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So I’m reading a  book called “Veronika Decides to Die” written by Paolo Coelho, the author of “The Alchemist” among others. I was going to read “The Alchemist”  because it was sitting on the desk of the studio but then another student saw it and recommended “Veronika Decides to Die.” The title, because I went through such a morbid period in my life, I found intriguing, and so I bought it. I’m surprised I did because for a while I was on a kick of only reading non-fiction, because I wanted to “learn,” but I’ve been reading it anyway.

I’m not very far into it so briefly, the back cover reads “Veronika Decides to Die” questions the meaning of madness and celebrates individuals who do not fit into patterns society considers to be normal… it is a dazzling portrait of a young woman at the corssroads of despair and liberation, and a poetic, exuberant apprecation of each day as a renewed opportunity.” Basically, Veronika decides to kill herself but it doesn’t work and she winds up in a mental hospital… however she has damaged her heart from trying to kill herself and is told she only has a few days to live.

I oddly connect with Veronika because of my past. She is 24, I am 23. And while eating disorder treatment was at a facility for only girls with eating disorders, it was, essentially, a hospital for the mentally ill.

Anyway, Veronika describes her reason for wanting to die to be because she was in a routine that she could not get out of. Coelho writes, “She went to work every day, always keeping to the same timetable, always making sure she wasn’t perceived as a threat by her superiors; she was content; she didn’t struggle, and so she didn’t grow…

A page later Veronika thinks about how had she only realized that the reason her life was mundane was becuase she chose it to be that way she might have not wanted to die.

Anyway, how does this connect to yoga? Well, honestly it confused me. Santosha, in the Yamas, which are the second limb of the 8 limbs of yoga, means contentment. Yogis are supposed to be content and work towards that in the very beginning of their yoga journey. However, for Veronika, it was being content that made her miserable and it is that I related to. I always say and truely believe that the hard past that I’ve had has grown me into the wonderful person I am now, wise beyond my years, strong, open minded, patient… So what is being content exactly? Could it be boredom? I don’t know. Just me thinking on screen…

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I’ve named this “Fruit Cleans: Day 1” but can’t promise I’ll be writing on day 2 and 3… I’ll try.

Anyway, as Baron’s 40 days of personal revolution reaches it’s middle point, we are instructed in the diet section to do a fruit cleanse. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog (or just reading it all for the first time) a “cleanse” is not something that was easy to decide for me to do. The whole idea of restricting what you eat to a specific type of food is very counterintuitive to all that I’ve been taught in treatment. I’ve always been taught balance and moderation. That one day if you think you eat too much you don’t compensate by not eating the next day, you just eat clean the next day. So I had trouble deciding whether I should do it. I had to really look into what I thought my intentions for wanting to do it were. If, for example, they were that maybe I’ll lose weight, or that it’ll be easy, or that somewhere in me I like restricting my intake, then I was not going to do it. And while those thoughts crossed my mind, I’ve decided that those definitely are not my intentions at all. I want  to do it because everyone else is – not in a peer pressure way – but in a community of people going through the 40 days. Also because I’m curious to see what it feels like post-cleanse. I’ve had friends do cleanses and I’ve been curious. Maybe it is an awesome feeling, maybe I’ll hate it, maybe my body will love it or hate it, we will see.

So intentions are what are important here. I think it was the philosopher Kant that discussed intention. That the reason why you do something is what is important. Because this is a yoga blog, it can relate to yoga in many aspects. We often say to set an intention at the beginning of class. But what is an intention? An intention is defined as a purpose, an anticipated outcome that is intended or that guides your planned actions. I think in yoga, at least for me, I use it as a way to guide my planned actions, not towards an anticipated outcome. If my intention is to send my efforts to someone who cannot practice, who is sick, or to send my passion for my practice to someone who is suffering, or the love created by the community in the room to someone who is lonely, those are my “whys” for practicing.

Intentions can come in other forms as well. Your attention may be to burn calories, or to find peace, or to relax. Those can also guide your practice. If, for example, your intention is to burn calories, than perhaps in a hard warrior series you push yourself. If it is to relax then perhaps you take your child’s pose.

This post became something I completely didn’t think it would! Anyway – class time. Woo hoo. Fruit cleanse. Holla.

