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Yoga and Eating Disorders Recovery

Updated: Jun 19, 2023


There's a fine line between dedication and obsession. I've surely traveled between the two a bunch. Am I more dedicated than obsessed today? It feels like it, but some answers are only answered as life unrolls.


In my recovery process from bulimia, I observed a human quality I was partially blind to before: Searching for methods to take one away from the hardships of life as a human being. I mean, I knew I was looking for fixes back when I was drinking, partying, having a bunch of love/sex affairs, etc., but I always saw my spiritual practices as ones that were better and belonged to a completely different category. I didn't see them as a fix.


Spiritual practices are wonderful! And everything we do can be a spiritual practice. But sometimes, or many times, these practices can become more about "doing them" than having the true experience. And I'll stop writing in codes and get on with some personal examples.


I entered the yoga world when I was in a very insecure place; I felt like I constantly had to prove myself and my worth, was deep in my eating disorders, and struggled with an autoimmune disease. All my symptoms were a clear shoutout that I have serious difficulties dealing with life, but I didn't have the tools to deal with them. I was thinking and searching for something to take me out of this place and would fix everything. And as always, I was looking for a new ideal to follow because I wanted to be perfect by some recognized standards.



Discovering and obsession-free dedication. Pic: Madlen Rosalie


The yoga practice - asana and philosophy, gave me many tools that changed my life and gave me a greater sense of connectedness, peace, and understanding of myself and others. But there were parts of me that used it and abused it. I wanted to be a good person and followed the instruction, as I understood them, on how to be one. As if there was something bigger than myself to follow and obey. And that part that was searching for instruction, a method, was deeply connected to my stubborn and rigid nature that wishes to find control and a sense of safety.


I'll stop and say that control is a human desire. I don't think anyone gets away from it. Some of us are ok with not having it in one area but are obsessed with control in another area of life. I think I learned it after moving to Berlin and getting to know a few freedom-possessed people (sounds harsh, but I can't come up with a better description). I never described myself as a wild and free person, knowing I was not. But apparently, one can be a freak-control about pretty much anything, including their definition of freedom. I think it's another expression of fear of commitment in most cases and another form of escaping the harsh parts of human discomfort. We all are the same, what can I say.


When I was finally ready to face my eating disorder, almost two years ago, it took me on a painful journey of meeting the excruciating pain of some past experiences. For the first time in my life, I allowed myself to feel pain in depth I wouldn't feel in the past. I believe practicing yoga and meditation for almost a decade allowed this process to occur and gave me the strength to do it. Still, since I arrived at these practices with rich and well-rooted disorders, I had to re-examine my yoga practice and see if I could find a rigid-free way to approach it.


It was a frustrating process at first, but I had to slow down. Through the years, I was using the practice to support my mental and physical health, but also to continue with people pleasing, keeping things inside, and shoving down a lot of frustration and pain. I had to discover the me that is underneath or more parts of me that are underneath. And that's why I couldn't force myself to live according to a tight schedule and feel like I'm a terrible person if I don't keep up with it. I had to find the value and identity that are independent of the yoga ideal I identified with.


For a year at least, I went back to basics. There were many days that I learned that doing nothing says nothing about my worth. I would sit for meditation still, but not necessarily in the morning as I used to, and not for half an hour. Some days just for a few minutes, and some days non at all, not in the formal way anyways. I was writing a lot, doing step work, and had a lot of open and exposed talks with others with eating disorders, with my therapist, and later with people close to me.


I saw my physical abilities decline while my mental health got stronger. There was a part of me that hated it, but another part knew it was too important, and I had to keep on with the letting go process.


I was pissed at the yoga philosophy texts and was easily triggered by anything I used in the past as an ideal and cause to worship.


I had to find my voice in this big, often misunderstood, and sometimes abused world.


I'm repeating myself, but it was far from easy. It became worse before It became better; my health deteriorated, I had a six-month-long Colitis flare-up, I cried a lot, and I was angry, sad, and frustrated. But I kept on going! Why? Because I never felt this understood my whole life! I broke out of my inherent loneliness, and I could feel feelings at such an extreme level as I'd never felt before (as far as I remember). And it affected everything else! When I was finally open to feeling joy, the joy was such a great joy. By letting myself open up to old suppressed pain, I could open up to the next levels of pleasure.



UC - An inflamed intestine (look at the right side) - some recovery pain was more than mental. April, 2022. Pic: Madlen Rosalie.


And hey, it's not over. I haven't found a method that fixed me completely. I don't think there is such a thing, and I catch myself whenever I lean into that way of thinking again. And it's not the chewed up expression of "I don't need a fix because I'm not broken" - it's about taking these words out of the vocabulary. They are irrelevant!


I can feel broken sometimes. So what. As long as I don't think that if I'll find a method and follow all its steps in a straight line, I won't be broken again, I'm ok. I feel it, might hate it, might resist it, but eventually move through it. I have the support and the tools to do it instead of denying it. I know things that usually make the process easier, but they don't fix anything.


So now, for about six months or so, I'm back. I slowly found my way back to practicing fully and am building my strength gradually. I did have a bike accident that slowed me down again, but it was ok too. And it's different, much different, to practice these days. Practicing with a healthier state of self is a new experience for me. Practicing was always a place to breathe, reflect, and get to know myself better. It also brought a lot of softness into my life, but now I feel the energy is much more balanced.


There is more choice, less ideals, and less rigidity. And the dedication is not to this entity called "the practice" - the dedication is to myself - That wonderful mixture of human and divine, where no part is misplaced or redundant.


It almost feels like rediscovering my yoga practice.


Recovering from an eating disorder, a condition with very little to do with food (as absurd as it sounds), is a process. It might even be a lifelong one. I am happy to say I have been in recovery from bulimia for a long time, and it's the longest I have ever been without binging and purging, but I also know that this behavior was a symptom of something deeper that is still unfolding and healing.


Thank you for reading this far!


Sometimes publicly letting my thoughts out is very healing for me.


With love,


Shiran



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