On the Mat: Establishing an Imperfect Yoga Practice

Yoga for Perfectionism

My new yoga practice is both consciously and unconsciously challenging my perfectionism. Especially as a beginner in quarantine, without an instructor to show or help me with proper poses, pretty much everything I do is imperfect. And despite knowing this, I still choose to show up on my mat every day and try…I think that’s what yoga is all about…showing up, even when it’s messy or imperfect.

I’ve been struggling with meditation recently because I found I’m not great at the concept of “noticing your thoughts as clouds passing by, without holding onto or judging them.” In the last week I told a friend that rather than observing my thoughts as clouds, I cause a storm of clouds that hover above me and drench me in rain. I’ve been encouraged to treat meditation like a skill that requires practice, just like photography or writing.

On the mat the other day, I was in the middle of a particularly challenging yoga practice that woke up a lot of muscles I don’t normally use. After I transitioned out of a difficult pose back into downward dog, it took me a few breaths to realize I wasn’t holding proper form of this resting pose and was sort of collapsing in on myself because of my tired muscles. When I became aware of my improper form, I simply readjusted, pushing away from the earth and dropping my shoulders. Upon reflection later that day, I realized I had unconsciously done what I always tell myself I’m so bad at in meditation: I noticed my form was wrong, and, without judging myself for getting it wrong, I just readjusted and moved on with the practice. There wasn’t time to linger on my “mistake,” because I breathed into the next pose and was so grounded that I stayed in the present.

Yoga for Body Positivity

Yoga is helping me see my body differently, more than I’ve ever been able to before, and in an entirely new way. We discussed body positivity in my ED treatment program, but it wasn’t until I continued to show up on my mat that I fully grasped the concept.

When my lungs expand and contract, I am grateful that my body is able to keep me alive, most of the time without me even being conscious of it. When I stand in tadasana, or mountain pose, I am grateful that my bones support me as I stand, sit, walk, and go about my life. When I move through different poses, I am grateful to my muscles for allowing me to do the things I love and even the things I don’t, usually with ease and obliviousness. When I lay in savasana, or corpse pose, I am grateful to my body as a whole, for performing so many simultaneous complex functions that allow me to breathe, walk, talk, and think, let alone feel, emote, create, and do the million other things that make me me.

Yoga has given me the beautiful chance to stop criticizing my body for what I perceive as “faults,” and be grateful for just how many things it can do, that I normally never acknowledge.

Yoga for Willfulness

Listen…I am stubborn. My willpower is sub par. When I have a bad day, it is easy for me to pass on the difficult tasks. Lately, I’ve found that the days when I really don’t want to show up on my mat are the days that I notice the most improvement in my mood from the beginning to the end of my practice. And knowing that helps me push past my stubbornness. To show up, even when I desperately do not want to. Because the feeling at the end always trumps the feeling at the beginning. Feeling proud. Accomplished. Inspired.

Yoga for High Sensitivity

One of the benefits of yoga, I’ve found, is its ability to safely and gently connect the body and the mind. One of the skills I am currently developing is interoception, or the ability to sense what is happening inside the body at any given time, and acting on that awareness.

Lately, my HSP trait has felt like a foghorn, glaringly obvious and isolating me from everyone around me. On a regular basis people point out my self-awareness or my natural ability to self-reflect, and I’m left thinking Does nobody else think about themselves this way? When I asked this question to my therapist this week she smiled and shook her head, “Nope.” It’s funny how much I continue to learn about this trait and how it separates me from everyone else, as I’ve always felt like an outcast, and now I’m finally understanding why.

However, my natural tendency to be self-reflective has helped me in my yoga practice. Yoga is all about inner-awareness and this interoception, so as I allow my breathe to lead my movement on my mat, I feel more attuned to my body and its needs than I’ve ever been before. This practice helped me be honest with myself about my meal plan; being more aware of what my body was telling me helped me recognize hunger cues I may not have otherwise been aware of. With a slight adjustment, I now feel back on track and my body thanks me!