I know, I know, I know… it’s literally been months. Actually, 4 exactly. It’s been chaotic with school and everything, but it has been a very, I guess you could say, productive four months at least. As a brief update I now teach about 5 classes a week at Garden State Yoga, which you can see on my schedule. I also sub quite often. I’m much more comfortable teaching, but I still have so much to learn! Not just about teaching, but about me as a person. The past four months was a huge growing experience which forced me to accept and see things in myself that perhaps I did not want to. It also forced me to realize that the word “recovered” is way too black and white when it comes to mental health. I wanted to share what I wrote for the class that I taught on New Years Eve…

“The basis of yoga is the word ahimsa meaning non-violence to all, including the self. It doesn’t matter how advanced the poses you can do are if you cannot be friends with yourself first. I’ve spent most of my life really feeling terrible in many respects. I guess it’s sort of a vicious cycle. People treated me badly so I felt badly and thus treated myself the same way, which in turn, made people believe they could keep treating me badly. You get what you give and the energy I put out there was simply getting returned to me. Yoga, for me, has been transforming. It’s taught me not to judge myself and my past and my appearance and my personality but to simply accept them and keep marching on. To accept that I can be loved just as I am  by others because I love myself just as I am.

I often say that what you learn on the yoga mat you can take off of the mat with you and I truly believe this. Whether it’s learning that if you firmly root yourself down you can grow higher, or if you fall out of a pose you simply laugh at yourself and get back it, we can take it with us. It’s only yoga and realistically it’s only life. You miss a lot when you take yourself too seriously, you stifle the growing process. When you judge yourself in a pose or for needing to take a modification, you prevent the muscles from growing stronger, so that one day you can do the full pose with the correct integrity behind it. What we learn on the mat we can take off of the mat with us. My challenge for you for today’s class is to drop all judgments. Take this class as if it were the first you have ever taken in your life. Don’t judge the poses as good or bad, don’t judge yourself as being good or bad in the poses, just observe yourself today and see if that leaves you space to grow more.

Yoga is the journey that need not ever be made. In yoga we hold the belief that we already are awakened and beautiful but we just don’t realize it. So we embark on a path, a journey, to find happiness. We work on shaping our bodies, on making money, on finding intimacy and friendship. We search and search and search for enlightenment.  But what we don’t realize is that we are not searching for enlightenment but for the realization that we already all are enlightened and always have been.

The end of one year and the start of another is time that often breeds judgment. We look back on the past year and say “It’s been a bad year, I’ve gained X amount of weight, I’ve lost a job, I broke up with my significant other.” Or, we look back and say it’s been a good year. Either way we take our judgments of the past year in order to create expectations for the new.

The word Buddha is derived from bodhi meaning “awakened.” What many people don’t know is that Buddha’s mother’s name was “Prajna” which means curiosity. Before we can become awakened we need to be curious. If we stop seeing things as good or as bad but merely as interesting, we begin to embrace life with gentle inquisition, with a curiosity not linked to a purpose. Life can become a path of seeing rather than fixing. If we keep working on fixing what’s wrong we miss what’s right.  So don’t judge and fix, but observe and learn. What do you fill the space with when something slips through the cracks of your habitual routine, when you believe something has gone wrong? Where do you go? Do you sink into depression? Do you aggress? Shift your view. Be curious, what can you learn? My challenge to you with the last few hours of 2009 is to drop all judgments of the past and to make no expectations for the future. To simply be curious today, right now, and tomorrow, the New Year. Find loving compassion for yourself. Explore life without a specific purpose in mind.”

Much of this I learned from David Nichtern and Cyndi Lee at Om Yoga in Manhattan when I attended their workshop “Yoga Body, Buddha Mind.”

I’m currently involved in a 40 Days to Personal Revolution Program at Garden State Yoga. It’s requiring me to meditate twice daily, to take 4 studio classes a week, to do 2 home practices a week, and to be mindful of my eating. I also attend one weekly meeting. We are into the second week now. The studio practices are easy breezy… the home, not so much because I’m always at the studio. The meditation comes and goes… oh, and we have to journal, which I have been doing and enjoying. The mindful eating is interesting for me though… just because what I realized at the last meeting is that when it comes to Americans and food, I certainly form the minority. Food doesn’t call to me in the middle of the night, I don’t just eat because food is there… in fact, for a long time, it’s been quite the opposite. I actually now feel that I have a generally healthy relationship with it… the other night I ordered sweet potato fries and ate until I was full and then I was done. Sounds small, but its a big moment for a recovering anorexic.

