Instead of the "freshman 15," where the stress and new surroundings of a college environment have a tendency to lead to new eating habits, and sometimes weight gain, I lost weight. My university experience was unique, in that I majored in Modern Dance, and therefore danced or moved (yoga, movement fundamentals, music class, rehearsals) upwards of 8 hours a day. I thought I knew my body - how could I not?, when I was spending almost every hour using my body in beautiful and thoughtful ways? I loved (love) dance. I loved the expanse of space that your body can take up. I loved the creativity and freedom of improvisation. But I stopped loving my body for what it was and wanted to be, and started measuring my success against my weight. Even as I started to get cut from performances, or called into the department chair's office as they voiced their concern, I was sure that the thinner I was the better I would dance.
But when I stopped loving my body, the connection to my fluid bones and muscles was also lost. I look back at videos (rarely, it hurts) and see choppy movement that almost cannot support itself. I see someone who is frail, and trying valiantly to perform vibrantly, leap boldly. I spent years in this cycle of disconnect, with an unwillingness to see the emotional/physical fraction. Over time, my body became so distant from me that I could hate it. I could hate the feeling of clothes on my skin, or the even the touch of skin on skin. I could hate dancing, when each plie and across-the-floor were calorie burning efforts (to be followed by 'cross-training' at the gym).
I moved to New York after I graduated, and unsurprisingly the move did not help my eating disorder. I did continue to dance, and started taking active yoga classes around the area. I showed up at a studio on 24th street one day, and unwittingly began my journey towards recovery. My teacher that first day (who has since become one of my main influencing factors as an instructor) was gentle and so inquisitive in his instruction. Every movement became an exploration of the body. We were in Uttanasana (forward fold) when he asked us to soften our bellies and let the abdomen move towards the thighs on an inhale. Then Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog): let the abdominals relax. I was shocked, frustrated and honestly moved to tears when I realized that I could not do this. I had been holding in my stomach for so many years that the ability to relax the muscles of the abdomen was not available to me.
My initial reaction was to run away - who was this exercise instructor, asking me to do less with my body? But over a period of weeks and months, as I continued to take his class, I felt the unelicited relaxation of the mind, the body and the breath. Instead of moving to my maximum flexibility or strength, I backed off and searched instead for ease in each pose. (The mirroring of this intuitive yoga practice and the intuitive eating that I practice now is not lost on me). As B.K.S. Iyengar stated, "When movement becomes mature, effort ceases."
I feel so lucky to have found yoga, and am proud that my body knew that this is what I needed. It took a long time for me to accept the softening of my life. I think, though, that I was so tired of the work of an eating disorder - falling asleep to the thoughts of what I would get to eat the next day; waking up in the middle of the night with pangs of hunger; leaving friends behind at the restaurant when I was too afraid to eat with them - that change was inevitable. As I continue to work towards being kinder and softer in my actions towards myself and others, I thank yoga and the community that surrounded me for my health. And I thank my body for listening to its own needs.
**For those considering signing up for EBT's 6 week series, please join Sofia for a free class at Body Wisdom Studio on Thursdays at 5pm to see how doing less can improve your yoga practice, making you feel the asanas more completely, and with a clear understanding of your own body in space.**
By Sofia Belen (2016 co-facilitator)
We received this wonderful note from a past participant, and wanted to share it with you...
I recently experienced "Eat Breathe Thrive” with Lara and Nancy. I am very impressed with the many new tools I was given. The meditation started with ‘allowing me to expand and take up space'. I was stunned at how foreign that permission was. ‘Permission to take up space', such a simple and basic fact of existence, Who would have ever guessed that I fought that so? Many of my twisted self messages came to light.The group gave me the confidence to challenge and rewrite some of my messages.
Eat Breathe Thrive gave me a community where I could safely face some feelings of shame and self disgust that I had no idea were running in the background of my mind. I was able to note some of the ways I found distractions to distract myself from properly loving myself.
These sessions allowed me to start to heal areas that I had hidden away and yet the sessions were fun. You felt supported and allowed to gently face your issues. We were able to laugh together, dine together, stretch together, and learn what projects outside of ourselves we valued. This work shook me out of the little strange world I had created.
The growth didn’t end as the sessions did, I continue to learn new ways to self soothe and answer the question, “What do I need?”. As an older woman you would think I would have spent more time asking myself that question rather than mostly asking “What did the rest of my world need?”
- 2015 Bay Area Thrive Tribe participant
Post written by Sofia
A flurry of events drove me back home, to Marin County, CA, in September of 2015. My seasonal job on the East Coast had ended, and I was not sure what step to take next. My now boyfriend (then best friend) took a job in the Bay Area. Then I got the call that my dad had cancer. So home it was.
I imagined my role as a caretaker once I got home. Making meals and driving to the hospital. Making sure prescriptions were taken and comfort given. But it turned out that my dad was, for the most part, active and healthy enough to care for himself for much of his time in chemotherapy. It turned out that my role as caretaker really meant my role as friend and daughter, a role I had not been in (truly lived in and rested in) since I left for college at 18.
We chatted. We went for coffee. We did the crossword puzzle and jumble each morning. But mostly we fostered dogs. 13 of them, actually. It started with Spot, a black and white pitbull mix, who was all licks and sprints. He wore me out, but he gave my dad life. There was no moment at home that was without the comfort of this beautiful and strong animal.
Spot was adopted by a wonderful woman, and we were somewhat shocked at his departure (although at no point was there a realistic plan to keep him, with my dad's health as it was, and my mom's ever-prescient resistance, as it was). A week passed, and it turned out that we were ok. That we were glad for Spot to have a new home. It turned out we were ready for another dog. And then another. Keeping each one until they found their new forever homes.
My family spent a winter with these wonderful dogs, each one presenting a new challenge and opportunity for growth as we learned to love them, and then to gracefully give them to their new owners. The service that I imagined bringing to the household seamlessly shifted into our serving others for our own healing, as my dad chugged through his chemotherapy (he's now in remission) and I focused on staying healthy with walks that had a purpose beyond burning calories, feeling for a soft stomach of fur when I felt anxious, rather than going back to my disordered eating tendencies.
Working with shelter animals is now a part of my life (I adopted Jake this past October, and foster whenever I can). The give and take of service is not selfish, but an aspect that keeps the practice sustainable and exciting. Service led to health not just for me - recovering from an eating disorder, but fostered mental health in my dad.