatrist’s office, recounting my tory and remarking that I was “just fine.” She didn’t down-play anything, she knew just how hard I was pushing myself. It happened when I answered the question “how are you doing?” with a common “good,” and my friend asked “really?”

It happened again just two days ago. I was pulled out of a process group at Monte Nido – I had been struggling periodically throughout the day – and Kate asked me “what’s up?” My mood had dropped and I felt depressed. I was still showing up, as if nothing had happened; but my motivation was fickle and my eyes told a story, a story of struggle. Kate remarked that my words told her I was fine but my face told her otherwise, and she couldn’t have been more correct. She saw me. I was hurting on the inside, and she wanted me to know that she care, and that she saw me.

As humans, we need more moments like these. Moments of raw connection – not problem-solving or berating – but simply moments of witnessing and showing up for others. We push ourselves so hard, and move so quickly in today’s society; it can be challenging to slow down and face the truth of one’s efforts. We need to start taking the time to witness our true emotions, and show compassion for ourselves and others in the process.

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Yamas & Niyamas in Recovery

In my study of yoga philosophy I was introduced to two very important practices, the yamas and niyamas. These are the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path, and they represent different ways of being in the world. The yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. Put to practice, these ten principles allow a person to lead an ethical and balanced life. They can especially help to guide those like me in recovery from an eating disorder.

I want to take this time to write specifically about the first of the these two practices; the yamas. The yamas are ethical guideline for interacting with the world. There are five yamas – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. The first principle, ahimsa, is Sanskrit for nonviolence. The concept of ahimsa teaches people to have compassion for themselves and for others. In my eating disorder I had very little compassion for myself, and I outwardly expressed violence in protection of my disorder. My behaviors became deeply ingrained and revolved around judgement, deprivation and strain – the opposite of compassion. Recovery from an eating disorder means finding compassion toward mind, body, and soul. Without compassion and non-violence, detrimental behaviors persist and degrade the healthy self that resides within each person.

The second yama is satya, or truthfulness, and it is very difficult to balance with ahimsa. In recovery, it is necessary to tell the truth, without judgement, in a way that is slo non-harmful. For me this means speaking up when my mood drops, or sharing when I have urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. Without truthfulness I am stuck in my disorder, and alone in the world too. With satya, you not only gain freedom, you gain connection as well.

The third yama is asteya, which means non-stealing. When I am in my eating disorder I continually steal from my authentic self. Practicing asteya means that I provide my body of vital nutrients and fill my life with genuine experiences. Unrealistic standards tend to rob a person of happiness, and in order to recover, one must choose fulfillment over “perfect” achievement. A healthy body allows you to do and accomplish so much while the eating disorder merely keeps you trapped. For this reason I choose to no longer allow my eating disorder to steal from my life. This is a choice that I have to make each day in order to be recovery.

The fourth yama is brahmacharya, or non-excess, and teaches us to find balance in life. For those who have eating disorders, bramacharya is severely disrupted and life is way out of balance. There is very little respect for the bodies limitations, and the mind gets stuck in a vicious cycle of judgement and brutality. The concept of bramacharya teaches us that we mustn’t act in excess, either by restricting or bingeing, overexercising or purging. All of these actions throw the body and mind out of balance, leading to a disruptive lifestyle. Brahmacharya has helped me to personally find respect for the balance of life and abstain from harmful behaviors.

The fifth and final yama is aparigraha, or non-attachment. I constantly have to remind myself of this yama as life constantly takes unexpected turns. I have had to teach myself to not be attached to the results, and to accept things as they are. As far as my eating disorder goes, I am constantly having to detach from my appearance, my diet and my exercise in order to gain a steady sense of self-worth. Aparigraha means letting go of the way that you expect things to go and accepting them as they are.

Although I am still in recovery from my eating disorder, I fully believe that I can make a full recover if I continue to practices the five yamas. Already these principles have helped me to find greater balance in my life and more respect for myself and my body. I hope that you too can adopt some these principles into your own life!

Patience

Every morning I wake up and do three things – I stretch, I write my “I am” statements, and I set intentions for the day. Something as simple as this requires a great deal of patience and dedication (for me). This small practice has allowed me to reflect on the ways in which I’ve approached patience throughout my life in the past; and I’ve come to realize that I need a patience reality-check.

I’ve learned one or two things about patience in the past few months. First and foremost, I cannot practice patience once and then consider myself to be a patient person. That just doesn’t work. Second, it is not real patience if I expect it to work within “my timeline.” Patience has no bounds or time limits. I voice this reality with frustration, and the acknowledgment that I am not always a patient person. My most recent battle with patience relates to my recovery from an eating disorder.

I heartily believed that by acknowledging my eating disorder I would recover quickly and live a full life. This hasn’t been the case. In the beginning, I fought against taking time off school. Now after making a medical withdraw I still find myself rushing to get back to the very environment that led me to the depths of my eating disorder. I’m a bit ashamed of this tendency – this desire to rush through life; I so believed that I would feel whole within weeks and that my behaviors would change instantly. As it turns out, I’m a bit of a fighter when it comes to change. Logically I understand why recovery doesn’t happen instantly; yet I still fight. Therefore, I’m having to work on finding more patience within my life. This means inviting fluidity into my life and greater acceptance. 

Patience, just like stillness, requires constant attention and work.  Learning to connect mind-body and soul is my current practice in patience. I will dedicate myself heartily to the process, and I fully expect to face difficulty along the way.