I’ve decided I have a closed third chakra. In the process of opening, but still slightly closed nonetheless. What is a chakra you may ask? Good question, because a chakra is something you may have heard of (or maybe not), but I don’t think many people are actually aware of what they are. Chakras are, in simple terms, different energy centers in the body. There are technically 6 of them, but usually it is said that there are 7 since one of them is not technically in the body.

Anyway, I was in class last night and we were working on opening up the third chakra, or Manipura, which is approximately located at the base of the sternum. My instructor last night was discussing how it is the chakra of identity. It is where self-confidence is grown, where we store our personal power and strength, and it is the place in our bodies where we get butterflies and feel anxiety.

We damage our third chakra when we go against our own integrity, when we are stubborn and don’t go along with change, and when we repress our anger.

When the third chakra is inactive, or underactive, people may have low self-esteem, intestinal disorders, and weight problems. People with a closed third chakra may be quiet or withdrawn and afraid of taking risks or confrontations. They may be too serious and may not laugh as often as they should. They take themselves too seriously, are too hard on themselves. The third chakra is the place of fire and without that people become cold and hardened. According to Nothing but Yoga one consequence of an underactive third chakra, is guess what? Eating disorders. Interesting…

This makes sense I suppose. I’ve often been described, as much as I hate it, as cold and hardened (in high school I was known for my death stare, and for my ice queen poker face). I’ve often been told to lighten up and it is very hard for me and takes a lot of energy to not isolate and remain withdrawn. That all said it’s great that I’m aware of all of that, because I can actively work on it, and I am.

I think there are many aspects of the third chakra that are open for me, however the concept of personal power I think is something many girls with eating disorders lack… we lack the belief that we have a right to follow our appetites – and not only in regards to food, but in regards to power, to sex, to desire, and happiness, to success. A healthy third chakra is one in which we embrace our bodies, our minds, our spirits, our visions, our knowledge, and our emotions. We need to embrace ALL of these, ALL of ourselves… including the first, our bodies. We need to fully be IN our bodies and not use our eating disorders to numb our emotions. 

One thing I remember very well from my times in treatment was the sadness on the faces of all of the residents. The blank coldness behind all of our eyes. We certainly had our fun in treatment, but it was a pseudo-fun, a fake, jaded happiness that was there to cover up everything else we were going through, what we were working on in ourselves, in therapy, with our families. It would come out at meal time, or in group therapy, and then it would hide again. It was embedded in our low self-esteem, in being afraid of the consequences that would arise if we weren’t perfect, and in our ability to be so caring to everyone but ourselves in a desperate attempt to keep our relationships, to not get left behind and forgotten, to be accepted and loved… at least for me.

So how do we fix this? Some suggestions I found were yelling (the banned Renfrew screaming groups), punching pillows, and hot yoga. Seriously, hot yoga.

So this makes sense as to why I love hot yoga so much and another reason why yoga is so great for girls with eating disorders. In yoga there is no perfect, therefore there is no perfect to strive towards and therefore there are no mistakes. There are no failures, just growth. And if you find the right studio, yoga is about community, about family and acceptance.  We nurture our third chakra by acknowleding the fact that we do have power of will and to choose the paths of our life and that we are the only people that can live our lives… and if we spend it for years in treatment or in hiding, then we are choosing to do that – no one else is. It means actively reaching our dreams and not waiting for it to get easier.

I don’t think the third chakra is the only closed chakra for girls with eating disorders. The second chakra has to do with desire… with appetite. There is a test you can take (Chakra Test) to see what are closed and open for you. My root (1st), sacral (2nd), navel (third) and throat (5th) chakras are under active. While my heart, third eye, and crown chakras are open.

