Articles from our Scholarship Students
May 30, 2012
Anonymous, Scholarship student at TAYS
A gender studies professor once told me that women starve themselves to take up less room in the world. At the time I was in such denial of my own disordered eating that I could not see the truth in her words. It took three years for the full impact of her statement to hit me, suddenly occupying my thoughts as I lay in savasana at the end of a yoga class. We were preparing for final relaxation and the teacher urged us to take up as much space as we needed. My arms and legs were sprawled wide, stretching far beyond the borders of my mat, as I unapologetically allowed my body to occupy the greatest possible portion of this earth. Instead of trying to shrink myself down into an impossibly thin and unhealthy “ideal,” I was relishing in my expansiveness. Yoga had healed me, ended my abusive relationship with my body, and allowed me to express my fullest, truest self. Suddenly I could see that my current state of health, happiness and vibrancy in both body and mind was inextricably linked to yoga. The transformation in my relationship with food,from calorie counting, binging and purging to savouring, enjoying and celebrating had occured in direct correlation with the progression of my yoga practice.
I started doing yoga as a way to sneak in more exercise, burn more calories, and make more of myself disappear, but that mentality compromised the integrity of my practice and forced me to choose between maintaining my eating disorder and calling myself a yogi, because the two could not coexist. I could not deepen my practice, if I was starving. I could not claim to believe in the philosophy of yoga if the hands I clasped in prayer were red and raw, bearing the telltale signs of contact with stomach acid. I had always restricted my diet under the guise of health, but for me “healthy” had translated into “lowest calories possible,” even if that was achieved with artificial sweeteners and other nutritionally void, heavily processed excuses for food. The more hooked I got on yoga, the more sense it made to eat foods that made me feel vibrant, satisfied and alive. Slowly I stopped punishing my body by restricting my food intake and exercising incessantly, and started nourshing myself by eating the healthy foods I craved and incorporating yoga into my daily life. I would be lying if said that my struggles with food have ceased completely, they haven’t, but as I twist and flow and bend in a yoga class, my internal gaze softens and the chatter in my head is silenced. I leave feeling a profound sense of peace which accompanies me to the table, helping me to create meals that nourish, not punish.
I was curious to know if yoga had helped others to triumph over eating disorders and a little reading revealed that my experience was in no way unique. Myriad articles in print and online tout the benefits of yoga for those struggling to overcome unhealthy attitudes about eating. An article entitled “Healthy Appetite” in Yoga Journal shared the stories of several yogis who attributed their recovery from dysfunctional eating to their yoga practice. CarrÃ© Otis, a former anorexic and high-fashion model explained that her approach to food used to be based on how it would affect her appearance, not her overall well-being, but yoga triggered an attitude shift: “It was a way for me to get into my body and learn to live in it,” she says, “It was like finding my way back home.” These personal testimonies are supported by science. In 2005, Jennifer Daubenmier published her doctorate thesis which found that women who did yoga felt better about their bodies than those who participated in other forms of exercise, and that body confidence increased as they deepened their practice. Yoga encourages self acceptance, and disengagement from the body, instead focusing on the experience of living in one’s skin. Yoga is now being used in health care facilities to aid in eating disorder treatment and has proven very succesful.
We live in an appearance obsessed society in which beauty is equated with thinness and young girls are taught that their value stems from their looks. The messages we are sending and receiving are deceptively powerful and when internalized can cause irreperable damage. I was one of those young girls, but I got lucky. I found yoga and beat my eating disorder before it beat me. Yoga can offer an escape from self-destructive behaviours, but most girls do not seek it out, and thus cannot experience its healing effects. It is up to the yoga community to share the power of our practice. My mother took me to my first class, and although I didn’t love it then, it made it infinitely easier for me to return when I needed it most. Please, if you know a teen girl, treat her to a yoga class, drag her along if you must, it just may save her life.