On Yoga, Resistance and Letting Go

Content Note: Eating disorders, racism, harassment, objectification 

I don’t want to write this post. I have been turning the words over in my mind for two months, I have been holding these message deep in my body. I Sharing my struggles with anorexia, sharing my anger and frustration at social oppressions and whatever else I feel a pull to write about has helped me explore my own thoughts and reduce the self-imposed isolation that my eating disorder brings. I am writing a workshop on yoga and decolonial healing for a conference by and for women of colour, I’m also facilitating this workshop in a week at another event, so I should probably finish it, but before I can do that, I need to need to write these words.

 

I started casually practicing yoga midway through my undergrad, mostly through home practice and the occasional free class. As someone living with chronic pain, yoga was the go-to suggestion of health practitioners, and as annoying as that is, it has been a great coping mechanism for me. Yoga hasn’t taken away my chronic pain, but offers arguably more significant healing.

 

I was trying to remember a time where my body felt like it was consistently mine. Sure, I have had moments: making the decision to move out east, and 1,421km away from toxic relationships, the first time I went more than a month without purging or restricting, breaking up with a long-term love. My body has been exoticfied, objectified, controlled, shamed for being, but when has it been mine? My experiences are unique to me, but in no way unusual. Countless women will tell you how their first experience of a man objectifying and harassing them was when they were around 11 or 12. Thousands of people, of all genders, struggle with eating disorders, and pretty much every person of colour has felt othered and often exotified.

 

I recently realized how tired I am of explaining the colonial histories and diasporas that allow for my existence. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me in those moments. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me when men stand too close on the bus or a professional meeting ends when a hand on my lower back. I don’t feel like my body belongs to me because we live in a world that has consistently confirms this.

 

Since I was 13 years old, I have attempted to take control of my body back by destroying it, by trying to become invisible enough to fend off unwanted words and touch, to erase myself into whiteness. My eating disorder became a safe haven. My mother wanted me to eat pasta during the same time I was being told my anger was unwarranted (and unattractive), refusing dinner became my resistance. I destroyed myself as a form of misguided resistance. Women refusing to eat dates back centuries and is often connected religious sacrifice – the woman who is free from needs and wants is the most holy. My resistance was just what our patriarchal and white supremacist society demands of women. I detach from my body as a mode of survival. I stopped having desires because my desires to be heard were too much ™ I am still figuring out how to accept that being too much ™ is exactly what I should be.

 

Almost a decade after my eating disorder began, I started doing yoga. However, it wasn’t until my roommate invited me to try hot yoga with her that I truly began to connect with yoga, my inner self and finally my body. I lay on my mat after my first class feeling sweaty and giddy. I survived an hour long class in a hot room surrounded by strangers while wearing half the amount of clothes I normally do. I was thrilled, I was proud. I felt a little high. I joined the studio the next day and began a journey towards my body.

 

Eventually, as my body got stronger, I could move through asanas with ease and have fun trying (and falling out of) new poses. I lie on my mat before class and wait as the anxieties of my day slip away. I take a few cleansing breaths and take back my body and mind. I am not thinking of the dissatisfaction with my body (ok,sometimes I still am, but that’s why I’m doing all of this), I’m not thinking of body as the exoctic other, or as on inconvience,I am not thinking of my career or debt or anything but keeping my breath and settling into my body – as a whole, as mine.

 

Some of my teachers read a quote or tell a story at the end of the class, as their words float through the now quiet room, I lay on my mat and let them wash over me. I chose to come to my mat, I made choices in my body that felt right, I let myself breathe, and began to connect my body and mind. I have found the concept of decolonization confusing; I understand it on a political level, but when I would hear activists talk about decolonizing the self, I felt lost. It wasn’t until I surrendered myself to my practice that I began to understand. As I write this workshop, I realize that my work to decolonize my self will be ongoing, because the act of colonization is ongoing.
We speak of colonization, racism, and even sexism as things of the past. We’re colourblind now. The Canadian government pretends that their colonization of Indigenous peoples has ended. Women have jobs or something so we don’t need feminism. We speak of our body and mind in similarly disconnected terms. We were asked to write a letter to our body as part of my treatment program, I was viscerally uncomfortable for many reasons, but when I moved from “You” (my body) and “I” (my mind) to “We” (body/mind/soul), I felt as if I could breathe again, the lump in my throat grew smaller and I began to write. This is what we do when we practice yoga, this is what happens when we listen to the wisdom of our ancestors. This is where the healing begins.

Unpredictable Fulfillment

“Between now and April 15, I will be imaginative and ingenious in getting my needs met. I will have fun calling on every trick necessary to ensure that my deepest requirements are playfully addressed. I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.”

