This piece could also have been titled “If I don’t like Yoga does that make me an asshole, and if so what does that say about your enlightenment”?
As I’ve mentioned previously I started this blog to clarify the misconceptions of eating disorders and other psychological/mental disorders, and to discuss some of the attitudes within the larger healing arts community that I find troubling (and at times, disturbing). Here, I’ll discuss exactly what I have seen and experienced first hand that have made me feel it necessary to bring this all up.
Let me start by saying again-this is not intended to hurt anyone or point a finger of blame at any particular practice or understanding. It is to help us get introspective for a moment, so that we may move forward in a better way-a way that is more conducive to healing. Because we are all at the core here for the same reason-to heal. It is also to stir discussion as to what types of attitudes and statements my hinder or altogether stop the healing of ourselves, our students, and clients. This is a tricky thing for all healers, no matter what kind, no matter how long one has been practicing. Ego often sneaks in when we least expect it.
In this piece, I will interject what is known fact with my own personal opinion and/or experience. I will do my absolute best to make abundantly clear which is which. I encourage you to check out the citations and links within for more details on the subjects.
I will also make mention of the actual experiences I have had, sans names. If you know yourself to be one of the people involved, I still love you.
Back in 2007 while studying to be a Reiki Master, we were required to work with the book “The Life you Were Born to Live” by Dan Millman. In this book, Mr. Millman presents his “Life-Purpose System”, a system of birth date numerology he devised based on “ancient wisdom” (he never clarifies what ancient wisdom, but suggests in the book that it may be based on the works of Pythagoras). This “Life-Purpose System” takes your birthday and works it down to two numbers which tell you why you have incarnated/what you are on Earth to do in general terms, and what themes you need to focus on the manifest the best life ever. It suggests a number of “spiritual laws” that apply to everyone and everything (there are laws on perfection, faith, and cycles to name a few) and gives examples of how to “work” these laws in your life. I’m not a self-help book kind of person, but the first two Reiki classes I took went so swimmingly I trusted with blind faith that this was a wonderful and useful book before ever even opening it. Simultaneously, I began doing a work exchange with a local Ashtanga yoga studio-I scrubbed mats for free classes. A really good deal for one of the best studios in the City. I was ready to approach the next level of personal healing.
As I dug in with reckless abandon, something seemed off. I kept pushing forward, but the more Yoga and working of “Laws” I did, the worse I felt. I was told by classmates and other people in the healing arts community that if I was feeling resistant to Mr. Millman’s program OR to Yoga, that it was because I must really need it, it must really be pointing out things that I need to do. If it doesn’t fit, I was told, the problem was with ME. I continued, trying even harder to get to the root of my issues. “Man, I must REALLY be FUCKED UP if this stuff makes me feel soooo terrible”, I thought.
Each Yoga class was my own personal Hell. Never in my life did an hour take so long to get by. In the holding of every pose, I obsessed about each square inch of my body. It didn’t help that the studio had a wall of mirrors, but frankly, I could not bear to look an them anyway. Besides, I was busy looking at every other person in the place and comparing my dumpy, ugly, uncoordinated self to each and every one of them. I felt like an abomination of a human being, a sad worthless sack of shit on a tiny neoprene mat. There were many classes I fought back tears and even screams of discomfort, and a few where all I could think about was cutting myself, or forcing myself not to eat.
Add to that what the “Law of Perfection” Mr. Millman’s book spoke about. On pg. 361 of “The Life You Were Born To Live”, he outlines exercises in thinking to both experience and apply this “law”. (CAUTION: Shit gets real dark here.)
“Recall a moment when your life felt perfect…and you expanded into the moment of pristine perfection” When I was wearing size 0 and had a little room left in my pants. That was fuckin sweet.
“Now recall a recent incident…that seemed far less than perfect” My big, fat, ugly ass on this mat.
“Learn to say…It’s good enough-for now” Hell yeah it is! Cuz I am not eating jack shit till after this time tomorrow!
And just like that, I started food restricting again.
By the next morning, those familiar pains of hunger returned. I felt sad, I was a failure. I failed at being better. Wow, I really DID suck. I went on about my day, feeling shitty. I reread parts of “The Life You Were Born to Live”, and something struck me-something that could only be described as reality and good sense. Who the fuck WAS this guy anyway? And what about all these people telling me that if this does not fit, it’s me? Were they wrong, or was I? Yoga has been around for thousands of years, and has been immensely helpful to literally billions of people in that time. How could I fly in the face of that?
