Resolution Reluctance

Despite my many flaws, I do have at least one thing going for me: consistency. Since I was probably around 18 I have always had the same lofty goals laid out at the beginning of the new year. I suppose even earlier than that I was fond of including “losing weight” on that list. I have a lot of nostalgia tied to that idea of weight loss. It was always exciting to start out on a new path with high hopes of finally achieving my “dream body,” even though it usually ended in devastation, self-hatred, and disappointment. Yet now, having recently pulled myself out of a debilitating eating disorder, I am at a bit of a loss as to what goals to set for myself.

As soon as I sit down to contemplate what I’d like to improve on, the first things that immediately pop up are diet, exercise, and weight loss. While the wording of these goals is no where near as toxic and self-shaming as they used to be, I still worry they are unhealthy. Even when I feel like I have the best intentions and am coming from a self-loving, health conscious mindset, I fear that subconsciously there may be something more sinister at play. It honestly feels like I have a mild form of PTSD from what I’ve made myself go through with food. Now even my goal of switching back to black coffee so I stop using artificial sweeteners sparks fear. Any mild analysis or consideration of my eating or exercise habits has become a huge stressor for me.

Trying to set new goals for myself has really emphasized just how much my life has been centered around food for basically as long as I can remember. Now my only options seem to be feeding my negative body image with unhealthy expectations or utterly disregarding the idea of physical health and nutrition. Both seem like terrifying extremes, but I don’t know how to find a healthy middle ground. Even setting small reasonable goals makes me fearful I’ll end up taking it too far or start paying too much attention to my appearance again.

The holidays (especially this year, having gone to TWO immaculate vegan Thanksgiving feasts) has not been very helpful. Although I am quite proud of myself for not even entertaining the idea of throwing it all up, despite being so stuffed I felt like I was going to die on Thursday. Even so, looking back on all of the bread, pastries, and wine I’ve had has me feeling puffy and grotesque. I’m trying really hard not to care. Still I can’t seem to shake this gnawing sensation of dread from creeping in again and again.

I have been wanting to deepen my yoga practice, particularly regarding the philosophy, and I’m hoping that will help me overcome this dilemma. While brahmacharya is traditionally interpreted to mean sexual abstinence, in my yoga teacher training we used it to mean moderation. While I struggle with most if not all of the yamas and niyamas in yoga, brahmacharya is a particular challenge to me. I believe total abstinence of something is easier than practicing balance and moderation. I find it far easier to never eat potato chips or cookies than to have just a few. Despite the deliciousness and various health benefits of nuts, I absolutely never buy them because the serving size is so ridiculously small. For this reason, I usually don’t even keep snacking foods around my house. If I’m going to eat them, I’m going to eat them all, and anything less almost doesn’t seem worth the effort.

I am hopeful that altering my eating habits through the guidance of my spiritual practice will help me maintain mentally healthy expectations and intentions. And I suppose I have good cause to believe this may be true. Practicing mindful eating for at least one meal a day has helped me foster a much better relationship with food and the hunger/satiety signals my body sends me. Unfortunately I’ve fallen out of eating everything mindfully simply because I so enjoy that cozy, brain dead state of watching Netflix while simultaneously stuffing my face. That has been a cherished eating tradition since watching TV from my childhood dining room table.

I suppose like most things, navigating this delicate situation is going to require a lot of trial and error. For now, I am going to do my best to stay mindful and not be too hard on myself for the hiccups and stumbles I encounter along the way. If anyone reading this is struggling in the same way or perhaps has had experience with this issue in the past, I would love to hear any suggestions you may have to offer.

What Is Your Ideal Weight for Your Height?

Space to Witness

One of the most common misconceptions I encounter when it comes to meditation is that the goal is to “clear your mind.” Not gonna lie, I thought this was the purpose for the longest time myself. Yet this is a very unfortunate misunderstanding that can cause people to give up on the practice all together. It seems like an impossible goal, and that’s because it is. Our minds are meant to always be thinking. We should be grateful for that fact and all that our brains do for us in every moment. There is no way for us to completely turn off our inner thoughts. And there is no need to. Meditation is not about doing that at all.

There are many different forms of meditation, but to my knowledge, none of them have the intention of emptying your mind of all thought. Meditation is about focus. It is training our brains to pay attention. The object of that focus really doesn’t matter. Regardless of what you choose, the intention is to keep bringing your mind back to that object. And I say bringing your mind back because it is inevitably going to wander and stray from your point of focus, especially if you are just beginning your practice. Our job while meditating isn’t to criticize or judge ourselves when we notice this wandering. It’s just to notice. That’s it. Our minds are our most powerful muscles, and just as other muscles need training and exercise to become stronger, so do our minds.

Sounds easy enough right? Well, I’ve always found one of the most fascinating parts of meditation to be just how difficult that really is. Doing nothing should be a simple task, but when you actually try to do it, you realize just how conditioned we are to always be doing or at least planning something. You realize how oddly uncomfortable it is to do nothing. You start to see all the ways your mind and body want to rebel against it. And while it does get easier with regular practice, there will always be days where it feels like the first time all over again. Those days that you find the hardest are the most important of all.

The hard days give us the opportunity to witness how we treat ourselves, how we speak to ourselves when things don’t go the way we want them to. Even though the brain may revert to it’s favorite hurtful comments, this might be the first time you’ve ever been present enough to really notice what those are. There are a few reflexive phrases my brain likes to throw out that, until I began meditating, I had no idea I was even saying to myself, let alone how often. It makes me think of that common school yard taunt: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. You can tell how dated that saying is, because now we have learned that words can hurt us too, even the words we say to ourselves. In fact, the way we speak to ourselves may matter most of all. Because these are often the words we take as gospel truth and believe without question.