-Rob Brenszy

These words entered my consciousness and buried themselves deep within my desires. I am feeling stuck. I have begun at least three separate blog posts and I can’t even think of the words to describe writer’s block to y’all right now.

Over the next two weeks, I need to make some drastic changes for the benefit of my health. I am struggling with divergent emotions: fear and motivation, apathy and hope, insecurity and channeling my true bad bitch self.

As I struggle to make these changes, to take back control and to trust this process, regardless of how hard it may be, I think of the words above. I read my horoscope in our local free paper each week, mostly for fun, partially because I believe we can find wisdom in many things. “I will be a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment.” The word unpredictable is the antithesis of everything I have created myself to be. I have had a five (and ten) year plan since I was a child and I like my life to be organized; there is not much room for mistakes and unpredictability. This aspect of my personality has allowed me to excel is work and school but I have also missed out on a lot of things. This horoscope coincided with the changes I need to make and caused me to take a step back and wonder would happen if I became a sweet seeker of unpredictable fulfillment rather than forcing myself into these rigid boxes I created many years ago?

Fear can be a motivation, it serves to warn us against danger or let us take a moment to notice we are embarking on something unfamiliar. Fear becomes detrimental when we let it take over. We wrap ourselves in fear as a form of protection, yet instead of keeping us safe, the fear weighs us down and we cannot move beyond it.

A few nights ago, my yoga teacher teacher suggested our intention for the class be patience and to trust the process – whatever that may look like for each of us. I am striving to trust that I will move through this fear, towards some kind of fulfillment and wholeness. Fear is not everlasting. Fear serves a purpose the same way feeling too cold or hot, it tells us something about our selves and our surrounding but is only useful if we listen to it. We need to check in with ourselves and ask: What do I need right now? Asking ourselves this, and then fulfilling those needs, is not selfish. It is an act of self-preservation and it may one day become an act of self-love.

Be patient with your impatience. We can’t change overnight, but we can begin to become sweet seekers of unpredictable fulfillment when we let go of the fear that holds us down and embrace the fear that motivates and moves us.

Not All Bad

I think we can all agree that last week (or three months or year) has been surreal. If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to spiral into watching the news and reading articles for a few hours and focusing too much on negatives issues in the world. Yeah, there are lots of fucked up things happening right now, but there are so many wonderful, positive things and people. It can be hard to focus on the good, but I have been blessed to have some positive events and amazing humans in my life to remind me to shift my perspective.

 

I had a chronic pain-filled, anxiety-ridden week and took some time to practice some self-care that ranged from re-centring myself through yoga, a bougie bath, and wine with good friends. After all these lovely, and challenging points of self-care, I feel more like myself again. I was inspired to write this post for a couple of reasons. The first being that Trump officially became the president of the United States yesterday (definitely a cause of my week of anxiety) and I know a lot of people are feeling very overwhelmed with anxiety, anger, sadness and shock. The second reason is much more positive and much less complicated. I went to a friend’s birthday this weekend and had to head back to the city in the morning. After having coffee with my friend, I decided to pop into the farmer’s market before I caught the bus. I had a 5 dollar bill in my coat pocket. I was checking my phone just before I walked into the market and realized I dropped the $5 somewhere, I was a little annoyed but there wasn’t much I could do about it. I wandered around the market, bought a yummy af morning glory muffin and walked back the way I came. As I got closer to main street, I saw my $5 on the ground! It was only a little thing and because I have the privilege to be employed, I could have survived without the $5 but something about it struck me. There may be terrible things happening in the world, but we shouldn’t forget to celebrate the joys of life. Too often we focus all our energies on the various oppressions and tragedies of life and feel guilty when we fully enjoy and celebrate the beautiful things in life. It can be hard to remember what those are, so I’ve written up a couple of lists in case you need a little posi inspiration.  

 

5 Happy Thoughts

 

  1. Upwards of 4 million people marched across the United States yesterday. There were marches all over the world to show solidarity with those in the US who are resisting bigotry, racism, sexism, xenophobia and fear.
  2. Baby animals and baby humans exist. If you are ever sad, there are a million Insta accounts to overwhelm you with cuteness.
  3. It’s getting a little brighter (and a little closer to spring) each day. More sunlight = happier people.
  4. We live in a country where we have access to excellent healthcare. I have never once had to consider if I can afford a visit to my doctor due to financial constraints and find it hard to imagine not having access to safe and affordable healthcare.
  5. The internet: OK, HEAR ME OUT. Yes, the internet brings the grossest and most horrible parts of the human mind out in the open, but it allows us access to information, connection and opportunities that we never could have previously imagined. That’s pretty fucking great.