Then, I thought about the Yogic principles I had been reading on. I truly respect Yoga as a spiritual practice even now-but that’s the thing. The stuff you do in a yoga class, all those postures (called “asanas”) are just 1/8 of the entirety of Yoga. One of the other “limbs” is ahimsa, or compassion. It struck me…I had failed at having compassion for myself. This practice was NOT helping me. It was bringing things up alright, but not in a way that was conducive to my overall healing but rather counterproductive. And if it was not helping, why the hell was I doing it? To torture myself?
Ahimsa time-I am going to display compassion for myself by loving myself in spite of this practice not working for me. I am going to love myself for knowing not to do it any more. And I was going to love myself for getting this book out of my house, out of my life, and out of my thoughts. And I was going to love myself for going right downstairs to Ishkabibble’s and getting a large cheese fries and eating them with mayo!
I cried. For a long time. Like, the kind of cry where your breathing gets all messed up. But, this was a totally different cry than all the ones I’d had after Yoga classes or while reading that book….it felt GOOD. I felt lighter. Happier. The nightmare was over, the storm clouds lifted. The only thing left to do was tell my much respected and beloved Reiki teacher that I was no longer going to work with this book. I understood where she was going with the book-she wanted us to work on ourselves, to have a framework with the undeniable introspection and self-healing that happens during Reiki Mastership. But this framework didn’t work for me. I decided that I would instead work some principles that helped me in my recovery the first time around. That afternoon, I went to class and told my teacher-who felt awful and cried a little-but understood. My classmates…well, some of them did. But I didn’t care. I felt better. After that, everyone could just go right ahead and play a violin.
Over the years that followed, I tried Yoga again a few times: small classes, big classes, one on one, home practice. With teachers I knew and was close with, and with strangers. I tried different styles: Vinyasa, Yin, Yoga & Reiki, Restorative. No avail. All the different ways I could try, that proverbial square peg just refused to fit into that round hole. And when that happened, I was completely comfortable with walking away without a second thought. I have gotten comfortable with respecting a practice that really isn’t for me. I dated a yoga instructor on and off for two years, and rented space for my Reiki and Bodywork practice in Hawthorne Yoga & Reiki. I even assisted in the Reiki part of Sean Jacob’s Yoga & Reiki classes. I love Yoga, the Asanas just are not for me. And I am cool with that.
Who is NOT cool with that? Apparently, lots of fuckin people! I really do not like talking about my eating disorder. But, when you work at/across from a Yoga studio with amazingly friendly teachers (Hi Hawthorne!) it gets discussed, just as it does any time I am anywhere in the healing community-since nearly all of them practice Yoga at least occasionally. It’s like everyone assumes I must do yoga (actually, a lot of people assume I own or part own Hawthorne; but I don’t and never have. You have thank Sean Jacobs and all of the amazing teachers at Hawthorne and Kensington Yoga & Reiki Studios for affordable, high quality classes). When I tell yoga teachers and others in the healing community why I do not do yoga, I am often greeted with “it’s cool/you do Reiki, that’s your thing/hey, do what works, and good for you!” And sometimes, I am greeted with “You just need to try again/try it with me/try my style/keep doing it anyway/call me when you are ‘ready’ to get into your body/you just aren’t ready/you clearly don’t understand yoga”. I have been in more than one setting where my non-asana yoga practice has been a huge point of contention, and have experienced rather heated debates on the subject.
And that is where we start getting into WHY this blog exists.
Frankly, I am sick of hearing the malarkey that one person or practice has all it needs to help what ails you, and if it does not work for or resonate with someone else, that there is something wrong with them. That very idea smacks of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. I do not believe that practitioners fall into this trap out of being jerks, I believe it is just misguided passion. And that is why we need to hold the finger pointing-anyone who truly does what they do out of love for it can easily wind up doing this without even realizing. In my world, there are people who do not care for Reiki. It may be too passive for some, allowing for racing thoughts. Or maybe being touched or hovered over triggers the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder they developed while serving in our armed forces (this of course does not mean Reiki is contraindicated for people with PTSD, it is just one example I have seen of a different modality being a better choice). It’s cool, there are lots of other things to help-from psychotherapy to shiatsu and beyond. I have never told a client or student that if Reiki isn’t cutting it that there is something wrong with them. There are countless modalities because there are so damn many of us. The trick is finding what works for us as individuals.