“Patience is the calm acceptance that things can happen in a different order than the one you have in mind.”  – David G. Allen

Let the Battle Begin

img_2598Okay, it is time to come clean about something – and I wish it were something light like “I actually can’t touch my toes” or “my best friend is a dog;” but that just isn’t the case… this is slightly more serious…

I’m recovering from anorexia.

There. I said it. Am I better? Can I think my way out of this disorder from here on out, now that people know and I’ve owned up to my problem? If that were the case then these past couple months would have been a breeze.

It has been about a month since I acknowledged my eating disorder, and I am now just beginning to slow down and truly focus on improving my health and recovering. Why I didn’t get help sooner (after all – I’ve struggled with this for quite some time now)? It’s hard to say, but I would most likely blame the denial component of anorexia that is so strong. To tell you the honest truth, there never really was a point in which I was like “wow – I have an eating disorder this is terrible!” Instead, the last year and a half has been filled with red flags and panic attacks. Not to mention weight loss, depression, and social withdraw. I wish it ended there, but I still had some denial left in me, so I tried to continue to think my way through my eating disorder… and then my blood draws came back abnormal. And then my vitals were no longer normal. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t laugh with my friends out of a pure lack of energy. Enough said, I have an eating disorder, and I wish it hadn’t taken all these signals to get me to admit it.

I do not think that this disorder makes me any less of a great person, nor does it take away from my capabilities as a yoga instructor – it just calls for an evaluation of my priorities, and extra time spent improving my mental (and physical, in a way) health.

I am scared. I am confused. I have values that I preach and need to do a better job practicing. All these things I am sure of, and one other; I am perfectly imperfect. I am a young yogini, with an eating disorder, learning something new each day and practicing yoga now in a new way. Right now, yoga (and life in general) has really become about uniting my body and mind – and finding my authentic self!.

I will fight this battle, and I will win.

From Distance Running to Heavy Meditating – My Decision to Leave Cross Country to become a Yoga Instructor

When I picked up the first of three text books that I received for my yoga teacher training, I was astonished. I already had plenty of doubt about my ability to become a yoga instructor after years of running cross country and track; but now, staring at this book, I was really questioning my decision to leave running and take up yoga. Not only was the book HUGE, but the title read The Art and Practice of Moving into Stillness by Erich Schiffman.

Stillness?! Ha. I rarely made time for sitting still, and most people knew that about me. If I wasn’t moving or actively doing something, then I might as well have been sleeping – or so I thought. At the time that I chose to pick up yoga, I felt the overwhelming need to constantly be doing something. Call me manic, but I needed to be moving, accomplishing, producing, anything… And that is why I ran.

I like to say that I ran all the time, and for so many different reasons. I ran to compete, I ran for my health, I ran to keep myself busy… and ultimately? I ran myself into the ground. I was exhausted. 18 and my life had turned into a game of trying to get by each day with just the right amount of energy. I had a busy workload in school, and I wasn’t prone to getting much sleep. I ran miles upon miles each day with my team, and I was hard-pressed to accept anything less than perfect. On top of all that, I was facing family struggles at home (that are worth an entire blog in and of itself)! Bottomline, I was burning the candle at every known end; and there came a point when I realized that if I didn’t change something, then the flames that fueled my life were bound to burn out themselves. So I enrolled in Shanti Yoga School.

Stillness though? Complete stillness?… I was good at plenty of things, but stillness was a concept that I was vastly unfamiliar with; and quite honestly a little afraid of. I’m sure many people can relate to this feeling, of being a little afraid of stillness. After all, our society is bombarded by near-constant stimulation. Bear with me though – stillness is one of the best things you could possibly bring into your life, and it is perhaps one of the most greatly misunderstood concepts. It took me a very long time to bring stillness into my own life and to appreciate it for what it truly is, but reading the first chapter of Erich Schiffman’s daunting wonderful book, this accomplishment became much easier. The first few lines of his book go something like this:

“Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.”

It wasn’t so hard to imagine bringing stillness into my life when it ultimately could lead me to moving faster, in one sense or another! When we become still, we learn to become more focused and in-tune with our actions. We invite more quality into our lives without necessarily sacrificing the quantity. I quickly found out through my practice and study of yoga that it doesn’t take hours of sitting in a silent room for the mind to become quiet and settled. Something as simple as taking a few deep breaths when you get flustered, or noticing what your breath is like when you wake up in the morning, are just as effective and certainly more accessible.

So here’s where I’ll choose to bring this train of thought to a close; when I first took on a yoga teacher training, I was a highly motivated individual leading a fairly frantic life. Who am I today, a year later? Well, I’m still a highly motivated individual, and I’m still living at a fast-pace; the only difference is that I’ve made room for stillness, and consequently greater mindfulness too. I still run, but I do so out of a love for the sport and a desire to connect with nature. I still have a busy workload, but I don’t let it replace the 8 hours of sleep I choose to get at night. I still get flustered and frustrated, but I’ve learned how to relax even when my mind is racing.

It took learning the art of stillness for me to transition from distance running to yoga and meditation; but I can say with confidence that I’ll never look back on my decision to enroll in Shanti Yoga School. Today I have newfound energy, and my actions are backed by greater intention. It turns out I don’t always have to be moving in order to be accomplishing something great! What’s best? I now get to share this gift with the people that I love in my community.