So as discussed in yesterday’s post , I have encountered many things in my personal healing that I have found to be other than helpful. And have struggled with the judgments of instructors and practitioners who, while having the best of intentions, made a bad situation worse. This piece focuses on how we can go forward as better prepared and more effective healers & teachers.
Yesterday, I used the analogy that one does not need to be an Oncologist to play a part in the healing of Cancer patients-as long as the limits and boundaries of the practitioner are understood and upheld. And the point was made that if something is working on your healing path, keep doing it-and if it is not-stop…or try again later, or seek out additional resources in that field. Well, today’s piece explores the wealth of information and support that can be found if one simply looks, and how that information can seek to empower clients, students and teachers. While I need not be an Oncologist to be Reiki Practitioner to a cancer patient, learning a little about cancer may make me a better practitioner to that client. A well-rounded teacher/practitioner keeps learning constantly. Learning outside the scope of our “role” can only make us better, more understanding wellness providers and citizens of the world. Armed with resources and information, the blinders of experience that can at times lead to ignorance will more easily give way to binoculars of possibility and ultimately bring about more potential for healing ourselves and others.
I was given a great opportunity to hear from Maggie Juliano and Susi Costello of Sprout Yoga, a Foundation dedicated to helping those who are healing from eating disorders. They do this by providing free and low-cost Yoga classes to individuals affected and outreach and education to Yoga teachers and others within the greater healing landscape (Therapists, etc) on how Yoga can be an effective tool for healing. As a Reiki practitioner, I can see the value in understanding the disorder a student or client may be working with – it gives me more resources to pull from to be the best practitioner I can be. Imagine if that Yoga teacher who told me “Yoga is all you need to overcome an eating disorder” had gone through a training with them-education is also the cure for foot-in-mouth disease.
When I asked Maggie and Susi to describe what Sprout offers those with eating disorders, they stressed the importance of getting the information to the teachers-and then, getting students into the studios where those teachers work. Sprout helps teachers to understand the many sides to an eating disorder-from distorted body image to obsessiveness to the danger these disorders pose to the person’s entire body. The scope of these illnesses is far-reaching, for example a slight majority of persons with disordered eating have a background that includes trauma. When the healing student shows up for class, the teacher will know that they are there, and the student will know that they have a teacher that understands. This makes for a safe, harmonious place to explore something new on the road to recovery.
Maggie and Susi reported many benefits for students involved in classes, among them a reduction in anxiety for anorexic style eating and less objectification of the body. As someone with anorexia, I know first hand how my body can feel like a foreign object at times. They said it really “runs the gamut”, and sometimes just getting comfortable being uncomfortable can be very powerful.
Given that my experience with Yoga asanas (postures) was less than healing despite numerous attempts, styles, and teachers; (remember y’all, what you do on the mat in a class is only 1/8 of Yoga!) I asked about their take on my situation. They responded that a step towards healing always has a reward, and that trying is half the battle-a sentiment I strongly agree with. They also felt that knowing the resource was there for possible future use is another benefit. It was brought up that some forms of yoga can be more appropriate that others for people with disordered eating habits. They shared that they have seen Iyengar (a form of yoga very much focused on precise alignment of the body) and Bikram (a form of “hot” yoga which involves deep, often strenuous stretching and compression of parts of the body) are often the least beneficial for this particular population. They also added that sometimes, it really all depends on the particular form and manifestation of the disordered eating-Maggie mentioned that sometimes, people who are more prone to obsessing find it more difficult to work with slower forms of Yoga as it allows the mind to race. Sprout can help a student find the best styles of Yoga to suit them.
The conversation got deeper-and for me, more enlightening-when I asked if there were any misconceptions of eating disorders and/or Yoga they would like to discuss. They both agreed that applying the Sutras (ancient writings that are the basis for the practice of Yoga) with thought-think of who they were written for, and when. They feel the improper application of them can even justify anorexia, as some of them speak at length of discipline and cleanliness of the body. Remember, eating disorders are based in disorders of thought and perception-just as pictures of skinny models may not have any affect on one person, they can have a massive impact on someone with disordered eating habits. It does not take much to fuel the fire of disordered thinking, and therefore disordered behavior.
Another topic that came up here was that of Orthorexia. I have had the time to research it some, and it is a controversial subject to some extent-allow me to say here that while eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, and many more are listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), Orthorexia is NOT. Orthorexia is a name coined by California doctor Steven Bratman and is used to recognize the disordered restriction of a person’s diet in regards to “healthy” foods. That is to say, a disordered obsession based around what foods the person deems “healthy” or “unhealthy”. I have certainly seen at events I have attended that a discussion can arise in which competitiveness in dietary restriction becomes apparent, i.e. “I eat less suger/GMO/dyes” etc. To most people this may simply be a discussion about healthy food choices, but to some, it can be used to justify or mask an obsession with the food they are NOT eating…and that is when it becomes a problem.
Also, body worship is a concern. When someone has disordered thinking and tendencies, those pictures of crazy yoga poses and ripped muscles with very little body fat can be just as dangerous as the magazine photos of excessively skinny models. Except, in this case, we have the opportunity to practice under the study of or next to that individual in a class. Maggie and Susi both expressed the need of teachers to understand their role in working with students-as I mentioned yesterday, there is presumed authority when you are “leading” something, whether it is intended or not. They also presented the notion of the different agendas teachers may have for pushing students. Are we really pushing because it is better for them?
I am abundantly grateful to Maggie and Susi for taking time out of their very busy schedules to discuss these points, and I feel this has helped to see the full scope of how holistic methods can be used to best help people. I also feel that it reiterates the importance of being as well-rounded and open-minded as possible when acting as practitioner or teacher, and that many factors may be at play that may be beyond our understanding or awareness.
Yoga Teachers & Therapists! Sprout Yoga has a training coming up at Wake Up Yoga in South Philly on Feb. 20. It will be led by Maggie Juliano, and focus on helping Yoga Teachers & Therapists better understand the role of Yoga as a compliment to the treatment of Eating Disorders. It is only $30! Click here for details.