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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…

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’ve been saying for the past few months that I think it would be a good idea to do one whole class with only modifications… no chaturanaga, no grabbing the toe in side plank, no binding, knee on the ground in lunge… etc. Just to sort of force me to drop my ego and stop pushing myself so hard. That said, I’ve yet to do it… maybe telling you all about it will hold me accountable to do it.

When I had my class in child’s pose yesterday I found myself saying something along the lines of:

“Take your child’s pose as seriously as you do your other poses because in yoga resting poses are just as important, if not more important, than the more physically demanding poses. It gives you a chance to reset and to recharge so that you can start fresh and move forward. Which, is also a lot like life. In life if you just keep pushing and pushing and pushing yourself you will inevitably burn out, and you will most likely be unhappy.”

It makes sense. In our society we are taught that in order to achieve you need to strive and to strive means no breaks. You need to go and go and go and this has translated much into the yoga mentality. Granted, hot power vinyasa yoga is a yoga based in intense movement. But it’s also a yoga based on listening to your body and taking the breaks you need to. In life we need to start doing that as well. You work hard for a semester and give yourself a week off. You work a lot of overtime and take that extra vacation day to get a massage. You do yoga 6 days in a row and give yourself a day of rest. And these days of rests are not us being weak, or lazy, or selfish. They are us taking care of ourselves so that we can recharge, reboot, and forge ahead once again.

The ideal direction of life I guess to most people is a straight line up. Unfortunately the ideal is very unrealistic. I’d like to say life is more like a staircase. You take steps up and then you level off for a little and then you start again. And sometimes, obviously, life jokes with you and makes you trip down, or worse, up, the stairs, but you stand back up, take a step up, and then level off.

One other thing I learned yesterday during class was that my ability to create metaphors also needs some work… the staircase makes sense to me. But so did the Jenga metaphor for triangle pose yesterday too.

As much of a physical journey that yoga is, it is also an extremely emotional and mental journey during which you are constantly learning more and more about yourself. You are constantly peeling back layers upon layers of shit you are holding on to, like an onion… anyone into Shrek? Anyway, just when you think you’ve peeled them all and finally reach whatever it is you’re searching for, be it enlightenment, contentment, or a new butt, something else happens and you learn that in fact you are far, far from your goal. Reading books upon books on yoga, as well as other self help books on eating disorders and trauma I’ve come to learn that our minds are crazy making. When we keep everything in, our thoughts just stir and become a story that we cannot let go of, and that, in fact, we grow to enormous proportions so that this story becomes an obsessive thought that completely rules our day, week, year, or life.

At GSY we are working through Baron Baptiste’s “40 Days to Personal Revolution” which is corresponding really well with a different book I’m working through, as both of them discuss this idea of “breaking the silence.” By that I mean by actually vocalizing the thoughts that fester in our heads. All of the “I’m too fat, I’m not smart, I’m too slow, I’m lazy, I’m ugly, I’m going to fail, I’m afraid, I don’t have time…” I suggest vocalizing them to someone you trust to listen nonjudgmentally and compassionately. But, if you can’t, just saying it outloud to yourself over and over and over again until you realize that perhaps those things you tell yourself simply aren’t true, and are, instead, ridiculous.

I say this now because yesterday was a bad day. I woke up alright but wasn’t present on my mat and that sort of threw my entire day off. Different things happened and I wound up in my head. I texted a friend to let her know why my mood had plummeted and her response, I think, was that those texts should have no meaning… blah, blah, blah… which is a technique written in Baron’s book; he says that if breaking the silence doesn’t work to desensitize you from the thoughts to insert blah, blah, blah at the end of every sentence.

That all said, it’s not easy. Some things really do affect you at your core and really will take a long, long time to overcome. It’s not always as simple as following a thought with blah blah blah and then suddenly realizing how ridiculous it actually is. However, when we don’t even open our minds up to the possibility that we are getting lost in our heads and in our past or our future we leave no room to ever get over it. I think that’s what I’m learning. I’ve been through a lot, as have many people, that will take a lot of time to heal from. But opening the mind up to the fact that you WILL heal is what is necessary. Opening the mind up to the fact that perhaps what you believe to be SO serious to actually impact your life every day is no longer THAT serious, or at least, shouldn’t be. Yoga philosophy has helped me with that… as have some of my friends.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but life likes playing jokes on me. And, most likely, life plays jokes on everyone, but I just happen to notice and actually find humor in it because I get the lessons it’s trying to teach me. For example, last week I was having a miserable week. My emotions were all over the place, I was feeling down on myself and having a hard time hiding it. So what was life’s solution? Make Kristen fall as many times as humanly possible in the most embarrassing situations ever.