While meditation alone does not necessarily help us to reframe this negative self-talk, being aware of that internal dialogue is the first step in doing so. The longer I practice meditation, the quicker I am to realize when I am being cruel to myself. Whereas before I either didn’t notice at all or felt too enmeshed in those painful feelings to extricate myself from them, now it is as if I can take a step outside of myself even in intense moments. The benefit of that space is that I am able to use it to choose a different path.

Now rather than piling on insults when I’m already having a bad day or have made a mistake, it’s easier for me to offer myself understanding and compassion instead of criticism. A lot of the repeated commentary inside my head is downright shocking to me when I examine it. There are so many deeply held unconscious beliefs I’ve been holding onto for years that when I lay them out in front of me seem absolutely awful. Meditation hasn’t stopped these thoughts from coming up, but it has helped me catch them when they do. And that alone has made a tremendous difference in my day to day life.

So while meditation is not what a lot of people imagine it to be at first. It is still one of the most valuable practices that I’ve incorporated into my life. It has allowed me to begin to heal in ways that I never thought possible. It has allowed me the space to craft an entirely new relationship with myself, which in turn helps me strengthen the relationships I have with other people in my life. It is one of the most beautiful gifts that we can choose to give ourselves each and every day.

Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation can improve verbal learning and  memory processes, study finds

Lessons Learned

There are so many valuable things I’ve learned in my twenty-seven years of life. Working with kids always leaves me wanting to teach these lessons to the amazing little people I meet every day. This is especially true when it comes to the teenage girls. It’s painful to see so many of them who remind me of myself at that age. I want to tell them that high school drama isn’t going to matter in a few years. I want to tell them to let it all roll off their backs and just enjoy their youth. I want to tell them they don’t need someone else’s love to make them happy, that happiness is something we get to choose, that comes from inside us. But I don’t say any of this.

I don’t say it, because all of these things were said to me a million times as a teenager. It’s frustrating to grow up and realize it was all true. So why couldn’t I believe it back then? Why did I have to suffer long enough to learn these lessons for myself? And what is it that finally allowed me to accept these messages? It certainly isn’t just getting older. I know many people that are adults and haven’t yet embraced these truths I now hold so dear.

While I may not have an explanation for all of these questions, I did listen to a podcast recently that shed some light on the situation. Our brains simply learn better through personal experience than they do by being taught by someone else. So no matter how much we want to spare our own children and the young people in our lives from unnecessary suffering by just telling them what we’ve learned from ours, it isn’t going to work. Perhaps that suffering isn’t totally unnecessary after all. This is why Socrates didn’t go around preaching the things he knew. Rather, he asked his neighbors questions, nudging them towards their own truths. This is why therapists don’t just tell you what you need to do. They help you discover these answers for yourself. When we realize an answer or solution on our own, it hits us differently.

I suppose this is also why telling people about veganism never seems to change their minds at all. There is truly nothing I can say to someone that will make them go vegan. Deep down I think I’ve always known this. I think all vegans do to some extent. After all, most of us were once the meat-eaters shrugging our shoulders at all the information we now desperately try to show others. In the same way, I’ll never be able to get a teenager to realize that high school doesn’t matter, that their emotions won’t be this intense forever. I certainly didn’t believe it when it was told to me. It feels like I hardly even heard what these adults were saying at all. If anything, I resented them for acting like my problems weren’t real. As if I was choosing to feel the way I felt. Hell, I don’t think I realized the importance of loving myself and not waiting for someone else to come and make me happy until I was like 25!

While the idea of needing to learn something for yourself for it to stick makes perfect sense to me, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I feel helpless to make any kind of difference at all. I’m left biting my tongue, just hoping that somehow these people will find their way on their own. The hardest part is I don’t even know how to turn them in the right direction. I don’t know the right questions to ask them. I’m not Socrates. I’m not a therapist. And worst of all, I don’t even know how I eventually made these connections in my own head!

With Veganism, I’m ashamed to say, I think it was a total accident. I didn’t have this noble, benevolent change of heart one day. I went vegan for purely selfish reasons. Then once I was already living that way, my cognitive dissonance about eating animals lifted and I was able to see things as they truly are. However, when it comes to my personal life lessons about self-love and letting go, I have no clue how I came around to them. Especially knowing the kind of teenager I was. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d become the person I am today. The only thing I can think of is that maybe it was because I started a yoga practice. Even when you approach it for purely exercise or weight loss reasons, something about the physical practice clears away the clouds inside of you and teaches you the most important things in life without you even realizing it.

Honestly, now that I think about it, I’m starting to see how my biggest insecurities and struggles have actually been the things that led me exactly where I needed to be. Both yoga and veganism were only of interest to me at first to the extent that they could help me lose weight. Yet despite neither really doing that, I was given things far more important. Now these things are core parts of my identity, things I practice every single day, things that bring me closer to that all encompassing loving kindness and peace that I’ve always urned for. If I had been born into a itty bitty, “perfect” body I doubt I would have found the things that really give my life meaning. And I certainly wouldn’t start eating animal products again and give up yoga for something as silly as physical appearance.