 

5 Positive Things to do for Yourself Today

 

  1. Take a nap. Naps aren’t an indulgence and taking a nap doesn’t mean you’re lazy. Give yourself the permission to rest. Improve your nap experience with soft blankets, taking off your pants and cuddling with a human and/or animal companion.
  2. Make safe-to-eat raw cookie dough: coconut oil/butter/margarine, maple syrup or sugar, flour, vanilla extract, chocolate chips. Blend, eat, congratulate yourself on being a great human and also avoiding salmonella.
  3. Compliment someone else. Tell a friend how you appreciate their insight, compliment your barista on those lattes that keep you alive, thank staff in the store you’re at or tell your coworker that their jokes make your day better. We can forget to express our appreciation for the little things, but you never know how much it may mean to someone. Appreciating others also makes you feel better. It’s a win-win for everyone.
  4. Say ‘No’. About three years ago, I decided to make a concerted effort to say no to things that I don’t want to do, or that I don’t have the time for. It’s a skill that I continually work on. I still find myself double-booked and feeling guilty for taking time for myself, however, since I started to try to say no to things, I feel happier and more centred in myself.
  5. Say ‘Yes’. This is a challenge of another kind. It can be hard to say yes to things that we need. Say yes to an offer of help from a pal, say yes to a road trip, apply to a job you don’t think you’re qualified for, say yes to taking a day (or even an hour) to yourself, say yes to trying something you have always wanted.

These five things will not fix your problems or make you forget that a cheeto is now in charge of a powerful state, but they might make you a little happier and make your week a little easier. Take time to be kind to yourself and to those around you, I promise it’s worth it.

 

BONUS: photos of my stupid cats to brighten your day

Body betrayal

What do you do when your body betrays you? It happens to all of us at one point. It might be something minor, but embarrassing like tripping in front of a room of people after your leg falls asleep, or it might happen as you grow older, your eyesight worsens or your blood pressure rises. But what do you do when your body betrays you in considerable ways at a young age? I have been trying to figure this out for the past few years, and I’ve found some answers, as imperfect as they are.

I have been experiencing chronic illness/pain for over five years and an eating disorder for about twelve years. I don’t have a clear diagnosis for my chronic pain, but right now I do know that it affects every aspect of my life. I have days where I can’t get out of bed or where I double over in pain, I have days where my body just seems to stop working. I don’t want this post to be me complaining about being chronically ill, but just to set the scene; I will say that my body often does not act in the way I would like it to. I was a pretty healthy kid/young person, besides the occasional cold, I was never sick. Even for the first few years of my ED, physically I was “ok”. Of course, my body (and mind) was being severely damaged; I just didn’t realize it yet. When I first started to experience chronic pain, it was something I could push through, but as the years went on, I had more trouble dealing with it. I am very blessed to have lots of people, professionals and loved ones, to support me. However, most of the time it’s just me dealing with my health problems.

On the bright side, I have found a few things that help: reality shows that are too embarrassing to list but great for distraction, breathing exercises (everyone hates it when professionals suggest this, but they work) and probably the most beneficial, making sure I really embrace every single moment I don’t feel like shit. I try appreciate everything my body can do. I may hate my body 99% of the time, but I am also fascinated by it. A friend of mine recently invited me to yoga, and I’m amazed, that after all the terrible things I have done to myself, and regardless of how much pain I am, my body can do amazing things.

I was a little frustrated leaving yoga class today. I felt ill and off balanced, but with some assistance from the teacher and modifying poses, I completed an hour-long class. This may not seem like a big deal to most people, but each day I can get up and go to work, or have a conversation or go for a walk, it’s an accomplishment. Every day will not be a good day, and that is ok.

Another very important lesson I have learned from being ill is that it is ok to have shitty days. Whether it’s a bad day due to a physical or mental illness or you are just feeling “off”, it’s ok to have a rough day. I have learned that sometimes I should not try to push through, I have found that stopping and just sitting with whatever I am feeling can be the best solution. Yes, it is not fun to explain why I can’t do something or have to sit something out, but it helps me survive.

Maybe I will never know what is wrong with me. Maybe I will find some treatment that will help me get rid of the chronic pain. Maybe I will recover or maybe I won’t, but at least I know I can survive a bad day.

Being young and chronically ill has taught me a lot, I wouldn’t wish this on anyone, but I often wonder how different of a person I would be if I didn’t have these illnesses. My GPA would be higher and I probably would have been overseas by this point. I like to think being ill has made me more self-aware, more compassionate and less selfish. I like to think that all of this has a deeper meaning. I know I appreciate my life more, little things bother me less and I am more driven to embrace all the seemingly inconsequential things in life. I don’t claim to have any special understanding, I still get frustrated and sad. I just know that I – my body and mind – can accomplish more than I thought I could, even if it takes me twice as long. The hardest things to learn is there is no time limit on healing or growing. I am still working to accept this, but at least I have time.