When I tell people I’m a yoga teacher, they respond in predictable ways. Most of them say something like, “Oh, I’ve tried yoga/I can’t do yoga because I’m completely inflexible/can’t balance/can’t sit still,” or some variation thereof. Others assume I have an advanced physical practice and can perform acrobatics on the level of gymnast or maybe even a cast member of Cirque de Soleil.
And some think that I’m enlightened.
The last reaction makes me uncomfortable. I can tell the first group that yoga will HELP them with their restrictions rather than making them worse. How can you get better at what you’re bad at if you don’t practice? And the second group doesn’t remember the old saw: Those who can’t do, teach. I can tell someone how to position their legs in a perfect lotus or how to execute a jump-through even though I can’t demonstrate it.
But I get stuck on enlightenment. I feel so unenlightened and encumbered much of the time that it’s hard for me to sit in front of my students and help them set their intent for the practice. When I talk about detachment and not judging or clinging, I feel like a hypocrite because I notice these qualities in myself and in both my practice and my daily life. I snark and snipe. I hold grudges. I crave drama and excitement over peace and contentment. And every time I say, “It’s not the shape of your body that’s important, it’s the shape of your soul,” I’m half lying. I believe those words are so true, but I don’t act as if they are true for me.
I’ve spoken to master teachers about this, and they’ve given me all kinds of advice. Be honest about your struggles and insecurities. Share your thoughts and it will make your voice more compelling. The fact that you are willing to try and that you can see the path even though you can’t walk on it fully means something. But even so, there are days when I listen to my dharma talks and wonder, “Who the fuck is this woman and why is she saying this stuff?”
This is a roundabout way of coming back to my post about minding my own business. I’ve written this earlier, but it bears repeating: the fact that I not only feel shame and anger toward my body, but feel shame and anger about having these feelings that I think I should have transcended by now puts me in a spiral of self-loathing, judgment and attachment–exactly what I’m telling my students NOT to do. Writing that post last week was a great exercise for me. I distilled my feelings and had to see them through to their conclusion. It forced me to look at my darker side and I realized that I do not want to be the person who wrote those words. I don’t want to make snarky comments about my husband’s uncle. I don’t want to define myself by my exterior. If I want other people to love me and respect me, I need to learn how to love and respect myself.
In my classes since that post, I focused on struggle, using the example of finger cuffs. It was the metaphor I was thinking of as I cried in frustration in the bathroom last week. Finger cuffs, if you don’t know, consist of an open-ended woven bamboo tube. You plug up the holes on each end with the tips of your fingers. The trick is that when you pull your fingers apart, the tube tightens around your fingers, The harder you pull, the tighter the cuffs get. It’s only when you let go and stop pulling and tugging, releasing the struggle, that the weave of the finger cuff softens and you can take your fingers out without any trouble.
Note: This is NOT me in the picture.
I’ve written before about black and white thinking and how it’s a problem in my life. And I realized that a paleo lifestyle has become my finger cuffs. This is not to say that it’s bad; to the contrary, I think it’s been nothing but phenomenal–for the most part. But for someone like me, who thinks that if a little is good, then lots more is better, going full-on paleo has led to a certain amount of craziness. Yes, I’ve lost my craving for really good bread but in the process have become a whore for anything sweet: drugstore candy, girly cocktails, even Crystal Light. Plus there’s the idea of “doing well” versus “not doing well.” Everyone has different rules and methods and when I’m deep in my shit, I bounce from one authority to another like a ping pong ball. I get so crazed about 100% compliance that when I break one rule (as I inevitably do), I go into the mindset that I’ve failed and so I might as well break all the other rules as well because I’m going to start another thirty day challenge tomorrow. And sometimes “tomorrow” doesn’t come until a few days later.