I guess ultimately all we can do for the kids and other people in our lives that are struggling is be there for them. We may not be able to spare them the suffering we all experience in this life, but maybe we can at least show them by example that, though we may suffer, it’ll be worth it one day. We can’t take away their problems or expose those problems as mere shadows on a cave wall, but we can sit next to them and hold their hands while they work to figure it out for themselves. We can only offer our compassion and our unconditional love and acceptance. And maybe that’s better than any lesson we try to teach anyway.

How to be a Healthy Role Model for Children - NurseRegistry

Small Acts of Unkindness

Take a moment to think about all the little ways in which you withhold tenderness and compassion from yourself on a daily basis. It may take you a while to even register what those actions might be. We have become so used to disregarding our needs, that we lose sight of how cruel we are actually being to ourselves sometimes. When you stop to reflect, you can begin to see how you might be reinforcing thoughts of unworthiness and self-hatred without even realizing it.

For example, I caught myself being unkind the other night as I prepared my dinner. I was heating up leftovers like I often do after work. As I took the hot plate our of the microwave, I noticed that instead of getting pot holders or making sure I didn’t burn myself, I just rushed to set the plate back down in the other room before the pain became too great. Now this is something I do all the time. I guess I can’t be bothered to add on the extra step of finding something else to grab the plate with besides my bare hands. I don’t know what was different about that day, but as I hurried to set the hot plate down, I realized how unkind I was being to myself in that small, unconscious gesture.

Would I allow a family member, friend, or other loved one to risk burning themselves in that way? Of course not. I would insist that they protect themselves and avoid any unnecessary pain or discomfort. Yet I never felt the need to offer myself that same grace or consideration. How sad, I thought. How unkind I have been. Am I not to be included in the category of “loved one”? Why not? Do I not claim to love myself? Why was I not behaving as if that were true? How had I so easily been overlooking these opportunities to be gentle with myself?

After realizing the subtle cruelty of that common occurrence, I started to wonder in what other ways I had been neglecting myself. I began to notice small acts of unkindness everywhere I looked. There are many times when I’ll force myself to wear an article of clothing that is uncomfortable just because it looks good. I’m also guilty of things like: forcing myself to workout even when I’m feeling sick, biting my nails until my fingers are hurting or even bleeding, aggressively picking at my skin, mentally berating the reflection I see in the mirror, shaming myself for feeling confident, being silly, or even just dancing, etc.

The more I think about it, the more ways I notice I’m being unkind to myself on a daily basis. I’m saddened not only for all these things I’m realizing, but also for how long it took me to realize them. Looking back, I’ve done these things for as long as I can remember. As a teenager I remember not wearing sunglasses or sunblock, white knuckling through injuries in order to keep up with my 8 mile daily run, even performing intentional self-harm. The craziest part is knowing that I would never put up with someone else treating me this way, nor would I stand idly by and allow my loved ones to treat themselves with the same disrespect.

I’m slowly working towards becoming more mindful of these small, hurtful gestures. It helps to imagine how I would feel if someone else was in a similar situation. Then I offer myself the same consideration and kindness that I would offer them. I think without even being aware, a lot of us are the most abusive person in our own lives. What a difference it would make if we could bring a soft, loving intention to the little things we do each day.

The next time you notice yourself experiencing discomfort, anxiety, sadness, shame, etc. Ask yourself, am I contributing to the state I’m in right now? If so, how might I offer myself comfort instead? Instead of thinking “what a pain” when I have to take the time to protect my skin from a hot surface, I will think “here you go, dear, I love you, and I want to protect you.” Just because it’s us doing it to ourselves, that is still no excuse to cause suffering or be neglectful. The way we treat ourselves is just as important, if not more important, than the treatment we receive from other people. What are some of the ways you might offer yourself more love and compassion where you’ve been withholding it? How might that make a difference in the way you feel as you move through your day? Make an effort to be kinder toward yourself in small ways as well as in larger ways. Because you are worth it. And even if you have a hard time believing that, think of it as practice. Practice self-love and self-compassion so that you might more easily be able to extend that same energy to others in your life. Or even better, do it for the people in your life that love you. Treat yourself the way they would want you to be treated.

Blogger Health: Blogger Self Care | Food Bloggers of Canada | Food Bloggers  of Canada

Narrowing Our Focus

If there is one thing I’ve learned from my meditation practice, it is the importance and value of focusing our minds. I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely don’t think it matters what we decide to focus on. The simple act of focusing itself is what brings us clarity and calm. As someone who is easily distracted, it’s hard not to get caught up on the decision of what to focus on, even during meditation. Should I focus my attention on my breath, my heart space, my connection with the earth, a visualization? There are so many options that it becomes overwhelming. I find myself switching back and fourth a lot of the time, unable to settle on just one.

Until recently, I was under the assumption that breath awareness was one of the simplest forms of meditation. I often get frustrated with myself for having such a hard time with it after so many years. But recently I heard a meditation teacher discuss the challenges of this type of meditation, validating a lot of the recurring thoughts that pop up for me during my practice. For one thing, saying “focus on the breath” isn’t a very clear instruction. The breath is a very complex thing. It is fluid, ever changing, and tied to a lot of difficult emotions.

Another problem with breath awareness is the body image issues that often arise with it. Until hearing this person speak about it, part of me thought I was the only one that struggled with allowing a natural belly breath during a seated meditation. (It’s a little bit easier for me when lying down.) People, especially women, are told to suck in their stomach, to flatten and hide it. Yet now we are expected to allow it to expand fully and breathe deeply into our diaphragm? It’s hard to let go of years of emotional baggage in order to do so. I always get distracted by my feelings of shame and self-judgement while trying to breathe into my belly. Then instead of focusing on the breath, I’m meditating on negative self-talk, which is only harming me.

