Healthy body, healthy mind?
HAIIIII! Oh my goodness, it has been a long time since I’ve written. How are you? How ARE you though?! Well. I told myself that I wouldn’t write anything around mental health for this, Mental Health Awareness Week (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week) Let’s face it, you knew I was kidding myself, and so did I. So here it is! *BTW I promise my next blog will be about, like, cats or a peak pose something which doesn't involve my description of making a rice cake soggy wiith my ED tears.*
This MHAW in the UK takes place from 13th-19th May, with a theme of Body Image – exploring how we think and feel about our bodies. Well holy-can-of-worms-you’ve-gone-and-done-it-now haven’t you, Mental Health Foundation! According to MHF’s CEO Mark Rowland, this theme has been chosen because (like mental health) body image is something that affects and connects us all. Body image is often a powerful trigger/compounder for mental health problems, too.
Talking about my body is something I very rarely do, because I have a mortal fear of people’s attention being drawn to it. To this day, I carry the scars of an adolescence and adulthood where thoughts of my physical appearance incite emotions of shame, fear, frustration, guilt and panic. Yeah, still. Yeah, even though I’m in active recovery. Yeah, even though I’m a yoga teacher. Yeah, even though I wear X size of jeans. In fact, at least in part, it goes more like “Yeah, still. Yeah, because I’m in active recovery. Yeah, because I’m a yoga teacher. Yeah, because I wear X size of jeans.”
My mum worries all the time about my career choice and attachment to yoga asana (not just because she thinks it’s a weird sex thing, which she still totally does and I'm going straight to Hell FYI) She asks me regularly (as a number of people have) “Isn’t it a challenge to manage your activity around physical practice etc, with a history of over-exercise and restriction in your diet and body hatred?” Well, you know what? Nah, it’s totally fine I never think about it
.….. is a HUGE LIE I WOULD NEVER TELL YOU.
IT. IS. SO. SO. HARD.
As a person who like, totally works out and does yoga a lot and runs around, my mind is constantly somewhere between low-level argument and full-on battle mode with my eating disorder brain to manage my need to be active and maintain my physical appearance (“MOREMOREMOREMORENEVERSTOPDOMORE”), and a need to rest, nourish and nurture my body (“Claire, you’re tired and hungry. Won’t you have a little banana, a seat and a cuddle?”. Guess which need still wins more than the other? Ya. I have NOT got this shit all worked out and I won’t ever pretend to.
I was recently asked to teach a class for Sweaty Betty, in relation to their “Wellness Wednesdays” free class scheme (check it out btw because they’re amaze) They described me as an advocate for mental health (which I confess I snorted at, and was quickly reprimanded for doing so) and asked me to say a few words/devise an activity around mental health, physical activity/nutrition and yoga. Guys, my God. I obsessed over what I would say/do. I devised this activity. I bought different colours of felt tips and made little cards, and then the evening of the class came. That morning, I spent 90 mins in the gym working out. I had practised yoga from a very unhealthy mindset and taught 2 classes prior to my arrival at SB. I had been avoiding/been drawn to every reflective surface I went near to all day, and my body dysmorphia was off the charts. I had argued with myself internally for an hour….. AN HOUR….. over whether I was allowed to eat an apple. So you know what I did? I didn’t hide behind fucking props, or my smile. I didn’t filter my feelings with a sunny disposition, or pretend to have it all worked out. I spent a few short minutes talking truthfully about my changing relationship with yoga asana and my body, and then led these incredible yogis through a class designed to empower, appreciate and enjoy our bodies and what they can DO FOR US. Because what better way to connect with your body, than to embrace a practice which is driven by this beautiful connection to the Self. The one without bullshit, identity and expectation; the one which exists at the very heart and soul of who we are and only wishes for us to be strong, healthy and happy for as much time as we can be.
In the last couple of years, I have spoken out a fair wee bit about my mental health journey. If I’m honest, it feels weird to reflect because “reflection” insinuates that the journey took place in the past, that I’m somehow “done” or “fixed” now. What I really want to stress is that, for me, I believe that it might never be over. Ever. I live every day with the shadow of mental illness, in the knowledge that there may be no final destination, and the route is allowed to twist and turn as much as it fucking wants. I know this will seem like a bummer for many struggling with mental health in relation to body image, but please believe me when I say I am not sharing this to discourage; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. If I relieve myself of the pressure to be “all better”, then I am allowed to hold myself with compassion and understanding for not having things all worked out in a pretty package. For me, my knowledge of the scale, nature and proximity of my mental illness ensures that I stay vigilant, accountable and authentic about how I feel, what I am thinking and what I need to stay safe. I don’t feel bummed out about having to work hard on this stuff for my whole life because the “destination” offered to me when in the throes of anorexia is also known as death, and I came terrifyingly-close to that.
When it comes to our relationship towards our bodies, the journey to love and acceptance - much like the journey of recovery - is often arduous. There isn’t a quick fix, and there will be many times when the dark days seem to outnumber the light. In promoting self-celebration of our bodies, we are essentially attempting to rewire the negative thinking of years, even decades. My advice, for what it’s worth? TALK TO PEOPLE who love, support and understand you. Listen to yourself, and really tune into the words you use to describe your physical self. Surround yourself with people who celebrate diversity, don’t talk shit and don’t make you feel like shit through their actions and attitudes. And just like working on your yoga asana, KEEP ON PRACTISING.