Yoga for Radical Acceptance

I am a highly sensitive person with multiple chronic and mental illnesses. I am in recovery from a painful, consuming eating disorder. I experience PTSD from my chronic illness and subsequent anxiety. All of these facets are a part of what makes me me. Denying them or being angry with them won’t make them any less true. I am in a period of transition and acceptance of the shitty things that have happened to me. I’ve realized that holding onto anger or resentment about these things only cripples me further and keeps me in a place of stuckness. If I can’t embrace my body for all of its intricacies, talents, and flaws, how can I embrace a true yoga practice? Radical Acceptance is a skill I learned in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and it’s never made more sense to me than it does when I’m sitting on my yoga mat, grateful for what my body can do for me.

Resources that Helped Me:

  • “I Am Maris” — a documentary on Netflix about a teenager who uses yoga as a part of recovery from an eating disorder
  • Eat Breathe Thrive — a nonprofit founded to prevent and help individuals overcome eating disorders through community, mindfulness, and yoga
    • Eat Breathe Thrive’s “Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery” course
  • Yoga with Adriene — a YouTube Yogi whose channel offers yoga videos for everyone and everything
  • Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice — a book by Baron Baptiste that offers up excellent tools to help yogis show up, both on and off the mat

Confessions from a Perfectionist

It is time for brutal honesty.

I am a perfectionist.

Since this blog was created as a way to challenge my perfectionism, you may be a bit confused. I’ve admitted to striving for perfection in previous posts, and even in my “About” section on this site, so how come I’m coming clean as a perfectionist again? To answer this question, let me back up and provide some context:

A couple of weeks ago I was struggling hard with my various mental illnesses. The pandemic has caused a surge in my anxiety, quarantine has created a flourish in my depression, and a combination of anxiety, depression, and a hiccup in my GI recovery has brought thoughts of disordered eating back to the forefront of my mind. All of these things led me to reach out to the Crisis Text Line a couple of weeks ago, a texting service providing free mental health crisis management to those feeling overwhelmed or hopeless. The counselor I was connected with was incredibly helpful, providing me with links and information relating to depression and anxiety that I could use to get unstuck from the place of willfulness I found myself in. My chief complaint was a lack in motivation– I was stir crazy and bored from being stuck in the same house with the same people for so many months now. In response to this, the counselor gave me a resource that has since changed my life and my depression: an app called “Habitica.”

Habitica is a free role-playing/task management app that allows you to treat your life like a game to stay motivated. You can input habits that you want to strengthen (or that you want to be rid of!), daily tasks you want to accomplish (in therapy we call these “activities of daily life” or “ADLs”), and your To-Do list. You create a customer avatar, and the more habits and tasks you check off, the more your avatar benefits! It’s been a really fun way to combat my depression, because who doesn’t want to collect pets to feed and ride simply by doing things like brushing your teeth or going for a walk?! (I am not endorsed by Habitica, I’m just an avid fan who has found that this app really works for me!)

Now I can circle back to why I am admitting to my perfectionism. Lately, I’ve been in denial, lying to myself about my progress and recovery. It’s been very subtle, but I didn’t want to face the consequences of not checking off my daily tasks and habits within Habitica (when you don’t check off your tasks by the end of the day, your avatar loses health and gold coins). Rather than accept my punishment for not finishing a task here or there, I would fib to myself, or even half-ass the tasks that I struggled to complete. I couldn’t even admit to a game that I am imperfect.

Yesterday, I came across a podcast episode about perfectionism. In the episode, the host says “Perfectionism is a shield that isn’t actually protecting us, but preventing us from taking flight.” As soon as she said this, I flashed back to one of my first sessions with my therapist in ED treatment (the very therapist who encouraged me to start this blog). If you’ve read the post that explains the title of this blog, you may have had a similar light bulb go off in your head. My then-therapist explained that if I’m so busy playing tug-of-war with my depression, anxiety, eating disorder, and/or perfectionism, I have no other hands to hold my hobbies, creativity, or relationships. She encouraged me to put down that rope, and see what my life would look like without it.

It was this session that I decided to commit to creating this blog and posting something every single day, as a way to fight off my perfectionism. If I post every day, I won’t have time to mull over every word, wondering if it’s good enough to publish. The host of that podcast said something very similar. She mentioned that perfectionism is an adaptive skill based on fear and worthiness, and a way to gain control when things feel out of control. The episode ended with this call to action: “Take an imperfect step.”