One thing that I’ve found helpful more recently is to get even more specific with my breath awareness. There is so much going on when we think about our breath. There a lots of different areas we can choose to focus on. For instance, I’ve been narrowing my focus down to the way the air feels as it leaves and enters my nostrils. You might also choose to focus on the way the breath feels in other areas of the body, or the temperature difference on the inhale vs. the exhale. Maybe you’d like to focus on the sounds you make while breathing. There are lots of different things about the act of breathing to pay attention to, if you find the “breath” too amorphous and vague.

At least for me, it’s very beneficial to pick something very small and specific if I want to achieve that soothing, flow-state of focus. Even though it’s tempting to bounce back and forth between options, it’s important to commit to whatever you decide to focus on and stick to it. Rest assured that regardless of what you choose, the result will be the same. It’s the act of focusing that we are trying to practice, so the object of that focus is irrelevant.

Racing thoughts are a common part of anxiety. It feels like there are just so many things demanding our attention. It becomes overwhelming. Focusing our minds is a great way to calm ourselves down when we are feeling stressed out. Even if you don’t have time to sit down and do a formal meditation, you can always find a meditative state no matter where you are or what you’re doing. All you have to do is decide on something small to focus on. If you are walking, you might decide to focus on the way the heels of your feet feel when they contact the ground underneath you. If you are drawing, you might focus on the movement of your hand or the sensation of touching your brush or pen to the surface of the paper or canvas. If you are cooking, maybe focus on the way the foods smell as you prepare them, or the sounds of chopping and heating the ingredients. If you’re washing the dishes you might focus on the temperature of the water and how it feels against your skin. Or the sounds of the dishes as they clink against one another.

In today’s world filled with endless distractions vying for our attention, it can be especially difficult to stay focused on anything for very long. If you’re someone like me who has had trouble keeping your attention where you want it, try choosing an even smaller, simpler point to focus on. While it hasn’t made things perfect, it has definitely helped me a lot during my meditation and also when stressful moments arise. Most importantly, practice offering yourself compassion when you’re struggling. I promise you it’ll be worth the struggle. Focus is a muscle that we can build up more and more of over time. The older I get the more I realize just how important our focus is. It genuinely shapes our entire reality. The more we strengthen our ability to direct that focus towards what we want, the more ease we will begin to experience in our lives.

Why Intelligent Minds Embrace the Rule of Focus | Inc.com

Managing Sudden Change

There Are 5 Common Anger Styles. Which One Is Yours? – PureWow

Change is scary. Especially when it’s unexpected. Sometimes even a good change can cause extreme levels of anxiety when it happens suddenly. Today I find myself struggling with that kind of change. All week I have been eagerly awaiting the weekend. I desperately needed a full day to rest and recharge. I have been feeling so overwhelmed and ungrounded. I was so happy that the weekend had finally arrived so that I could just relax and do some boring housework.

However, last night, out of nowhere, my boyfriend tells me that a few of his friends are going to drive down to the city near me tonight and wants us to hangout tomorrow. I felt my breath catch in my chest. I was filled with horror, dread, despair, and anger. How can he expect me to drop everything and see him on such short notice? How can I possibly get out of this? How can I mentally bear to go another full week with no chance to emotionally and energetically recover? I want to scream, to cry, to hide myself away, to disappear completely.

Amidst this already chaotic swirl of emotion I also felt immense guilt and shame for my involuntary reaction. The anger that I was initially directing outward at him for being “inconsiderate” was now turned back on myself for being so rigid and ungrateful. I was ashamed of my inflexible, violent nature. I couldn’t help thinking about the way a “normal” person would have reacted to the same surprise. An impromptu chance to see someone I love who I haven’t been able to be with in over a month? What an amazing opportunity! How fortunate! How exciting! That’s probably what most people would think. The layers of unwanted, uncomfortable emotions I was already feeling were condensed even more tightly around my heart by this realization and the guilt that it produced.

I spent all morning in a brutal battle with my own thoughts and feelings, arguing with myself, making excuses, imagining hateful words to spew at others and myself for the injustice of any inconvenience to my incredibly easy and privileged existence. My yoga class was undoubtably terrible earlier. I felt like a fraud, unworthy to lead my class with such a childish inner torrent raging inside of me. “None of this will matter at all next week, next month, next year.” I keep telling myself that. I keep reminding myself that at the end of my life, would I really be happy making a decision to sour this unexpected chance to be with my beloved simply because my house would have to remain uncleaned for yet another week? What is going to matter on my deathbed? Sundays spent in monotonous home maintenance or moments shared with those most important to me? Obviously the latter. So how can I still feel so unsafe inside?

Mental illness is not rational. That’s what it always comes down too. I can’t expect to explain away these feelings. I must make peace with the fact that logic and reason won’t make these thoughts and emotions go away. I have to accept them. I have to sit with them, watch them, get curious about them, learn from them. Instead of doing that, I busily flew around my house this morning trying to leave for my class on time after waking up late, planning a detailed message to send to my boyfriend. “You need to account for ‘x’ if you want ‘y’. I need this, this, and this, so I can be comfortable. These are all the ways in which you need to accommodate and tiptoe around my anxiety and OCD.”