The night after we saw my husband’s uncle, I fell apart. I sat in the bathtub and cried, wondering how long it would take or how much weight I’d have to lose to not feel this bad about myself. That rational core of myself saw what was happening and said softly to the big sweaty mess in the tub, “You don’t have to keep doing this, you know. You can give up this strict approach as an act of strength and kindness, not out of weakness or lack of will. When you step away from the battle and refuse to fight, it ceases to be a conflict that you can win or lose because you are simply not engaged. You don’t have to eat strict paleo; there must be another way that makes you feel good, keeps you sane, and maybe even allows you to stop bingeing which may–or may not–allow you to drop some weight.” I listened to this part of myself. And I figured it couldn’t hurt to try what it was suggesting.
It’s been an interesting week. I baked and tasted what I made. I brought a few select types of candy into the house and allowed myself to eat them. I had some really bad days with bad thoughts, like when I tried to deadlift what I lifted twice last week and couldn’t move the bar off the ground, or when I had so much pain in my elbow that I had to leave a yoga practice early, or when my hot pink tank top made me look and feel plump instead of hot. I ate too much candy corn as well as too much chipotle paleo chili over mashed parsnip and turnip (they both tasted amazing, each in their own right). I did my best to sit with my feelings and remembered that fat isn’t a feeling and that whatever distress I was feeling would pass. I sat with feeling overly full, knowing that I’d get hungry at some point again. I remembered that a few handfuls of candy corn wouldn’t kill me and noticed that I felt pretty lousy after eating it–shaky and ungrounded and wanting more but feeling I’d never get enough.
At no point did I binge or purge.
I respect the folks at Whole 9. They walk their talk, as far as I know, and I imagine their strict approach works really well for a number of people. But each time I consider it–or worse, try it–I find myself rebelling, and the backlash is brutal. This past week has taught me, once again, that a less rigid framework is so much better for me. When there are no rules or proscriptions, there’s nothing to rebel against. If I’m “allowed” to each as much candy corn as I want, all the time, then I can. I just have to deal with feeling not so great afterward. And I haven’t had any in a few days, even though it’s sitting right out on the counter. I like the way meat and vegetables taste and make me feel more.
I know Robb Wolf says “Give it thirty days and see how it works for you.” But thirty days is asking a lot. Four days usually makes me run screaming to the supermarket in search of gluten, sugar, MSG, and whatever else I can lay my grubby little hands on, so even if thirty days of full-on paleo would make me feel great physically, the stark reality is that I’m a little too fucked up right now to make it that far unless someone locked me in my room and took away my car keys and my credit cards. I need to look at the outcome, to choose what’s best for me. If I know that restriction often drives me to a binge (can you pull on those finger cuffs just a little harder?), then isn’t softening my approach to achieve the greater good better? Sugar makes me jittery and then depressed so I don’t eat a lot of it. Wheat makes me gassy the next day so I don’t eat a lot of it. Alcohol sparks cravings for sugar and wheat so I don’t drink a lot of it. It’s my choice and it comes from a set of internally generated reactions instead of externally generated proscriptions. If I choose the toxin (and I do believe that sugar, wheat and alcohol are toxic to varying degrees), I’m not breaking a diet or failing on yet another thirty day challenge. It’s just a choice. I suffer the consequences. That’s all.
I write this with some trepidation, knowing that I’ve said the same words in the past and that I’ve been unable to control myself once a binge started. Maybe I’ll wind up eating everything in the next few days, get disgusted with myself, and vow to try another challenge yet again. But maybe not. Over the past few years, my diet has changed slowly but dramatically. I’m more in tune with how I feel and respond to specific foods. Binge foods scare me more and more, and it’s easier to avoid them for longer and longer periods of time. Perhaps I had to struggle with the strictness in order to train my body to accept the surrender. I certainly couldn’t have moderated my candy corn intake last year at this time. This year, maybe I can. With any luck and continuing hard work, I’m hoping that this burgeoning awareness will get me out of these finger cuffs and lead me further down the path of recovery.