My back hurts today. I mean, REALLY hurts. As in I couldn’t get off the heating pad yesterday, and even brought it into work with me. It hasn’t hurt this badly in almost ten years. That was the summer when I started applying to law school, working at a fancy firm in Washington, DC, crouched over my computer like quasimodo due to the way the set the keyboard and monitor up. Eventually I ended up with a lower lumbar sprain due to the horrid posture I had (my pleas for a new computer desk went entirely answered). I finally caved and went to the doctor when I couldn’t walk. I ended up in a backbrace in physical therapy for several months.
I realized that all the physical therapy exercises I’d been given were really yoga poses, so I asked if I could just do yoga instead.
“Sure you can honey, if you do it twice a day,” they told me. Well, I did. I did so much yoga it would shock and amaze you. Its incredible what constant pain will do for you.
And I was lucky that I had a good enough background in yoga that I could recognize that I could do yoga for lower back stretching and strengthing. And I’m lucky now that I can grab a yoga anatomy book and figure out which of the many muscles in my lower back are aching and which poses will help with that specific muscle.
So why yoga for people with eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorder? Because if you know yoga, you know that its purpose is not to build skinny lithe bodies, but to integrate your mind, spirit and body into one whole being. That means, as you get more familiar with yoga, you can do just what I did at the physical therapist’s office – recognize what yoga you need to do to take care of your physical body.
In hindsight, I’m sure that my tenseness over choosing a career and wondering if I’d be any good at it probably contributed to my lower back strain all those years ago. Because of my yoga experience, and training, opening and awakening, I can see what emotions do to specific parts of my body. For example, when I have too many things on my plate, I often get cramps in my hands, as if they’d been open too long, grasping a large ball too long. In essence, I’m trying to hold on to one too many things.
Similarly, people who are surviving an eating disorder must relearn the concepts of hungry, hurt, tired, sleepy and a whole host of other emotions and sensations. By learning how to listen to their bodies, through yoga, they are better able to process in the other therapeutic methods (like counseling, etc.). I’m not advocating to not seek treatment for an eating disorder, rather, I’m advocating to incorporate yoga into the several, or hundreds of different treatments to save a person with an eating disorder.
Just as movement therapy has been shown to increase the effectiveness of treatment for post traumatic stress disoder in books such as “The Body Remembers” by Babette Rothschild. In her very well written psychological book, she lovely advocates for the clients she treats. By that I mean, if one method isn’t working, try another, and another and another.
So why yoga? I think of what chicken little said when they found him, laying on the street with his feet in the air. “Why Chicken Little, do you really think you can keep the sky from falling down with those spindly little legs?”
“Well,” said Chicken Little, “one does what one can.”
Yoga is something that everyone, from any culture, age, racial background, language background, or gender can do. Its a tangible, sensible way to learn not only how to breathe, but also where you start to tense up when you are afraid – of a pose, of trying something new, etc. – but better yet, you learn to know when you are feeling afraid and that its alright to take care of that emotion.
So that’s why yoga – because everyone deserves to feel at ease with themselves and their bodies – everyone deserves to live a productive and beautiful life. We were created for that. In fact, right now, with the economy in the toilet, we need everyone we can get to be productive, producing members of society. Its good for us, its good for you.
And at the end of the day, its just yoga. Anyone with a pair of pajamas and a towel can do it.