evening gratitude

Honesty

I haven’t been doing my best

and that’s okay

It does not erase the progress I’ve made

The recovery I’ve worked hard on

I’m grateful for my awareness

and for the ability to recognize when it’s time to keep working

I’m grateful for my body and its strength

even when I think I’m weak

I prove that I am strong

Tonight I am grateful for my ability to trust

Trust in my body

Trust in my mind

Trust in my muscles

Trust in my breath

Trust in my power

Thank you

For holding me up

For keeping me safe

For brimming with love

Thank you for being my home

Inhale Love, Exhale Love

During Savasana, the final resting pose of my yoga practice last night, I found myself in a difficult meditation.

Typically, I spend the start of this pose expressing my gratitude for my body and for the earth for holding and supporting. I inhale love from the universe, and exhale love for the universe. Hippie stuff for some, sure, but this time in Savasana has allowed me to be grateful to my body and this planet for all that they have give me. It’s when I feel most connected to Earth and everything on it.

Last night, however, I inhaled gratitude for the earth, and exhaled an apology. Again and again, with every breath: inhale, Thank you for what you have given me, exhale, I am so sorry that we’re killing you.

I spent yesterday afternoon watching a documentary about coral bleaching. It was devastating. I learned that the temperature of the ocean is rising—much like how we get a fever—except the ocean’s fever won’t go down. An entire ecosystem is being destroyed, and it’s solely because of the CO2 we’re pumping into the atmosphere. The corals (and the tiny plants inside them) don’t know how to handle this temperature change, so the plants stop photosynthesizing and the corals starve. Then the fish that feed on these corals starve.

So, here I am on my yoga mat, feeling such a profound connection to the world I am in, and I feel indescribably sad for being part of the population that’s killing the planet I call home. All I can do is apologize and radiate all the love I can from this small mat in a small neighborhood in a city in Tennessee.

And you know what? That’s all I could do in that moment. When I’m on my mat, I can’t try to solve the crisis of climate change lying in Savasana. I can commit to getting off my mat later and doing all I can to educate and advocate for the amazing world I’ve become more in touch with thanks to my yoga practice. But lying there in that final resting pose, I can simply breathe in love (because, amazingly, there is still love shining on despite the devastation) and breathe out love.

One of my main meditations I use during yoga is this: “The Universe is in me, just as I am in the Universe.” This meditation has kept me from falling out of Tree pose, or giving up when my muscles quiver during Warrior I. I am grateful to my practice for enlightening me, and for grounding me in the universe and this beautiful connector called Earth.

Off the Grid

In May, I made a decision I never thought I would: I left social media.

I was a prime example of a social media addict. I began and ended each day on either Instagram or Facebook, couldn’t go through a day without displaying certain tasks or activities, and (usually subconsciously) compared my life and feed with my friends and followers.

At the beginning of quarantine, I offered my services as a photographer to a small business I believed in and wanted to be a part of. I had seen a friend of mine doing the exact same thing for this company, and wanted to be a part of it. I had never attempted product photography before, and my life in quarantine was begging for change and a challenge. Soon, I was testing the limits of my photography, and at first I had a lot of fun. It gave variety to my typically monotonous days stuck at home, and I felt pride when my photos showed up on the company’s socials.

Soon, however, I began the evil game of comparing my work to my friend’s, whose photos were also being featured on the company’s feed. Suddenly, what had once been fun and new, became frustrating and consuming. I spent hours a day focused on what I was doing wrong, how many likes my posts were getting compared to my friend’s and other photographers, and my work was no longer gratifying, but instead became soul-crushing. Nothing I did was good enough. I realized my worth had become tied up in the number of views my Instagram story had, or the number of likes my posts would get.

When my work with the company came to an end, I made what I had previously thought of as an impossible decision, and left Instagram and Facebook, cold turkey. At first, I thought I could simply make strict boundaries for myself around social media, but when I noticed how habitual opening these apps on my phone had become—I would close out of Instagram, lock my phone, and 30 seconds later unlocked it, scrolled over to Instagram, and tapped the icon—I knew boundaries weren’t going to work for me. I didn’t even realize I had done this until I noticed I was scrolling past the same photos or stories I had just seen a minute before. I had a problem.

So, despite the fear that my life wouldn’t be as interesting or that I would lose all my friends (let’s just use Urban Dictionary’s word for this feeling: FOMO), I deleted both the Facebook and Instagram apps off of my phone and iPad entirely. The first day was a challenge, and in the first week of removing the apps, I found my thumb flitting over to the apps that had replaced them, completely by rote.