So I did. I came clean to myself and my therapist in session yesterday: “I hate to admit it, but I’ve been half-assing some of my daily tasks so that I can appear perfect, even in this virtual world I’ve created.” I admitted to not completing every Habitica task in its entirety, to the countless drafts I’ve started but never finished or published on this very blog, to shying away from activities I know I’d enjoy for fear of strangers seeing me. These were all very difficult things to say, and admitting to it all lifted a weight off of my shoulders the moment I said it out loud.

Perfectionism is all about perception. Perfectionists want others to see only what we want you to, and never the flaws that make us, let’s face it, human. I realized that even in Habitica, a virtual world where only I can see my specific successes and failures, I was trying to be perfect. The thing is, nobody is perfect. Not you, not your mom or spouse or neighbor or pastor. Everyone has flaws and faults, which is what makes the human race so beautifully connected. If we all embrace these imperfections (harder in practice than in theory, I know), we may see ourselves reflected in so many others, which breeds connection and authenticity.

Authenticity is my number one value, I’ve never been shy about sharing that. If I want to live true to this value, I must come clean as a perfectionist, and strive to keep taking these imperfect steps.

What is one imperfect step you can take today? Let me know in the comments below!

If you are struggling or in crisis, I encourage you to reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting “HOME” to 741-741 for confidential and anonymous support. You are not alone.

2020 Vision

I’m stepping into this new year- into this new decade- feeling a sense of calm and clarity. I’ve realized that I finally have some semblance of a grasp on my health, both physical and mental. I was planning on diving into what led me to this eye-opening moment in my life, but decided to save it for a future post. Got to keep you wanting more, I suppose. Instead, I will say this:

I have never shied away from discussing my mental illnesses on this blog. And I’m not about to start now. 2020 will be the year I embrace the role of advocate, and start being more proactive about trying to help others who struggle with their mental health like I do. I have many goals for the new year. I aim to reclaim my identity as an artist, and embrace my creativity, however messy or even lackluster it may be at times. I aim to allow my individuality to continue to exist while I grow alongside another human, my partner, and recognize that I can do both at the same time. I aim to push myself to be the best version of me that I can be. I aim to pursue my passions, especially the new ones that terrify me. And I aim to work harder, and share more of my journey here with all of you.

When I created this blog during treatment for my eating disorder, I awakened part of myself I never knew I needed. Writing on this website helped me in ways I never imagined, and taught me a lot about myself and the kind of person I want to be. So, here we are in a new year and a new decade, and I’ve decided not to hold myself back. To acknowledge that I am not perfect, nor will I ever be, and that sometimes pursuing my dreams and pushing myself through depression and anxiety will be hard as hell. But I will continue to move forward. I will continue to pursue my dreams, be ambitious, write freely, and try not to judge myself too harshly along the way. I hope you will join me for the adventures.

Happy New Year, all. Congratulations on making it this far. Let’s keep going.

Introducing #DBTDay

Hello everyone!

I’ve fallen off the wagon of my #MentalHealthMonday posts, so I decided to revamp that, and add something new!

Once a week, I will explore a DBT skill on the blog! For those who don’t know, DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and is used by many treatment centers and therapists across the country. It is a cognitive behavior therapy developed by the extraordinary Marsha Linehan, Ph.D.. As its name suggests, DBT is focused on dialectics; balancing opposites, and using “both-and” ways of thinking rather than “either-or.”

There are four sections of DBT: Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Emotion Regulation, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Each section offers unique skills to help you stay in the present moment, tolerate stressful situations (without making things any worse), manage intense emotions, and communicate effectively in relationships.

In an effort to raise awareness about DBT, and increase my own personal use of the skills, I will strive to post about one skill per week. If anyone has heard of DBT and would like to request a particular skill, or if you are interested in any of the four models mentioned above, just send me an email from my Contact page.

I can’t wait to refresh my memory of DBT; these are skills that saved my life. I hope they will have some effect on you, too.

Lowering the Bar

When you have depression, suddenly the world shifts. You have the burning desire to sleep all day, your passions become an afterthought, and small tasks seem unattainable. The number of times I have had to explain to my dentist that I don’t brush my teeth as often as I should because of my depression fills me with shame. Or when I start crying when I get the urge to pee because that means getting out of bed. When I’m at the bottom of a depressive well, the amount of guilt, shame, sadness, and exhaustion cover me so I can’t even see the light at the top. And I’m at the bottom of that well right now.

