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)