A lot of what I know now about yoga is this: don’t always pick the style that matches your personality. Intensity breeds intensity.
Yoga became a safe haven for me. I could expect how class would go. I knew how to do things “right.” It felt good to get praise for my naturally yoga body and fit the image of a skinny, white woman on the cover of Yoga Journal. Oh, what I wish I could tell that girl now!
If I didn’t go to yoga a certain number of times a week, I’d lose my shit. There were days I couldn’t make it to class and would be overcome with guilt and anxiety about how to “make it up.” Doubles tomorrow? Doubles the next day? Work and relationships took a backseat to my compulsive class attendance. My mind, as many minds with eating disorders work, calculated calories, and determined “healthy” meals to keep my body “clean” for my yoga practice. How else was I supposed to get into an arm balance? (Hint: be nice to yourself and practice arm balances).
If I was honest with myself, I relied on yoga to save me from the retribution of my sins: eating. Restriction via yoga and exercise ruled my life.
And if I could go back, I would say this: eating is not a sin. Eating A LOT is not a sin. Nourishing your body is an important part of pleasure, survival, self-care, celebration, ritual, and being able to do amazing things outside of a yoga studio!
There is no grey area with an eating disorder. No comfort of balance. If you don’t follow the plan, you’re bad. The fears set in about what it would mean to live life without the food rules, the number of miles run, the smaller dress size.
Yoga was not going to save me. I had to save myself. (And for all of us, really, we save ourselves and get a team to support us).
The yoga and fitness world, do no service to changing the narrative around health at every size. Instead, the yoga industry has hijacked the terms we use to describe healthful, soulful living and turned them into branding language.
Mindfulness has become an industry term now included in advertising about how to lose weight with the powers of your mind.
Spiritual materialism has replaced spirituality. You want crystals, folks?! We’ve got them in bulk! You, too, can be more spiritual, more fulfilled, more whole (and healthy, read: skinny) by signing up for our program!
Healthism has replaced actual health. Our culture consciously and subconsciously measures the worth of people based on their body size, shape, and ability to do certain activities. You can’t get into this yoga pose? Try losing weight! You can’t run a marathon because of your knees? Try losing weight!
Healthism (among many other things) is ableist, fatphobic, and classist. It glosses over the systemic issues that contribute to declining health and disease in our country, and instead, points the finger at (most specifically) people in larger bodies including children. Healthism, in my opinion, is the most toxic part of our (yoga and fitness) culture.
I know some folks will read this post and give reasoning on how yoga can save people. But to attribute one’s “saving” on an external influence is incredibly short-sighted. It fails to account for the courage and resilience it requires to actually live life in recovery outside of the studio.
Certainly, there are yoga principles and techniques that are helpful for managing anxiety and bringing peace. But you actually have to remember and do those things if you’re going to recover. Yoga alone (and no one else) is not going to do that for you.
Recovery from any addiction takes gumption and perseverance (that includes disordered eating, my friends on any “lifestyle” program) . It takes making a conscious choice every day to battle the compulsive behaviors that slither in and say life would be so much better with them.
Food rules, yoga, exercise, the lifestyle programs, the size of your clothes, the number on the scale…they’re not going to make you happy, fulfilled, and free from pain and suffering. In fact, these things are the root of suffering. Imagine the freedom of not letting a number dictate your mood and actions. That, my friends, is real, incredible freedom.
You are loved and you matter.