On Vinyasa, Backbends and My Eating Disorder

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There are a few things I’ve been debating whether to share here or not for a very long time. While I’ve never actually censored myself from sharing a story, there are certain stories, certain parts of my history, that deserve to be told correctly, and I haven’t figured out how to tell all of them quite yet. There’s a story in particular I’ve been working on, but for a long time, I couldn’t find the right words to say everything, couldn’t find the best way to put the story out there in such a way that made me feel comfortable. Up until last week, when my anchor G and I were texting and the above words were exchanged. I read that part of the conversation over and over later that night, smiling at the truth to the words, and immediately got to work, finally inspired to tell the story now and tell it right. Before we start, however, there are a few things you need to know:

  • I have an Instagram account dedicated to yoga. Yes, I am one of *those* people. No, I will not tell you what it is. (Edit, 8/27/15: just reread this. Eventually I caved – follow me at @lbdoesyoga)
  • But OKAY SO GUYS, since I practice at home a lot, I need to film myself to check my alignment and posture. And sometimes I manage a really badass pose or I look really cute in those videos so I need a place to screenshot and share with the world. Duh.
  • The reason I have the account is to ensure I’m accountable to my goal of yoga every damn day. I can be harsh with myself very easily after a stressful or frustrating day, and I don’t want to use that as an excuse to get off the mat.
  • My goal is to do at least a little yoga every day so it becomes even more a part of my routine than it already is, no matter what. I don’t ever want the words “I used to do yoga” to come out of my mouth. Yoga has completely transformed me, mind, body, everything, and it’s the only thing that finally helped me escape the clutches of my true longest relationship.
  • Contrary to what I’ve said here in the past, my longest relationship was with my eating disorder.

Objectively speaking, I have always been a slim person, from childhood and even now. For years, I never gave food a second thought, a typical happy child who was more concerned with climbing trees than counting calories. Until the year I turned 15, when I went from someone who never gave food a second thought, to someone whose first, second, third thoughts and beyond were all about food. I spent ten years of my life exhausted from thinking about food almost all the time. I thought about how much I was eating, how many calories were in it, what foods were safe to ingest and what foods I could never touch again. I can still tell you how many calories (plus/minus 25) are in nearly any food item, and I can calculate how many I’ve eaten that day in under a minute. I spent ten years of my life fighting, and fighting, and fighting the little voice in my head that told me I wasn’t enough, I would never be enough, and even as I tried to walk away from the noise for the first, tenth, hundredth time, it always found me and forced me to listen. Having an eating disorder is like having a dragon hibernate within you; he gets high on anxiety and fear and laughs when you try and fight him with a wooden sword, feebly fending off his snarling insistence that everything is your fault, and it’s your fault because you’re fat.

My eating disorder was the toxic best friend that I couldn’t get rid of, the one who was only around in moments of weakness to distract me from the real issues by picking on my insecurities. It was the only way I knew how to cope with problems for years; I couldn’t fix a fighting family, I couldn’t fix the stress of applying, and then adjusting, to college, and I couldn’t fix a broken relationship, but I could dare myself not to eat anything for two days and I could consider making it that long without food “a success.” At 25, I tried to break the cycle by making the gym part of my routine, but a crazy work schedule and the fact that the closest gym is a mile from my apartment meant I wasn’t getting there as often as I would have liked, and I was still turning against food in times of trouble. Starting yoga was supposed to be an interim step, a simple, “easy” thing I could do at home on the days that I couldn’t make it to the gym. After all, yoga was “just a lot of stretching,” right? Certainly not anything that would shape my body and calm my mind like lifting weights and running did.

For lack of a better word, this fall was an absolute mindfuck. Work, personal things, family things, it was like a wild spiral of waves, good, bad, manageable, unbearable. It was all stress and bad days, the kind of wild adventure that used to put me curled into myself like a child on my bed, face stuffed in a pillow, screaming until I forgot that I was hungry. It wasn’t until a few weeks after things started to calm down, while looking back on the circles and spirals, that I realized for the first time in 10 years, despite all of the craziness, I hadn’t stopped eating to cope with an issue. I had, however, gotten on the mat at least once per week, forced myself to focus on my breath in times of stress and remembered to appreciate my body for the strong, powerful and capable thing that it is. After all, I can’t get into a headstand or flow through Sun Salutations if I haven’t taken care of my body on the most basic of levels. Unconsciously telling myself I would eventually pull out of the hole helped me push myself to eat each meal every day, and somehow, slowly, I managed to keep the dragon at bay. I mean, even writing that now is such a surreal experience. For the first time in a DECADE, I had actually managed to shoot down all thoughts of “you don’t need that” in favor of staying healthy. And honestly? I wouldn’t wish the journey to that moment of mental clarity on my worst enemy, but realizing I hadn’t turned to my old friend ann-oh-recks-ee-yuh in the worst of times was a pretty fucking incredible feeling.IMG_0823

This is the photo in question in my conversation with G above. I could tell you how I’ve been working on backbends to deepen my entire practice, write for days about my journey to pincha mayurasana, but I’m going to leave the yoga-nerd jargon off for now. I will say that looking at this picture makes me feel a lot of things. I still think I look too skinny, and then I’m incredulous that those words are still coming out of my mouth. I also think I look strong, and flexible, moreso than I’ve ever been in my life. And I feel so accomplished, because if you told me back in April when I first rolled out the mat on my living room floor that I would be able to do this pose with a semblance of ease, that I’m just about down in a full split and that my journey to handstand is well underway, I never would have believed that I could have come this far.

Much as I wish that this journey is something I’d never had to experience, I don’t fault 15 year old LB for making the decisions that she did. Anorexia is my dragon, and it’s my toxic former best friend, but that part of my life, my longest relationship, is a part of me, as much as my blue eyes and the scar on my leg. There is 10 years of damage to my body and my mind that I’ll never be able to erase; there’s a history I’ve written by my own choices and I can’t rewrite the past. But to look back, to ten months ago or ten years ago, and see tangible, real progress in so many aspects of my life is a pretty wonderful, very proud, and dare I say enlightening experience.

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