Seriously! The amount of times I tripped or slipped in public was unheard of. The best however? I was in a 3-legged downward facing dog, over reaching my left leg in the air, when my right foot slipped out from underneath me and I fell flat on my face on my yoga mat… in a class with about 40 students in it. That was life saying… “remember when you had a breakdown in the loft upstairs? Lighten the f*** up about it already!” Needless to say that was not the last time I tripped or slipped, but I loved it. It was hilarious, and it was a comic relief that was needed to show me that not everything is a disaster waiting to happen.

I see this a lot when I teach in students, taking themselves too seriously when they fall out of poses. I taught a class last week that had about 28 people in it and there was a student who was just not having her best practice that day and everytime she fell she got so frustrated she sighed or hit the mat in a child’s pose. At which point I told the entire class to lighten up… it’s only yoga! What you do on the mat is a reflection of what you do off the mat. If you get so angry because you fall out of tree pose, what do you do when something else doesn’t go your way? Of course, then i look down at my sanculpa bracelet, in which I put my intention to lighten up on myself. Interesting. I love life’s sense of humor.

I wrote this at the end of my last post, like 2 seconds ago… but realized it was too off topic to connect to it. Dharma talk for today most likely:

On an ending note, because I have to get my act in gear to teach a class and head over to Jivamukti in NYC tonight to take a class with Baron Baptiste, yesterday i was shopping with my friend. She was looking at really big guy shirts for herself, a beautiful woman with a very nice body. She said something about how she had long skinny legs but not the best upper part of her body and I immediately thought… I would kill for long skinny legs. Leading into the point, we always want what we don’t have. You have a flat stomach but want thighs that don’t touch. You have thighs that don’t touch, but want really toned arms. You’re brilliant at math but want to write better. You’re awesome at arm balances but wish you could be awesome at backbends. We always want what we don’t have instead of appreciating what we do, and it’s sort of sad. I think yoga is a good way of retraining ourselves though. On the mat we have to learn to accept our limitations for what they are, to work with them when we can, but work around them when we must. If your femur just doesn’t insert a certain way into the hip socket your knee is NEVER going to touch the ground in badha konasana and there is nothing you can do about it… you move on. If your thighs touch, you’re normal, you keep fit, you stay healthy, and you enjoy the body you have. Acceptance… unconditional self-love… ahimsa.

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.

So I taught MY first class on Thursday. And by that I mean it is MY class… 4:30 every Thursday every week from now until forever… or you know, for a while.

They added me to the teacher’s page… check me and the studio out!

Teaching yoga is a such a high. I get towards the end of a class and just think, how did I get here? It’s done already? I just talked for a whole 75 minutes? It’s crazy! But I love it… and I love hearing that people actually enjoy my classes. It makes me feel so accomplished.

This week my class was focused on the first chakra, the root chakra, and opening it and thus grounding ourselves. The lesson I sort of tried to get across is that the idea of grounding is one of those things that you can take off the mat with you and into your real life. The more grounded you are in your values and your family and your career, the further you can grow. In yoga you will often hear, at least in the classes I have taken, that to reach up you need to ground down. The act of pushing down, rooting your feet, firming your legs, allows the upper part of you to reach even higher. For example, in bridge pose you need to push down with your feet and your shoulders and your head to lift your hips higher. Without the grounding you cannot lift very high. We also went into handstand and practiced using our hands to ground down, because sometimes your life gets turned upside down and you need to figure out how to be grounded in the chaos as well. So, in handstand you are literally upside down and learning how to find a new, unfamiliar grounding.

Did I mention I love yoga?

I’m seriously contemplating sending in an application for the Kripalu 500hr teacher training. It’s expensive, but you have 10 years to complete it… and they have financial aid and scholarships available. I love learning and I always have… and I just want to keep learning about yoga and being able to share that with other people.

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.