One of the adjustments I have had to make lately is adjusting the standards I set for myself. I now get rewarded for the smallest things. Things that I’m sure most people have no problem doing every day. I now get congratulated and celebrated when I do something simple, like put a dirty dish in the dishwasher, or take a shower. I have to force myself to go hang out with my friends, or reach out for help when I feel overwhelmed.

Today, I was congratulated for making social plans. At first, I was disheartened. All I did was reply “Sure” to a text from a friend who asked to hang out. Why does that earn celebration? I once read a memoir about a woman with bipolar disorder, and she writes something similar about receiving praise for moving from her bed to the couch.

The thing is, I can’t look at things the way I do when I’m not depressed. Because those are completely different circumstances. When you feel it’s impossible to get out of bed, or keep your eyes open, it is a major celebration when you do those things. Because, in your depressed mind, you have just accomplished the impossible. Which means, you can do anything. It will be hard as hell, sure. And it is doable. That is what I’m holding onto while I’m stuck looking up from the bottom of this hole I’ve found myself in. It’s going to be work. I’m going to have urges to act on maladaptive behaviors. I’m going to want to sleep all day. And I know that I can say no. I can get up and go to work, or see my friends, or buy groceries.

Just because I have to lower the bar now, doesn’t mean it’s forever.

 

when you put down the rope

Good afternoon, readers. Happy Saturday!

So, do you remember when I told you why I named this blog “Putting Down the Rope”? (No shame, if not. Read it here.)

Well, since treatment ended I’ve been feeling much more like myself. I’m sure recovery and the right cocktail of meds is doing the trick, but it’s so relieving to feel more productive, creative, etc. It feels like I’m putting down the rope.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend an art installation at my friends’ art co-op, Holy Unlikely. It was a gathering of some really amazing people, both extremely talented and exceedingly kind. I brought some of my photographs/poems to display in the visual art/gallery-style portion of the evening; something I would have never done a month ago. But now, I wanted to display it. My self-doubt was no longer shrouding my consciousness and I was proud to display the more vulnerable parts of myself. (Recognize the work?)

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My unnamed collection, which I plan on expanding into a series. Keep your eyes peeled.

Later on we arrived at the performance portion of the evening– open mic style–  where anyone and everyone were encouraged to sign up to share music, performance art, poetry, random thoughts, etc. I already knew I was going to abstain from participating in this part of the show; I was perfectly content being invisible in the audience. The last time I said I was going to do an open mic night, I ended up hiding in the bathroom when it was my turn. (I still can’t apologize enough to my friend who took the time to learn the song I planned on singing that night…I owe you one, Skyler.)

But last night was different. I felt safe. I felt comfortable. And I was surrounded by people who were baring their souls, just like I wanted to.

You see, art got me through some of the worst times. If it weren’t for this blog, I don’t know if I would be this far along on the road to recovery. It carries me when I can’t lift a leg to walk, it flies me into the clouds when I’m elated.

The memory of this feeling is what made me decide to share the art that got me through some of the hardest times of my life with a group of mostly strangers. I read three of my poems. I didn’t stutter, choke on nothing, or shake so badly it looked like I was having a seizure. And, most importantly, I didn’t hide in the bathroom when they called my name. I told everyone I have an eating disorder, and got applause when I mentioned I discharged from treatment. I read the poem that helped me realize the staff at clinic knew what they were doing even if I thought they didn’t. I read about love, I read about feeling invisible. You can’t take that away from me. Neither can Sasha.

Afterwards, the strangers, who I suppose weren’t strangers after all, came up to me to thank me or share their opinion. One person came up to me and told me they were proud of me and gave me a hug.

The thing is, I feel like shit most days. I’m warring with that rope most days, unable to believe what I have to say or create makes any difference in the world. But yesterday was not most days.

Yesterday I stood up in front of a crowd and delivered three poems into a microphone. My first public performance.

When you put down the rope you can live your life worth living.

