Oh yoga. How I miss you.
So many mornings I want to wake up, roll my mat on the floor, and bask in your embrace. So many nights I want to do a 15 minute gentle practice and fall asleep with a quieted mind. You are an activity I very much want back in my life somehow even if I yet haven’t figured out how my new practice will look. Another lesson in taking what you can get vs. getting pissed that you cannot do things EXACTLY the way you want.
I discovered yoga when I was 15 as an inpatient at Laureate’s Adolescent Eating Disorder Unit.
The first few weeks I was there I was made to take an elevator because they were concerned my heart couldn’t handle any stairs. As you gained weight, you had more access to movement but you were still very limited on what you could and couldn’t do. When you are dealing with 9 to 12 crafty teenage girls who all see losing weight as both a cure and a punishment, you have to think ahead at any way they will slyly try to burn more calories. I remember getting my dance on to The Ramones in the front room one day and getting shut down by a nurse REALLY quick because dancing could be a way to covertly exercise (I on the other hand just wanted to jam out to I Wanna Be Sedated). I can’t tell you how many girls got discovered doing sit-ups in-between our hour checkups at night or who found a way to run up and down the stairs outside without a nurse seeing them on our way to the psychiatric unit’s school room.
As I continued through the program, I was able to slowly “earn” the ability to go on 15-20 minute walks with a few of my friends around the pond in front of the hospital. No running, no power walking, no jumping jacks in the bushes where we wouldn’t be seen. I loved these walks dearly but found myself wanting something more and so the universe answered in its own quiet way. I found a Sun Salutation fold-out in a magazine and taped t it on my bedroom wall. I began to do a series of Sun Salutations morning and night on a blanket that still smelled like my house. After being there close to 6 months I asked my therapist if I could buy a yoga video and begin to move my body that way. She checked with the unit head and with his approval my mother bought me a Rodney Yee VHS. My first foray into a yoga practice.
Now for whatever this didn’t stick for very long. My anorexic lizard brain finally won after repeatedly telling me I wouldn’t lose weight or look fit JUST doing yoga. I wanted to keep at it, to find that inner peace I had when I dutifully practiced morning and night but just couldn’t make it happen. Since my 20’s, I have found myself back on my mat for short periods of time. A couple classes here and there throughout college. A few Bikram classes with my Mom (NEVER AGAIN EVER). Committed in the short term but never able to follow through for more than that.
After becoming sick at age 29 and was really grieving going from being able to go to the gym 4-5x a week to being bedridden for a days at time. I decided I NEEDED to do something to get my body moving again. My two best friends are yoga instructors so through each of their suggestions I gave yoga another go. I was early into my Lyme treatment at this point and able to do some thing physically depending on the day so I said “Why not?”
One day I wasn’t feeling too terrible and gave it a go.
I fell back in love…
I started my practice at home. I found 20-30 minute videos on youtube and slowly built up my endurance. Once I was able to get up to 45 minutes, I decided to try out a local yoga studio. I tried out a few classes and found myself drawn to a hot yoga class on Mondays and intermediate class on Fridays. Probably past what I was really capable of but bringing my ego to the mat is something I have struggled with and have to be mindful of. It was however pretty thrilling to learn how to flip into wheel pose from a headstand (assisted) or to figure out crow pose after 2 weeks of beginning a diligent practice.
Doing fancy moves like Parsva Bakasana (side crow) or Astavakrasana (eight angle pose) isn’t what yoga is all about but I know it appealed to me because I often felt like my body was “defective”. The same drive in me that made me love training for races also loved being able to do more challenging classes and poses. I will reiterate that is not all that yoga is nor should it be and please do NOT become frustrated if you cannot achieve those things early in your practice or at all! I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome type 3 so I am extremely hyper flexible (especially in my upper body). This allows me to do certain poses more easily due to my ability to over extend my joints. This can also mean I can really hurt myself so it’s a double edged sword. Last summer I was lucky enough to have a one on one class with my best friend Amber who owns Body Positive Yoga and she was able to asses me through a series of asanas (poses). Overall I have good alignment but she definitely drove home that my hyper-flexibility is something I have to be mindful of.
The nicest things about yoga is that you can a) do it anywhere b) start and stop your practice very easily , c) modify it to your abilities which can vary for EVERYONE day to day & d) theres TONS of different of styles so if you don’t like one style…try another! I have found that I really don’t like Bikram yoga but love a hot and sweaty Vinyasa Flow class, a lovely soft Restorative Yoga class or a strenuous Ashtanga class. Yoga has been awesome dealing with my particular pain issues as I could modify things so as to not flare up my pain more. I usually have had to also modify things for my shoulder and lower back due to bio-mechancal issues. Annoying but doable. Even if you aren’t sick or in pain, we all need modifications. I know I’ve discussed with friends how your balance can range wildly day to day. Vrksasana (tree pose) can be a piece of cake or a wobbly mess. One person’s body shape will allow more depth in a pose where someone else may need a block or a strap.
Be sure to get yourself a good mat. It may seem silly to pay more than 25$ for a mat but when you are practicing many times a week, it can wear the mat down. A good mat will last you many years, tolerate a lot of sweating while also allowing your feet and hands to grip as needed for asanas. I LOVE my Jade yoga mat!
Important to note that ALL bodies are made to do yoga. So many people think yoga is for “skinny people” based on what you see on the cover of Yoga Journal or popular yogis on Instagram like Yogagirl or Kinoyoga. What those ladies do is amazing but they are but one type of yogi. Many types of yogis exist. Yoga is for anyone who has a body not just for yogis who fit into a size 0.
Throughout these past few years I am able to either practice regularly or have to take breaks that may last several months because of how cruddy I feel. Whenever I have felt up to it I try to get back to it even if that phase only lasts a few weeks. Those few weeks can mean the world to me. Even more exciting is having friends who also love yoga and being able to take classes together. Several of my friends have gotten really into yoga and it is such a bummer to not be able to go take hot vinyasa classes when everyone is going together to another fun studio in town.
As of right now I really don’t know how to get back into my practice given my physical limitations go wayyyyy beyond what I have experienced since first getting sick. I sadly had to cancel a yoga retreat I was going to attend for my birthday due to what’s going on with my body. I have found some chair yoga videos online and my lovely friend Laura gave me a chair yoga DVD (people, you can stay friends with your ex’s family…we are proof) The issue has been that I’m in so much pain so much of the time, I don’t even know how to begin to do the chair yoga when it hurts to move any part of myself and especially hurts to have my feet on the floor. A lovely friend of a friend who is a yoga teacher check out Buddha Cat Yoga here) offered to come to the house to help me practice but my pain made that really impossible. Probably should bite the bullet and just see how it feels right? Setting some intention to try to some this week. I will report back!
One day when I am better I want to dive back into yoga once more. I dream of practicing several times a week at one of the MANY yoga studios in Charlottesville. I dream of retreats with friends and maybe even doing Yoga Teacher Training if it fit my lifestyle. I feel like my story of anorexia and chronic pain could help make me a good teacher for those who struggle with body image issues and learning how to practice with limitations.
Yoga I love you and we will find our way back to each other somehow.
Do you love yoga too? If you have wanted to practice but haven’t, what has stopped you?
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