Tangible, Real, and Entirely Mine

I ambitiously set my alarm a few minutes earlier than usual on Tuesday morning, hoping that was the motivation I needed to get out of bed and go straight to the mat for an early-morning yoga flow. I’ve been slacking lately on morning yoga, not because I’m not awake, but because I’ve been taking my time around meals during Whole30, using the precious few extra minutes from excluding yoga to prepare and enjoy breakfast instead of hastily shoving it in my mouth while running out the door. Tuesday morning was different, though, marking a day that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Much as I wanted to throw my phone when it started the early morning ritual of vibrating violently until it wakes up the cat, who then claws my face until I make it stop, I managed to shut off the alarm with just a hint of a sigh, roll out of bed, grab one of my yoga mats and unravel it on to the floor, smiling at the routine that felt so foreign just one year ago.

Something I really appreciated in my previous relationship is that we didn’t celebrate anniversaries. It’s not to say that I didn’t know the day we started “dating” (it was college, exact terminology is muddy), because I’m a girl and obviously I knew, but we never made a big deal about another year passing. The date itself was fairly close to Valentine’s Day, so we sort of rolled the two together: every year he bought me lilies, my favorite, and we went to the same restaurant for the seafood tower and the amazing hazelnut-banana ice cream monstrosity. It was clichéd, but cute, and I appreciated that we never made a big deal out of the anniversary itself. I think anniversaries are sweet of course; it’s lovely to celebrate something that makes you happy, or remember something you hope never to forget, but outside of the anniversary of my birth (which is basically a national holiday*), I’ve never been terribly preoccupied with exact anniversary dates, preferring instead the general time frame as a casual acknowledgment that yet another year has gone by.

It’s hard at times to see progress in life in the short time span of a year; progress is fickle and subjective, working in your favor at times and working against you in others. You could take a look at my life on the one hand and think that nothing has really happened in the past year: I’m still in the same apartment, I’m technically still working in the same position, and I’m still very single. But when you start peeling back the layers, it gets trickier. My apartment has been painted and I’ve finally put in the first order for grown-up furniture, starting with the most important upgrade from a full-sized bed to a queen. I’ve moved jobs, and while I’ve dated here and there in the past year, 2015 is the year of LB, no distractions, no empty promises from boys masquerading as men, just me. So is that tangible growth, noticeable progress, something I can feel proud of? Maybe. Or maybe not. It depends on who you ask.

When I woke up on April 21, 2014, I remember running my hand through my freshly-dyed red hair, still getting used to no longer seeing a blonde in the mirror as I had my entire life. I remember grabbing a hair tie and making my way into the living room, where I unrolled my as-then never-been-used yoga mat, releasing a faint hint of new rubber into the cool spring air, and searched “Yoga Challenge” on YouTube, hoping to find something that would keep me motivated for the next month to work out. I remember feeling so awkward in all the poses at first, holding my breath when things were difficult and trying to keep up with the instructor, who seemed so impossibly flexible that I almost quit halfway through the twenty-minute workout. I didn’t pick up yoga because I wanted to learn how to do splits and backbends and headstands; I didn’t have any ambitions to use the practice as a way to calm the anxiety that’s plagued me for years, never imagined that yoga would be an integral tool in finally kicking anorexia to the curb. On April 21, 2014, after I made it through the first video (barely), the only thing I really wanted from yoga was to be able to touch my toes.

When I woke up on April 21, 2015, I ran my hair through my desperately-in-need-of-a-touch-up red hair that fades to pink, and pulled it into the familiar top bun, laughing at the emerging blonde roots, a memory that feels both so recent and so long ago. I picked my favorite mat from the now four that I own, and turned on one of my many yoga playlists, letting the music run through me while I breathed through a flow that I made up as I went along, finishing with a backbend sequence and practicing forearm stands, which I’m finally getting the hang of after months of serious practice. I lay in savasana on my mat, taking a few minutes to enjoy the quiet of the low music and the calm of my mind, ignoring the chirp of my phone with my daily bank account summary update, reminding me to put money away this week for yoga teacher training next year. When I stood up from that final rest, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle anything, I smiled a little and added one extra stretch: resting my hands flat on the floor behind me, grabbing my toes on the way down, just for fun.

This isn’t the first big “milestone” anniversary that I’ve talked about on this blog – one year in Washington Heights in March 2014, one year single this past November – but it’s the first one where I feel like I can look back and there is real, tangible progress. I can get into splits, and backbends, and headstands. I can see the change in my body, always slim but infinitely more powerful, now that it’s been nurtured in the past year with good food and positive energy. My life looks similar but is so radically different from where I was a year ago due entirely to yoga. Yoga has given me an ambition I never knew I had, it’s given me a positive goal and a continuous path towards improvement. Yoga has made me simultaneously more confident and more humble, it’s taught me to celebrate the little victories instead of dwelling on the “if only” that can shadow any accomplishment. In the past year, I’ve had my heart broken by a Child and let myself fall in a low kind of love with a weekend and the idea of What If. I’ve struggled professionally and I’ve struggled personally, I’ve had days where I feel like I’m flying and days where it takes every piece of me just to get out of bed without falling apart. But I’ve had yoga through all of this encouraging me, waiting for me on the days I just couldn’t bring myself to get on the mat, and cheering me on from the first day I touched my toes, through this morning, where I held a forearm stand with almost a semblance of ease.

Tuesday celebrated the day where I finally found something I didn’t even know was missing, a piece of me that’s as essential as my nose or my red hair. It’s no seafood tower and hazelnut dessert, and I didn’t come home to lilies after a long day at work on Tuesday, just little miss sleeping under my yoga mat. But it’s the most powerful anniversary of any that I’ve celebrated, exact, approximate or otherwise, because it’s the first time I’m celebrating growth in my life which comes solely from decisions, choices and actions that are entirely personal. So happy anniversary, yoga. Thank you for changing my life so completely, thank you for taking the parts of me I disliked for so long and giving me confidence, focus, ambition, direction and so much more. Thank you for finding me when I so desperately needed something to give me something to feel good about in a life that felt like it wouldn’t stop dealing punches like playing cards. Here’s to the first year together, and to every year to come.

The light in me recognizes and honors the light in you. Namaste.

*And actually, my birthday does fall on a National Holiday this year, so thanks Obama!!

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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.