I grew up as a figure skater from the age of 9. Though it absolutely became fuel for my eating disorder, for a great deal of the time, skating was simply an authentic expression of movement that felt good in my body.
I loved the feeling of ice under my skates. I loved that skating combined a flexible/ artistic component with athleticism It felt like the perfect combination of both aspects of movement for me. Stretching, jumping, gliding and strengthening all felt really good.... until my eating disorder entered the picture.
Like most good things in our lives, my eating disorder hijacked my relationship with my body, movement and of course, food. Movement now became about how my body looked rather than how it felt, and calculating calories in versus calories out. This resulted in me being obsessed with going to the gym.
I was a slave to the elliptical and the bright red numbers running across the screen.
Eventually my eating disorder led to full blown addiction to drugs and alcohol so exercise took a back seat. Throughout most of college, I was too busy trying to control my body weight and shape through alcohol and adderall to bother going to the gym.
Though I dabbled with yoga the summer before my senior year in college, it was not until a year later, when I got into recovery from my eating disorder, that I experienced the true power of it. As part of my recovery, it was recommended to me to not exercise by running, going to the gym or do anything that I used to do in my active eating disorder. Instead, I was encouraged to move mindfully, and do something where I had NO idea how many calories I was burning. Although this was difficult for me to do at the time, it was so important and I learned so much about my motivation for moving my body.
I was able to see clearly how I would use exercise as a way to justify or compensate for what I had eaten, rather than moving my body in a way that felt good.
Enter yoga. Yoga first and foremost taught me how to breathe. Part of what my eating disorder robbed me of was my ability to take a full, deep, belly breath. I hated the idea of my stomach expanding and would only take shallow chest breaths. The yoga classes I took also had no music, which was so important for me in the beginning because it forced me to be present, and tune into my surroundings rather than zoning out.
Yoga also taught me how to tune in to what my body wanted and needed through stretching and movement. I was able to discover how different yoga poses felt in my body.
As one of my first yoga teachers stated, "your mat is your laboratory."
I was able to notice, if I bent this knee slightly, it would create a different sensation in my body and if I tried this alignment, the strength shifted from my core to my legs. I became interested in the way body felt rather than how it looked. My relationship with my body began to change. Through this physical movement, I began to understand viscerally that I was NOT my thoughts. This was a breakthrough moment for me that completely changed my healing .
Soon after, I went on to become a yoga teacher and practiced and taught consistently for 5 years. A year and a half ago, I got burned out from yoga and took an 8 month break from teaching and practicing. Although it was scary and rocked a huge part of my identity, it was one of the best things that I ever did for myself. I discovered other ways to move my body that feel REALLY good and have been able to exercise intuitively. I've discovered how if I bring principles of yoga, such as: mindfulness, breath, gaze and alignment many things can be "yoga". It just looks differently.
My relationship with my exercise has transformed in the past few years and looks very different. I believe our relationships with our bodies and our habits should change and evolve as we do. We need different things at different times of our lives and seasons. I love that And it has continued to evolve and change and I continue to listen throughout my recovery journey. This has led to the creation of intuitive exercise.
Lately, I've been back in a yoga kick, although these days I really love practicing on my own, sometimes with my eyes closed to really tune in. I've discovered how to notice what my body needs and craves through looking at components like : environment, intensity, type of movement and instruction.
Check back on the blog tomorrow for the nitty gritty details of exactly "How to Exercise Intuitively."