Luckily I was too rushed to send anything until I had had a chance to calm down a bit. On my long drive to the studio, I had time to think. Is it really right for me to insist the people in my life enable me to continue on being enslaved to my unhealthy sense of control? Why should anyone else be burdened by these irrational “requirements”? That wouldn’t be good for them or for me. Once again, I was trying to mold the world into what I think it should be, to make every moment suit my personal preferences. I was placing the blame on the event (a sudden change of plans) instead of on my inner reaction (discomfort, anxiety, anger.) I can’t manipulate the world around me in a way that will shield me from these emotions. What I can do is learn how to tend to the emotions themselves.

Everything that we initially view as negative, irritating, or upsetting can ultimately be transformed in our mind into an opportunity for self study and inner growth. It’s easy to say that I want to be enlightened, that I want to find inner peace, but it’s much harder to be given the chance to cultivate that peace and enlightenment. It’s moments like these, the instances that cause avoidance and rejection to rise up inside of me, that are my greatest lessons, my greatest opportunities to practice being who I want to be.

Earlier this week, my friend at work accidentally dropped a mug on my favorite bowl and broke it. A few years ago, this would have devastated me. I may have even cried. Definitely would have harbored a silent anger and resentment toward my friend. Yet that day, after an initial jolt of disappointment and irritation, I saw an opportunity present itself. Instead of focusing on myself and my misfortune, my focus shifted to my friend. “She must feel so badly,” I thought with compassion. In that moment all I wanted was for her to know that I still felt nothing but love for her. That was what mattered, not an inanimate object.

Even though I’m not sure she fully believed me, I quickly told her that it was okay. I told her that I had been taught recently that we should perceive everything we have in this life as already being broken. That way we can enjoy it in the moment, and still be able to let it go when the time comes. I thanked her for giving me the chance to practice non-attachment and letting go. And I was thankful, surprisingly. I was even excited to witness the inner progress I had made. I genuinely wasn’t upset. I was actually eager to use this moment for my spiritual growth, to turn it into something much more valuable than a silly bowl.

Now I see that moment as preparation, a warm-up, for this weekend. Can I also practice letting go of my plans and the way I think things should be? Can I learn to embrace change instead of immediately rejecting it? Can I actively teach myself that I will be okay even when things don’t go the way I thought they would? These are all questions I have to ask myself today, ways in which I must now challenge myself. This weekend is a spiritual gift, even though it may not look like it right now.

I am going to be grateful. I choose to be grateful. I am going to stop being so upset with myself for the fact that it is a hard choice to make. Instead I am going to be proud of myself for even having the option. Not long ago, this choice wouldn’t have even been available to me. I would have been so lost in my immediate reaction that I would have completely missed this chance to shift perspective. Now thanks to my yoga practice and all the hard work I’ve been doing for years, I am able to see more clearly. I am more easily able to observe the storm inside myself without being sucked into it. The storm is still there, even as I write these words, but I’m going to sit with it for awhile, with compassion, with empathy, with curiosity, and with love.

How to Stop Your Mind From Wandering During Meditation | Psychology Today

Opening Up About My Eating Disorder

Until now, I’ve only made vague references and comments about this on my blog. Part of me was hesitant even to do that. There are a lot of reasons that I still feel somewhat uncomfortable sharing this story. Not only am I ashamed of the behaviors themselves and the seemingly benign catalyst to this downward spiral, but I’m also ashamed to label myself as someone recovering from an eating disorder.

Even though I definitely suffered from extremely disordered eating for months if not an entire year, I never felt like it was “that bad.” I know a lot of people internally minimize their own mental health issues especially when eating disorders are involved, but even knowing that, I didn’t feel able to consider myself one of those people. I’ve watched so many documentaries and series about anorexia and other eating disorders. I know how bad it can get. I know it can be life-threatening at times, especially in the cases that persist for years and years. I was comparing myself to those extreme cases and disregarding the suffering and severity of where I was physically and mentally for those months. I felt, like a lot of people do, that I wasn’t “that sick.” I wasn’t extreme enough in my behaviors. I wasn’t thin enough to have an eating disorder. It hadn’t been going on long enough.

It is easy for me to recognize these excuses and minimizing attempts in others, but only recently have I been able to accept that things really had gotten bad for me. And that I’m still struggling to regain healthy eating habits and not fall back into toxic self-talk. I wanted to write about my experiences today for all of those who may be reading that are like me. There is no “sick enough” threshold that you have to meet before you can get help. If you feel there is a problem, there is. You don’t have to reach rock bottom or suffer for a certain length of time before you can decide to love yourself, before you decide you are worthy of recovery. You are worthy of recovery right now. You are always worthy of love. Your suffering matters, regardless of whether or not someone else may “have it worse.”

My eating disorder began at the end of 2019. One of the parts I’m embarrassed by is the “reason” it seemed to have been triggered. I’m sure there were a lot of other underlying issues going on, and the isolation of the pandemic really made it a lot worse, but the day I recall that switch happening in my mind was a day I was pulled over. I am no stranger to speeding tickets, but this one really got to me for some reason. I was so ashamed and humiliated for getting yet another ticket and having to spend over $100 on something so stupid right before the holidays. As I cried big ugly tears on the rest of my drive home, my thoughts were swirling with negativity.

I’m never pretty enough to get out of a ticket I thought. A thought I have basically every time I’ve been pulled over. But that day it stung particularly badly. “I don’t deserve to eat tonight.” That was the thought that played on repeat. And I didn’t eat that night. Or the next. To my surprise, fasting made me feel a lot better. I felt powerful and strong. I felt sleek and beautiful. My mind felt sharp. I felt in control. I woke up more easily. I felt lighter during my morning workout. “This is great,” I told myself.