Art is subjective, it’s meant to be shared. Art helps me exist in the world. My wise mind knew this enough to allow me to put down the rope, and walk to the microphone- raw hands and all.

 

 

 

D-Day!

Well, that”s it. I am officially discharged from program! I was hoping to publish this yesterday, on my actual D-Day, but alas, time got away from me.

So, here we are. My first day of freedom. I definitely thought I would feel terrified to discharge, and I ended up leaving program yesterday feeling really positive. I’ve learned all I can…it’s up to me now.

I wanted to post something profound, but there’s really not much to say that hasn’t already been said.

The biggest obstacle I’m already facing is dealing with the loneliness. I no longer have a place to go and see friends every day. It feels a lot like graduating from college; you suddenly wonder what to do when you can’t just go hang out at your friends’ place anymore. If anyone has advice to combat loneliness, feel free to leave it in the comments.

Thank you for everyone’s support! The road to recovery is longer than ever, but I’m still walking!

It’s the Final Countdown

Wow. It’s my last week of treatment at my eating disorder clinic. I discharge in three days. What a long ride it’s been. And how strange to be leaving a place I’ve come to find comfort in. It’s funny thinking of it as comfortable, considering what has happened in those four walls over the last 5 months. I could say so much about my time in treatment- and I’m sure I will, eventually- but these are the memories, thoughts, and feelings that stuck with me:

On my second day of program I was in the bathroom before morning snack, texting my parents that I was going to leave. (This was after an early morning discussion in which I told them I wasn’t even going to show up for day two. I did.) Before snack I was still incredibly full from breakfast, and my body was making the adjustments it naturally makes when you start feeding it after a long period of starvation. I wasn’t going to tough it out, I was convinced the program wasn’t for me, that my eating disorder wasn’t as bad as everyone else’s, and that I didn’t need to be there. I told them I’d go to a less intense program. Something better suited for me. I sat in that stall and cried and cried. My mom told me to call her, but as I was being supervised in the bathroom, I didn’t. What came next was an avalanche of encouragement from both parents. My dad ended up telling me what I used to survive some of the hardest moments of program: taking it one minute at a time. One bite at a time. If I could conquer the next five minutes, I could do anything.

And here I am, one week left and still taking it bite by bite. It’s how I got this far.

I remember thinking that when I was done and discharged from program, I would be 100% better; “cured” from my eating disorder. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But don’t flinch, I didn’t say that was a bad thing. You see, I have made significant progress in my time here. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. And other times, it’s really hard and I feel like I’m starting back at square one. What I’ve learned is: that’s recovery. It’s messy and difficult and nonlinear and a constant battle. It’s how I fight the battle that marks the progress and proves that I’m walking the road to recovery. It’s a long road with a lot of potholes and the sun beats down on you, but at the end of the day, I have the tools I need to be successful in my recovery. That is what I am choosing to focus on in these last three days.

I experienced the widest range of emotions in this program. The many meals I sat at the table in the dining room and cried into my lap, not able to look at the meal I couldn’t complete. Feeling shame as my peers would walk past me, exiting the dining room, and some squeezing my shoulders; a reassurance that only caused me more shame. They got to leave, but I couldn’t. They were watching me struggle.

And from there, the bonds deepened. On my darkest days I was seen. On theirs, I could see them. We never left each others’ side. Always hoisting each other up, carrying one another from one mile marker to the next. We were going to cross that finish line, and we would cross it together, whether we did that physically or otherwise.

Not only was there anguish, but there was intense joy. We all rooted for one another; when someone overcame a major barrier in their disorder, we were elated. Nothing will compare to when one of the younger patients, a dear friend of mine, found out he got accepted to NYU in the middle of program. That night, while checking out, everyone in the room listed him getting into NYU as their best moment from the day. Even now, I beam whenever I think of it. We are a family. When we struggle, we support each other, when we celebrate, we hoist each other up.

I still have tough meals (and tough days) despite being in my last week of program. And each time I struggle, I look around at the room of people, who understand what it’s like to struggle with something that comes so easily to everyone else, and find comfort.

I may be a warrior princess, but it’s only because of the army standing behind me.

 

To my friends in program: I will miss you all so much. Each one of you is so special and so beautiful, and I am privileged to know you all. Never stop fighting. Never stop putting down the rope.