Despite what you might think, yoga can be used for healing. It is not just for fitness.
A Letter to My Fellow Yogis
If one were to ask 10 yogis the question, “What is yoga?” one would probably receive 10 different answers. A variety of yoga schools, practices, and goals exist, many of which have a rich history and tradition.
Yoga’s foundation is anchored in the stillness of meditation, where one can cultivate peace and open their spirit to a unified consciousness.
Society Uses Yoga for Sale, not Spirit
Yet, in today’s world, yoga has been labeled, branded and packaged in a variety of ways. Yoga has become commercialized, existing as a commodity to be bought and sold.
The word yoga is now associated with terms such as “healthy living,” “weight loss” or “fitspo.” It has become the focus of many Instagram accounts, magazines and blog pages, as girls and boys attempt to do unrealistic poses, create the perfect body and eat “clean” food. Such a description is an over-generalization, yet, for someone in recovery the yoga world can feel triggering, unsafe, and unattainable.
Yoga Is For Healing
I am uncertain of what yoga means to each of you. But for me, a girl in recovery from an eating disorder, yoga is a practice through which I can continue to heal my mind, accept my body, and discover my inner self.
I was introduced to yoga during a time of great mental and physical suffering. My eating disorder left me sick, in danger of dying if I did not choose to fight for a better life. Thus, my journey with yoga began from a deeply vulnerable and spiritual place.
My first practice involved Shavasana or Corpse Pose, in which I lied flat on my mat. The yoga teacher claimed that through stillness, I could gain greater awareness of both my body and mind.
Eye Opening Moment
I can recall being so angry at the yoga teacher, telling her, “I am lying here like I’m dead! Why am I not allowed to move?” She replied by saying, “You will be dead if you continue to move Ally. The eating disorder wants you to move until you are no longer here.”
For once, I was unable to think of a sarcastic response, and I decided it might be best to be still. From that day forward, my yoga mat became a safe and sacred space, in which I would develop a greater understanding of myself and the world around me. Yoga served as a mirror through which I could observe my inner self and internal dialogue. As I engaged further in the practice, I became aware of my mind’s ruminating thoughts, as comparison, perfectionism, shame and criticism dominated my consciousness. Each class provided a safe space in which I learned to observer and detach from the false narratives my mind created.
Eventually, as I learned to accept all aspects of my soul, my yoga mat would transform into my place of solace, comfort and compassion. Yoga became a practice of self care and expression of self love, through which I could connect to my Divine Self and Higher Power.
There are Still Challenges
However, outside of my safe place within the recovery community, finding a healthy yoga practice has been extremely challenging.
Although many of my yoga teachers and fellow yogis have pure and loving intentions, I have found their advice and “guidance” to be extremely hurtful to my recovery and sense of freedom. I wholeheartedly believe that every human has the right to voice their experiences and to share their truth with others. However, it is also essential to remember that each person’s path towards healing is unique. What may have healed or helped us along our journey, may not resonate with another individual. In fact, our way of doing things can even be harmful or detrimental to another’s progress.
For example, I respect the choices of my fellow yogis who have felt immense changes in their lives and health as a result of dietary changes such as becoming vegan or embracing a plant-based diet. I have heard many yogis discuss the positive changes they have experienced as a result of becoming vegan, participating in juice cleanses and eliminating processed foods.
Not For Me
However, these are all choices that I personally CANNOT make in order to stay healthy and alive.
Letting go of being a vegan and the elimination of processed foods has allowed me to develop a healthier relationship with ALL foods. I often felt inferior, ashamed and self conscious when individuals would discuss their nutrition and dietary beliefs with me. I can recall some of my closest friends, favorite yoga teachers and role models discussing with me their vegan lifestyles.
I wished so badly that I too could be vegan again, but each time I tried, I relapsed deeply into anorexia. When others would talk, I began to doubt my own truth, often feeling that my own way of living and being in this world was wrong.
Letting go of my status as a vegan saved my life. Being free from the restrictions that inevitably come with veganism has allowed me to maintain my recovery. I can eat ALL foods, fully connecting and engaging with the world around me. Foods have lost their power, and no food is labeled good or bad. Food is just food, through which I can nourish my body, mind and soul.
Yoga for Weight loss is a hard NO for my recovery
Another challenge I have faced within the yoga community is the fitness or weight loss mentality. I have experienced numerous classes in which the yoga instructors mention that yoga is good for “weight loss” or “burning calories.” In addition, some instructors emphasize the physicality of the poses and strength of the human body. Like many others, my eating disorder is extremely competitive and relentless, often telling me that I am lazy or worthless if I take a break. Along with anorexia, I suffered many years of compulsive exercise, during which taking a break became a sign of failure. In my journey and healing, going into child’s pose was actually a HUGE victory for my healthy self! In that moment I felt out of breath, and chose to honor my body’s need for rest and oxygen.
I share my personal stories not to shame or criticize my fellow yogis. Rather, I hope that increased awareness and sensitivity can occur within the yoga community regarding individuals with eating disorders. I challenge each of us to live fully in our truths, while also creating space for the truths of others.
To me, yoga is not about the food we eat or the physicality of our bodies. The success of yoga does not lie in our ability to perform postures or to maintain a particular diet. Rather, our growth can be found in how positively yoga changes the way we live our life and engage in our relationships. It is ultimately an embodied practice, through which we each learn to cultivate peace and open our consciousness.
Just as we all have our own journeys on our yoga mats, so do we on our path to health and healing.