After those first two days without eating, fasts became a normal part of my weekly routine. At first I was fasting for one or two days every week. Then three days a week. Then it started to become more than just fasting. On the four days a week I allowed myself to eat, I had a very strict diet. I didn’t eat until 6 or 7 in the evening, and then I would basically eat things that had virtually no calories so that I could eat for hours straight without feeling guilty. Each and every day I ate, I would eat the same exact things, in the same exact order. First I would eat four whole cans of green beans with copious amounts of salt and onion powder. Then I would eat roasted zucchini. Then I would eat cabbage soup. Then lima beans. Sometimes these super low-calorie spring rolls. Then I would finish it off by gorging myself on vegan halotop ice cream, or banana nice cream.

Not long after that, I also starting binging and purging two of the four days I did eat. So I basically wasn’t getting any calories besides the few I would keep down two days a week. I continued to workout for an hour every day like always during this period, mind you. If for some reason I ended up eating with family or friends, that would inevitably be thrown up later. I was worried about the purging, but not much else. And even that was about my looks. I didn’t want my teeth to fall out. I knew that wasn’t going to be something I could do forever, but at the time, I still didn’t want to stop.

In the beginning, I felt amazing. I was losing more weight, more quickly than I ever had my entire life. Every week I was meeting new personal goals. I was elated each and every time I took out the scale to see a smaller number. Even so, it didn’t seem to be perceivable in the reflection I saw in the mirror. Even though I reached my lifelong personal goal for the first time ever, I still hated who I saw staring back at me. I still felt the same, worse even. I felt disgusting, fat, like my belly was grotesque, like I’d never be thin enough.

At a certain point a month or more in, my family and friends started to express their concerns. They were not hesitant at all about asking me point blank if I had an eating disorder. Of course I lied and said I was just being very careful not to eat as much as I used to, but that I was completely fine and healthy. They didn’t seem to believe me, but they didn’t push the issue either. Their concern only made me hate myself more. I felt guilty and embarrassed that they knew I wasn’t okay. I felt like a failure that the comments I received were concerned instead of impressed. I also felt immense pressure at that point to keep the weight off. I was horrified at the idea I may gain it back and people would notice that too.

I had always dreamed of being thin. Ever since I was a little girl in elementary school. I still remember that when I found out about eating disorders, I genuinely wished that I could have one. I felt like that was the only way I’d ever be able to get skinny. Sadly, I made that wish come true through years and years of exposing myself to “thinspo” on Instagram and Tumbr. It always felt like the horrible mental side effects of these disorders just wouldn’t happen to me, or that they were an okay price to pay for beauty. After experiencing the mental and emotional agony I went through, I can say with absolute certainty that isn’t true.

I had sold myself the lie that being skinny would make me happy for my entire life. It was absolutely devastating to confront that lie. During these months, my mental health plummeted lower than ever before. I absolutely hated myself. I was utterly disgusted by every part of myself. I hated my reflection even more than I did before I lost the weight. Each and every moment of the day was consumed by thoughts of food and outrageous levels of anxiety. This was supposed to be how I found happiness, but I found only misery. It felt like happiness didn’t even exist anymore, or at least I’d never find it.

I honestly don’t know how I found the strength within me to finally work on more healthy eating habits again, but somehow I did. It was a slow process, and I still haven’t made it back to “normal” yet. But I am so proud of myself for deciding that I was worthy of my own love. Even though my eating is still a bit haywire, I feel like I have a healthier relationship with my body than I ever thought I would. Now when those toxic thoughts about my body come up, I remind myself that being skinny isn’t going to solve all my problems. It didn’t solve them. It just made life a living Hell. I remind myself that I get to choose whether to be happy or not, and it is in no way correlated to my appearance. In fact, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.

If you’re reading this right now and see yourself in any of what I’ve written today. Please get help. Even if that’s just deciding to try to help yourself. Don’t wait until things are unbearable to change course. Because the sooner you are able to turn around, the easier it will be to reclaim some sense of normalcy. And trust me, if I was able to do it, anyone can. You are beautiful for who you are, not what you look like. You are enough. You are worthy of love. You are worthy of happiness. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me if you’re struggling. I would be honored to answer any questions anyone might have or offer my support to anyone who needs it. Thank you for letting me finally share my story.

Eating Disorder Awareness: Spread the Word - Bayridge Counselling Centres

Anxiety As a Friend

Avoiding our emotion is an American past time. We pass this down from one generation to another, adding on layers of fear and shame as we go until not only are we afraid to cry or be nervous, but also afraid of the way others will judge us for feeling these ways. I learned the other day that other countries don’t have the same desperation to escape even mild sadness the way Americans do. There is much more complexity and grey area to the range of emotion overseas. Many countries have words about feelings that cannot even be accurately translated into English. The nuance simply doesn’t exist here.

It’s also interesting to consider the wise advice from centuries ago in the east, such as the idea that trying to avoid our suffering only causes us to suffer longer, is just now being proven by science. Unsurprisingly studies show that people that view most of the emotions besides happiness negatively are more likely to end up being unhappy. In other countries there is room in the language, in the culture, for happiness to reside alongside things like grief, sadness, anger, anxiety. We have convinced ourselves in this country that all these emotions are mutually exclusive.

