Sunday, March 04, 2018

#EDAW2018 Namaste and me

Firstly, picture the scene if you can, me, late 2012, very anorexic, very anxious, my brain going to thousand miles an hour and generally a bit scatty, not really caring, and sitting in the therapy clinic with a very chilled out therapist who says ‘right Sarah, we’ve tried CBT, let’s give active mindfulness a go...” that was one of the first sessions I had with Dr B. I remember thinking at the time ‘what the hell are you going to make me do, weirdo....’ People had spoken about mindfulness but I’m much more of an ‘action person’. I just don’t do meditation.

I suppose I got my back up about mindfulness from the off. I tried to do it, tried to meditate. I tried to embrace it and to do the whole ‘let it happen and let it go’ listen to his voice and remain present, but it just wasn’t working for me. 

So yoga then? Is it about my mind or body? Well, both. For some context, I’ve tried yoga over the years, a few sessions here and there, but generally at a leisure centre and focused around fitness weight loss and middle-aged women in lycra. None of which were helpful to me and my mental health. I’d always wanted to rock up and be the bendiest; thinnest and best. But wasn’t, obviously. 

Now, after years putting it off because my own issues with body and making excuses, last year I walked in to Sky Blue Yoga studio at the Northfield Centre in Stafford. I took a big gulp and thought ‘I can do this, I know how to breathe, I know how to stretch...’ I told myself I’m just going to have to see how it goes. And the rest is already history.

I'm now practicing almost daily, mixing a hot vinyasa flow class, with Yin - is a slower practice where you hold your asana for longer, and Yoga Nidra - which is also called 'yogic sleep'. I’m pretty sure if Dr B saw me doing yoga Nidra on a Sunday, he drop down dead in front of me out of shock of seeing me setting aside an hour for meditation.

Nidra is purely the practice of focused breathing, body scanning, switching the sides of the brain used and listening. I love it. I also practice dhama yoga wheel, which really stretches me and is all about balance and coordination and core. Nell, my teacher who’s own learning of yoga theory inspires me to read more and guided savasana is more helpful than any meditation I had in hospital, (as is Kelly's - seriously, these ladies need snapping up by the NHS!)

But all in all I’m loving it. I’m not just turning up and working out. I am taking this with me outside the studio. Learning more about yoga, being a yogi and the theory behind it. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to following a religion! 

Take Sankelpa - the setting of an intention or dedication for yoga practice - it is much like the ‘rewiring’ challenges in the active mindfulness therapy I had. It’s like a metaphor to translate yoga off your mat and into real life. This to me is what makes yoga a lifestyle, rather than something I’m doing just for exercise. My intentions have ranged from ‘Believe am enough’, to ‘focus on breath not body’ and so on.

For some reason yoga and it’s theory clicks with me more than reading books about meditation or trying to practice pure mindfulness. I’m doing it with out thinking. Those days when I have yoga after work it’s like a reset button, it’s teaching me to be more present. I’m slowly learning through yoga to act without ego. With that I mean not to be doing what I think I should be doing, but just what my body is craving. Regular practice is teaching me that taking a moment breathing and just focusing on purely that can put everything else aside and seem less pressing.

I believe finding Nidra or gentle yoga class earlier in recovery would have helped me massively. It’s got the potential to be a really positive things for someone fighting anorexia, after all it is about connecting with your body. Creating new prana. You need to know where your body is, what it can do, when it feels sore and when you need to back off. The more I read, the more I am understanding about yogi lifestyle, the more I accept, and let go. 

According to yoga tradition, there’s a part of us we can’t see. It’s where our energy flows, There are seven key parts, the chakras. Ancient yogis taught that when energy becomes blocked in a chakra, it triggers physical, mental, or emotional imbalances that lead to things like anxiety. 

Never before did I think that focusing on certain part of my body, be at the root or the solar plexus, recalling chakras, could make a difference to my wellbeing. But trust me, it does. I’ve felt really connections to asanas, the poses, which are believed to balance places linked to body or anxiety, I’ve almost cried when practicing pranayama with mantras about self esteem or grounding. I always walk out, standing a little taller. A little more balanced. The release in tadasana, just standing strong in mountain pose, alive Is simple but powerful. It’s just standing up. But it’s not!

Not only that I have met some inspiring people at the studio too. Those who share the same ethos as me, they are not people with multiple disorders, those in and out of therapy or people that simply do yoga for the way it looks to others. They believe in the practice and that’s inspiring. Some of the people at the studio live yogi lifestyles. 

It’s often said when one door closes another opens, and it seems to me that as therapy closed, both at the eating disorders unit and private counselling stopped benefiting me, the door to the Yoga studio opened.

Having done CBT and mindfulness, and all the bits in between, during recovery and before, I can honestly say yoga is more than enough in terms of therapeutic time than I need. Plus a glass of gin and a massage now and again, it’s changing my life, one savasana at a time!

I've also been speaking to Kelly, one of my fabulous teachers at the studio, about how we could work together to help more people with EDs try yoga. I think that people with anorexia especially, could really benefit from practicing Nidra. I’m hoping that one of the positive changes I can make this eating disorders awareness week is to set the ball rolling in implementing this onto the ward at my old hospital. I know If I had been told I was practising yoga in hospital it make me feel better, and maybe, just maybe I’d have been a little more accepting of those mindfulness sessions with Dr B if yoga had taught me to just breathe...? 


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