Before long, though, I stopped thinking about my lack of internet presence. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché for a reason. Without the consumption of social media, my days were suddenly free, and I used this time to my advantage. Suddenly, journals that usually took me months to fill, were being filled within the span of three or four weeks. In therapy, I learned more about myself and spent the week after each session reflecting, dissecting, and growing. I signed up for a class on Yoga for Eating Disorder Recovery, determined to spent whatever time I had left in quarantine focused on my recovery. I rekindled my love of reading and writing, giving myself new opportunities to expand my recovery repertoire. I noticed that there was significant overlap in what I was discovering in therapy, learning in my yoga class, and reading in new books. My mind was finally reconnecting with my body, my anxiety and post-traumatic stress began tapering down significantly for the first time in my life, and my personality and passions were finally able to flourish.

This time away from social media has clarified my values; these core beliefs I’ve always held closely to my heart feel out of balance when held next to social media. Particularly, my value of authenticity feels almost discredited when I look back at my presence on Instagram. I spent so much of my life performing, seeking out opportune moments to showcase daily activities. No matter how mundane, with the right filter, anything looked good online. I had succumbed to a performative lifestyle, completely oblivious. But upon reflection very recently, I was shocked to discover how quick I had been to abandon my number one core value. After all, you can’t live completely authentically if you’re picking and choosing what parts of your life are best broadcasted, especially if those parts are falsified even to a fraction of a degree.

In my newfound yoga practice—something I’ve worked at making completely mine, without comparing each day’s practice to yesterday’s or tomorrow’s, or to my teachers’ or fellow students’—I’ve cultivated authenticity once again. In classes and books, I’ve gained an understanding of what yoga truly is, separated from the diet culture and unfair beauty standards that dominate the internet. I’ve let go of the expectation to be strong, flexible, or full of stamina, and step on my mat each day as a new person, ready to hone my connection between mind and body, and cultivate more self-awareness. If I were still on social media, I’m confident I would’ve given up my practice already, frustrated by what my body or practice lacks compared to other Insta-Yogis. I would’ve ignored the entire purpose of yoga, focused more on obtaining views or likes on pictures of my feet on my mat (probably pictures taken without committing to spending any real time practicing the yoga itself). I would’ve continued to trick myself into believing that sharing my “life” was, in fact, authentic, and the anxiety following inevitable comparisons would’ve continued eating me alive.

Last week, I turned down a job that did not serve my values. While the uncertainty of the future can be scary, I feel empowered after making the decision to live in accordance with my values. It’s been a long time since I’ve consciously made such a choice, and when I experience doubt, I am able to remind myself that I don’t have to opt for choices that force me to be someone I’m not, or to tolerate behavior that I personally would never, in good conscious, inact.

Yet, above all, I believe what my time away from social media has given me is the profound beauty of presence. I spend less and less time each day worrying about the future, or dwelling on past choices. Now, I focus on the current day, and my depression and anxiety have very nearly disappeared. I don’t even remember the last time I had a panic attack or a depressive episode.

In a shocking twist in the narrative of my life, I’ve concluded that I may never go back to social media. If I do, it definitely won’t be in the same way it was before. The real shocker? I’m perfectly fine with this. I would rather choose a life that is entirely mine, without hoping or worrying that I’m not presenting the “perfect” side of myself (hint: it doesn’t exist) to people hidden behind a screen name on the internet.

From here on out, I am committed to authenticity. To do only what serves me. To defy expectations. To live my life, because it does not belong to anyone else.

Willfulness into Willingness

I was reluctant to sit down at my computer to write today. I made a goal to commit more to challenging my perfectionism here, like I used to, but I felt stubborn and that I didn’t have anything worth sharing tonight.

Today was a hard day, that started with an incredibly difficult time-sensitive decision I had to make. Once I did what I thought was best, I allowed doubt to seep in, haunting my thoughts, making me uneasy for most of the day.

When I had some quiet time a few minutes ago, I rolled out my yoga mat, convinced that my ruminating thoughts would give way and interrupt my practice. But I decided that I would allow myself the freedom to focus on my breath, and concentrate on how my body moved through the poses. When I finished my practice in Extended Child’s Pose, I felt overwhelming relief flood through me. I got lost in the waves of my breathing, picturing a beach near and dear to my heart, bathed in moonlight. Next thing I knew, a half an hour had passed. I no longer felt stressed or burdened by my day. And I heard myself whisper “I Am Capable.”

I knew that if I was capable of grounding myself in a yoga practice— a task I had previously considered impossible— I could post on this blog tonight.

I want you, reader, to know that you are capable, too. Everything you need and everything you are searching for can be found within you. You simply have to be willing to see it.

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