February 6, 2012

Reflections on "Starving for Connection"

I recently stumbled upon the article "Starving for Connection" on the Yoga Journal's guest blog.  As most of you know, (and as evidenced here, here, here, and here) I love to read!  Although I read blogs, books, newspaper articles, and magazines on a daily basis, it is rare for something to stick in my heart and head as intensely as the "Starving for Connection" article.  This article "hit-home" and put words to my former struggle with ED (my term-of-endearment for my previous eating disorder) in a way that I had never seen articulated.  For that reason, I thought that today it might be nice to share some of my reflections with you all.

In advance, I thank you for reading with an open heart.

I took my first yoga class...at the recommendation of my therapist.  I was still significantly underweight, rigidly attached to my precise-to-the-calorie meal plan, and - despite the fact that I was alone most of the time - was terrified to be with myself.  But somehow, I gathered up the courage to throw on a pair of baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt and ventured out of the garage apartment I'd been hibernating in.  I walked into yoga bruised and broken, starving for connection. (source)

Thus begins Chelsea Roff's article.  In my own battle against ED, I remember being encouraged by Dr. Bilmar (name changed for the purposes of this article) to attend yoga classes.  As an individual who practiced yoga on occasion, he thought that yoga might encourage me to view my body as an ally, as opposed to an enemy.  I also remember him mentioning that yoga might help me to understand myself separate from my body, recalling that who I am as an individual is much more than the physical body I inhabit.  There was a part of me that was so scared.  I remember fearfully asking myself:

  • Why would I want to work with my body? 
  • Why would I want to look at my body in tight-fitting clothing?
  • Why would I trust my body to do anything?

Unlike Roff, I was not drawn to yoga by the desire to burn more calories, per se.  However, like the author, I was lured "in with the promise of a perfect body and rock hard abs, only to deliver a much deeper, more nourishing experience."  Nowadays, I have no illusions that yoga will provide me the "perfect body and rock hard abs" I once hoped for.  I am more realistic, and as a result, more accepting of what yoga can and does offer: peace, the journey towards self-acceptance, and joy!

And yet, like Roff, I too can't help but feel concerned for men and women that struggle with their own versions of ED.  She writes:

As yoga has meshed with the fitness and image-obsessed culture of the West, sweaty vinyasa classes have become ripe breeding grounds for people with eating disorders to flourish in their dis-ease...What is the responsibility of the yoga teacher when a severely underweight student walks into class?  As yoga continues to gain esteem among health professionals, I think we need to have this conversation. (source)

 I don't have the answer.  But as a teacher I do feel as though, while they are in my class, I am responsible for my students' safety.  A beloved teacher of mine once said that you can only start from where you are.  In this case, perhaps as Roff suggests, that is with a conversation.

In my own case, as Roff explains, my practice helped me to:

  • reclaim disowned parts of myself;
  • process traumas that could not be expressed in words; and
  • appreciate my body for its function, rather than its form.

For these reasons, and many more, I feel confident in saying that "in many ways, yoga saved my life."  In the beginning, yoga taught me how to begin re-living my life.  It taught me that my body could be trusted. It helped me to begin the journey towards accepting my body as a vessel for my spirit, not something that was only valuable when/if it was perfect.  It opened the doors of my heart so that I allowed myself to love others, and perhaps more importantly, to be loved in return.

*To read more about my own story, visit the ABC blog About page.

**To read the full "Starving for Connection" article, visit the Yoga Journal Guest Blog here.

Question of the Day:

Have you recently read a magazine article (or other reading material) that strongly impacted you?!

Ally and Bo

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