One of my blog notes was listed as “writing about anxiety as a friend” for months now. After initially writing the idea down, each time I read it I was perplexed. What on earth could I have possibly meant by that? I find it humorous now that I remember my intention. It’s hard for me to even hold this perspective in my mind for too long. I have spent my whole life viewing my anxiety as the enemy, my kryptonite.

I’ve just started to give myself permission to look at it another way. If I imagine my anxiety as a separate entity, I am able to look at it more objectively, to offer it compassion instead of impatience and disdain. When I start to feel that tension building in my chest, pulling at me. I imagine instead a small child, maybe even myself as a child, tugging at me instead. “I’m scared,” she says. And instead of shaking her off roughly and pressing on or running away from her, my response is now to crouch down, to take her hands, to tell her it’s okay, we’re safe. It feels so good to just offer your emotions acknowledgement. To say to them: I see you. I hear you. Thank you. We’ll be alright.

For most of my life, my anxiety was a cue that it was time to start thinking about all the ways things could go wrong or all the reasons I am a broken person. I took it as a signal that something is wrong out in the world as well, that I should hide myself away. I’ve realized though that there are many other ways to interpret these uncomfortable emotions. Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

Yesterday my office was putting on a Halloween fundraiser. I was to attend to help out with selling raffle tickets and to stay afterward to clean up. Although I was excited, I was also anxious about this all week. I was worried about having such a busy Saturday, about whether or not I’d even be able to stay awake all night after waking up at 6AM. Now, while these were valid concerns, they weren’t things I could run away from or avoid. They were things I had to face. My anxiety wasn’t telling me that I would fail or that things would go badly, it was just saying “I’m scared.”

And it’s okay to be scared. Being scared doesn’t always mean that we should run away. Sometimes it is just a signal from our bodies that we need some extra love and reassurance. Let yourself know that you’ll be there, that’s you’ll be okay, no matter what the outcome. When I try to avoid my anxiety that dense little ball of tightness in my chest seems to become bigger and bigger until I can hardly breathe. It demands my attention, but I am doing everything in my power to look away. What a miraculous difference I feel when instead I turn toward that feeling. Just holding our emotions in awareness seems to let them relax.

It’s time for us to do the work to change our response to unpleasant emotions. Some day I hope that we can all see our emotions as an opportunity to offer ourselves kindness, instead of reasons to run away from ourselves. You don’t have to do anything in particular to offer kindness either. It’s whatever kindness looks like to you. How would you comfort that small girl on your sleeve? Maybe she needs a hug or a hot drink and some time to sit and breathe. Maybe she needs rest or a reward. There are countless ways for us to give ourselves loving kindness. In my experience, just having the intention of kindness is enough to make a world of difference. Even if that just looks like saying to yourself, “I don’t know how to make you feel better, but I want to. I love you. I’m here for you.”

Anxiety is not our enemy. Anxiety is a small friend, asking for support. Let’s practice offering it that support instead of neglect or displeasure. Anxiety is just a feeling, just a message from our bodies. We are the ones who have the power to interpret that message. We’ve been mistranslating it for so long, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to see it for what it really is. Anxiety is not a cue that you are in danger or damaged. It’s a cue that you are in need of tenderness and love in order to keep going. Things that we all need. Things that we can all easily learn to give to ourselves. Things that can help us associate anxiety with self care instead of fear. Tend to that little child inside of you today. Don’t turn away. She’s a friend.

Child Adult Holding Hands - Public Policy Institute of California

It Can Be Different Inside Your Head

Can't seem to focus these days? You could have pandemic brain

Although it may seem obvious to some, it can be a revelation to others when they find out that their inner, mental landscape does not have to be the way that it currently is. For me, that realization came in the form of anxiety medication. I was blown away at the change in thought I was noticing solely from introducing new chemicals into my body. If we haven’t ever experienced a huge mental shift like this, it may not occur to us that it’s even possible to think differently. We assume that this is just the way our minds work, and at least for me, I also assumed everyone else’s mind worked in a similar way.

The universe of experiences you can conceive of really cracks wide open after you realize that vast untapped potential within your own mind. I find it funny that even though change is the only real constant in this world, we all seem to get stuck in the mindset that things will always be the way they are right now. We don’t realize how much change is actually possible and inevitable. It’s not often that we stop and consider the ways in which our own perception of the world around us has the potential to change. Especially if we’ve been stuck in one particular pattern of thought for all of our lives.

I’m writing this post today to help free you from the constraints of your own inner world. Sometimes all it takes is understanding that things can be different. Now, I’m certainly not advocating that everyone reading this start taking an SSRI like I did. That is something for you and your doctor to decide. However, we don’t need medication to experience these brain changes. The same positive results can be achieved with practice and persistence with the help of a therapist or even on our own. These changes may not always be as fast or drastic as the ones noticed after starting a medication, but they are just as significant. We just may have to take the time to reflect on the difference between where we are now and where we were a few years ago.

This is where I believe the misconception of “choice” comes in. I used to become so frustrated when I’d hear people say, “You’ve just got to decide to be happy” or “We get to choose how we react to the things that happen in our lives.” Up until a few years ago, it didn’t feel like I had a choice at all. Not only that, I felt as if I was being blamed for the unpleasant emotional experiences I was having even though I didn’t want to be having them.