So the past week I’ve been teaching and learning a lot. It was sort of like a crash course in teaching, as for me at least, and I think for most people, the best way to learn is by doing. Last Tuesday I taught my regular class at my internship and it was so difficult to teach because everything seemed to just be going wrong that day. First my iPod didn’t work, then the speakers didn’t work, then a therapist told 2 boys they could take the class, and then there was a huge fight outside of the yoga room that I had to break up. I decided that I would change the class and make it solely relaxation for that night since that is what the girls clearly needed, but it took so much out of me!

That aside, I have taught a class every day for the past four days. Two at the Secaucus Recreation Center, one at the Caldwell Community Center, and the regular one at the rehab. I’ve been trying to practice the sequence that I want to do for my Sunday class at Garden State Yoga (AH!) but I’ve had to modify it slightly each time. Sunday’s class was a more gentle class and I thought it went pretty well, the ladies seemed to really like it, one of them asked me for my card (which I don’t have) and a few of them showed up for my class there this morning as well. Monday morning I taught a class at the Caldwell Community Center and it was also sort of difficult for me because I had such a broad range of people there. Some older women, some younger women, and one who I know also goes to Garden State and could clearly do an advanced class. I ended up practicing my sequence for Sunday, but I think it was probably too hard for the class. It was kind of good that I did it though because I realized it’s too long and that I have to take some things out of it. Danielle said that that is a reason that teaching at community centers and the YMCA is so difficult – you never really know who is going to show up. You might have an awesome power vinyasa class planned and find out every person in class has never done yoga before and you have to change everything…

Which leads me to the lesson I learned from that. Up until yesterday I had been planning my classes out SO carefully… literally writing pose for pose, which I thought was being a good novice teacher. But I think it was sort of holding me back and making it harder for me to simply feel what the class could and could not do. When you plan something out so carefully and then something doesn’t go as planned, it seems like everything else gets messed up as well… suddenly everything else is pushed off or goes out of order, and I know for me I get flustered. So instead I’m trying to see the “big picture” I guess you could say and instead of planning a class out pose for pose, I’m starting with a general idea of what I want to do and what I want to work on, and going from there. So, for instance, Sunday I’m planning a class around loosening the shoulders. I got rid of my step by step plan and decided that there are 3 main things I want to do, and I’ll go with the flow sort of for the rest of the class. Instead of devoting 1 minute to this and 1 minute to that I’m going to break the class into bigger chunks – 15 minutes for stretching and sun salutations, 10 minutes for warriors, 10 minutes for a different standing sequence, and the rest on the floor. I tried that last night and this morning and it worked out better for me. It made it easier for me to walk around and personalize the class more instead of getting lost in my own head.

I’m definitely able to see how this yoga lesson, like so many others, can be taken off the mat and applied to my life. I’ve always sort of been a control freak… very meticulous and detail oriented, always afraid that if I leave something to spontaneity or if I do just ride the flow of whatever is going on, that I’ll make a mistake… but you miss so much only concentrating on the minute details of life. If you concentrate on a single blade of grass you miss the beauty of the whole field, if you focus on the one mistake you made for the day you miss all of the positive things that happened the rest of the day.

It relates a lot to anorexia as well. Planning meal for meal, calorie for calorie, what you will take in and what you will put out, playing the never ending number game with your food and your weight and the size of your jeans. Being forever consumed in all of those little, completely unnecessary details, causes you to miss out on everything else life has to offer – and actually usually, though possibly unconsciously, that’s the point. If you count the minutes between meals you don’t have to focus on whatever bigger things are causing you pain… but you are also missing opportunities to help yourself and recover. I spent a lot of time sad and lonely wondering why I had such a hard time relating to people and forming connections that I so wanted and needed and I was unable at the time to realize the reason I didn’t have all of that was because of the attention I was giving to my weight. It’s a vicious downward spiral. However breathing and taking a step back to see the big picture of what life actually is beyond the little details, dealing with the bad times but also fully embracing and acknowledging the good times and your successes and good luck, can really shift a person’s perspective on what life is and could be and what is actually important. It definitely takes practice and work, just like yoga, but speaking first hand as someone still definitely working on it but that has come so far, it’s worth it.

My life was changed by yoga about a year ago when it became the main catalyst for me to overcome anorexia. Ever since I have been practicing daily and graduated a 200 hour teacher training one month ago. I am constantly learning about yoga and about myself in an attempt to spread the benefits of such a holistic practice.