Yes, you love your thing. It’s worked wonders for you, that is why you wish to share it with the world-and that is truly a beautiful thing. And so is the healing path of your fellow man. You do not need to understand it-you just need to support it. It can be really difficult at times, but we must try to separate our passion from our ego. Neither we-nor our modalities-can heal every single person all the time. Nor does it have to. Ever have someone smile at you randomly or hold a door for you on an otherwise shitty day? Sometimes, that is all we can do-be a flash of nice, a supportive human. And that is still a beautiful thing.
I feel a clear separation needs to be made between this accidental oversight based in passion and love and what I feel is better described as malignant ego. I’ll be honest-it makes me angry when I hear a wellness provider or fitness instructor of any variety audaciously or ignorantly dismiss the severity of a medical or psychological issue and attempt to make the case that their “brand” can cure it. This is quite rare, but far more dangerous than the previous example. I have had clients come to me and tell me a Nutritionist told them to stop taking their prescribed medications. Not “go to the doctor and see if you still need them”, not “consider a second opinion”-stop taking your prescription drugs immediately and drink this smoothie/eat this food instead. That is unacceptable. If you wish to advise people on healthy food choices and Holistic perspectives, receive training as a Nutritional Consultant. If you wish to advise people on medications, go to medical school. They are two different things.
I once had a Yoga teacher tell me that people with Eating Disorders would be able to fully recover if only they just did Yoga. First-she didn’t know she was talking to a recovering anorexic. A great example of the fact that we never know all of what is going on with someone else, and what happens when we assume. Second, and let me be amazingly clear, this is NOT the wide view held in the Yoga Community. In fact, part two of this post (which should be up later today or tomorrow) will include an Interview most graciously granted by Maggie Juliano and Susi Costello of Sprout Yoga which educates Yoga teachers on how to best support those recovering from disordered eating with Yoga and often provides affordable and even FREE yoga classes to those recovering. They truly are wonderful heroes, helping Teachers to be better prepared; and helping those with disordered eating patterns of all kinds to feel better in their bodies. Just because Yoga asanas didn’t work for me does not mean they will not work for others-most often, they DO. Again, just because we don’t understand how something works for someone else does not mean we need to judge it. It cuts both ways.
I’ve also been told by Reiki practitioners (plural!) that I can only heal anorexia by way of affirmations, and made it clear that they felt nothing else (psychotherapy, etc) would help it. I was told I needed to “fix my thoughts”. I dig affirmations-they are mighty helpful, as any positive disposition and believing in one’s self are a boon to healing. But we need to be realistic. Believing that we can be better is powerful. Believing that we can attract the best professionals of all varieties to help us is productive to the healing process-telling someone they are sick because they need to police their thoughts better is victim blaming.
Pop quiz-what form of Mental Illness has the highest mortality rate?
Anorexia. Yes, really- the mortality rate is 5-20%. There is even more easy to understand info on how anorexia ravages the body here. So the statements made by the Yoga teacher and Reiki practitioners is on par with “do my thing, it’ll cure your highly deadly form of mental illness”. How amazingly reckless. Would they have dealt with a client or student disclosing they were HIV positive the same way? Dear God.
Did these practitioners have any clue that Anorexia was so dangerous? I hope not. But do they really need to know how dangerous something is to know it is not appropriate to say “my thing will cure you and everything else is crap’? No! I’ve treated many clients battling Cancer and I do not need to be an Oncologist to do so. I just need to understand what my role as a Reiki practitioner is, and stay within that role. And if I want to be an Oncologist, I need to go to school.
Here’s the thing-just as I said in the Day 11 IET post, whether or not we like if or agree with it, when we are in the role of practitioner or teacher we are in a position of assumed authority. Our words have weight, and we have a responsibility to our students and clients to do our absolute best to keep our egos in check. Will we make mistakes? Of course. We’re human too. When we do, we need to own up to them, and do our best to not repeat the same mistake again.
My students love it when I say things like “I’m just not that cool” or “I’m just some chick from South Philly that drinks wine out of a box, so take what I say with a big grain of salt”, it helps keep perspective for myself as well as for them. And it is usually good for a chuckle.
And for those of you who encounter these limiting ideals in your own healing process, I offer you this-if something is working for you, keep doing it! If it is not, stop doing it! Or, just try it again later. Or, seek out another resource in the same field-if you wish. And if someone judges you for your decisions…tell them to go play a violin. You can even tell them this big fancy Reiki Master with the marginal ability to properly operate WordPress said so. 🙂