Even though I can now see the truth in these statements, I still think the language we use to present these ideas needs some tweaking. In the beginning, we may not have a choice in how we feel. After running on autopilot for most of our lives, it isn’t going to be easy to switch off those largely unconscious reactions. It takes a lot of work to train the mental muscles we need to redirect ourselves and start dismantling those automatic responses. Not only that, but it takes a lot of time before that work actually starts to make a noticeable difference. Think of it like a ship crossing the ocean. Even though you’re moving forward and making progress, it is going to look the same for a good long while. One day the shore will finally appear though. You may not even know what to expect in this foreign land, but just keep going. Trust that you will see dry ground eventually.

Without understanding this, a lot of people give up on themselves before even starting or before they’ve taken the time to set the groundwork for visible results. It’s important that we remind people that even though it is a long, difficult journey, it’s worth it, and with consistency and dedication, change is inevitable. The only thing you need to do is believe in yourself and the science enough to take the first step.

Finally, realizing how much the inner workings of our own minds can change has also allowed me to offer others more grace. When you imagine that for the most part we all think in a similar way, it can be downright infuriating when people behave in ways or think things that we cannot understand. It is humbling to acknowledge that we have no idea what is going on in the minds of those around us. Not only does it help me accept the differences I see in others, it also fills me with excitement and curiosity. What might it be like inside someone else’s head?

Wherever you are in life, I hope that you come to understand just how different things could be inside yourself. Whether that inspires you to work for change, helps you be more grateful for the way your mind is already working, or simply helps you offer loving kindness to others, we can all benefit from the reminder that things can be different inside your head.

Holding Your Breath

Pranayama Benefits for Physical and Emotional Health

Stop whatever you are doing and take a moment to just notice your breath. Don’t worry about changing it, just observe how you breath when you aren’t paying attention. What is your breath like? For me, at pretty much any given moment unless I’m doing yoga, my breath is painfully shallow. Often I’ll notice that I’ve actually been holding my breath! I particularly notice this tendency when I’m feeling anxious.

For most of my life, I never thought about breathing at all. Breathing is unconscious, it’s a reflex, our bodies are taking care of that for us. These are the things I remember learning when I was growing up. Without yoga, I never would have learned the power that is held inside of my breath. I had no idea that we had the ability to retrain ourselves to have more beneficial breathing patterns or that the breath had any significance besides keeping us alive.

Society tells us that we need all of these magic fixes for our depression, anxiety, fatigue, etc. We medicate and distract ourselves, doing anything to avoid the signals our bodies are sending us. We are never taught how to value and honor our breath for the miracle that it is. In my opinion, pranayama (breathwork) is one of the most advanced aspects of yoga and also the most important.

Living in a world of excess, it seems impossible that there could be so many life changing benefits from something as simple as breathing. Yet there is a breathwork practice for anything that you may want to achieve. Through the power of our breath we can energize ourselves, we can calm our nervous systems, we can elevate our mood, we can cool ourselves down, warm ourselves up, we can even experience altered states of consciousness! And we can do all of this for free, regardless of where we are, regardless of who we are. If you’re living, you can practice pranayama.

Unfortunately, I am still far away from unlocking the full potential of my own breath. Even after years of yoga and meditation, I am still working on just being able to notice my breath as I move through my day. I’ve particularly been trying to focus on checking in with my breath when I feel anxious. When our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) kicks on, the body naturally makes our breath quick and shallow. It is under the assumption that it needs to prepare to either flee or attack whatever threat may be nearby. However, this is supposed to be a short-lived experience. When we find ourselves perpetually in this heightened state, we start to experience various mental and physical health issues.

Interestingly enough, this feedback loop works in both directions. Our mind is usually the one running the show, telling the body it’s time to act. The body has just as much control over the mind though. If we can learn to recognize our stress response, we can override it with our breath. Now, this is no easy feat, and it definitely takes a lot of practice, but it is worth it. Don’t give up. Keep practicing and eventually we can all cultivate a beautiful symbiotic relationship with our own breath.

There is so much pleasure to be found in the simple act of breathing. One of the most valuable parts of my last acid experience was finding a stronger connection to my breath. As I laid in the grass with my boyfriend, enjoying the sun streaming down through the leaves above us and listening to the hum of locus in the background, I became intoxicated with the feeling of my own inhales and exhales. Each sip of air felt incredible, fresh oxygen, the gentle expansion of my lungs. Each out breath was a gorgeous release, a cleansing. I could have spent the whole evening just savoring my own breathing.

That experience has stayed with me since then. I am still able to tap into that sense of gratitude and wonder as I breathe. My breath alone can be better than any drug or addiction out there. And it’s mine to enjoy whenever I wish without consequence. I’ve even come up with a little visualization that helps me get back in touch with my LSD experience. I think it would work well for anyone who has been or still is a smoker.

As you breath in, just imagine you are taking a nice long, delicious drag off of a cigarette, vape, or joint. I genuinely think one of the reasons humans seem to enjoy smoking things so much is because it allows us to slow down and focus on our breath for a few minutes. You may even find it helpful to visualize the air as smoke moving in and out of your body. This would be an excellent visualization to try the next time you find yourself holding your breath or breathing very shallow.

Wherever you may be in regard to a pranayama practice, for the rest of the day, just try to come back to your breath whenever you notice yourself feeling anxious. Are you holding your breath? Is washing the dishes really that unpleasant or is it because you are unconsciously trying to not breath until you’re finished? No matter what is sparking that anxiety in me, checking in with my breath is always a huge help.

Let me know what your experience has been like regarding breathwork. When did you first realize the significance of the breath? What are some of your favorite pranayama practices? If you decide to try my little visualization, let me know how it went for you.

Pranayama for Anxiety: 4 Breathing Exercises to Try | YogiApproved.com