Yoga at New Oliver- Pyatt Clementine Center: Jacquie’s Story
By Jaquie Rangel
When I left to treatment, I was told I would never run again. What I heard was that I would never exercise again as the only movement I considered valid at that point in time was the painful kind. I felt that my heart had been ripped out of my chest, and as I had predicted would happen, would be permanently handicapped by having suffered from anorexia nervosa. In a recent visit to my ED Alma Mater, Oliver Pyatt Centers for an interview on the opening of their new adolescent center, I participated in a brief yoga segment with the center’s head yoga instructor, Carly Orshan. In doing this, I flashbacked several years to the moderated yoga I once practiced during my own stay at OPC and realized that the exercise catastrophe I had created in my head could not be further from the truth.In my eating disorder, all I did was run. Run in the morning; run after “lunch”, run in the afternoon, run to class, skip class to run more, run on fractured bones, run through the snow, and even find myself running in place in my room like a mad woman! Looking back, I feel that I was running away from the problems I was denied and refused to face. In losing my sense of self and furthermore the connection between my body and mind, running transformed from a pleasurable activity I did with my family and friends to something that I did with me, myself, and my eating disorder.
Today, I am a self-proclaimed yogi: In those days, I hated yoga with a burning passion. I had tried it out several times in my teenage years but the development of my eating disorder really closed my mind off to anything that required me to tune into my body. When my vitals were stable enough for me to engage in the yoga sessions offered to medically sound patients, I had my go at it. Starting off slow, I was infuriated almost immediately when the yoga instructor was asking me to bring my attention to the rise and fall of my belly. At the time, that meant me thinking about the shape of my changing body, though I now know that it a technique used to focus on and deepen one’s breathing. Despite the judgments my eating disorder was roaring on about in my head, I stayed through the practice. When I was told to rest in savasana (corpse or final resting pose) I hopped right up and walked out of the room. That wasn’t movement, it was stillness, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the point.
Though I had essentially made up my mind that I would not be returning to this mindful movement practice, fate seemed to intervene that same weekend when one of the therapists held a group session on the eight limbs of yoga. Much to my surprise, only one limb, asana, focused on the physical practice of yoga. The basic yogi view on this limb is that the body is a temple of the spirit, which we should nurture. The habits of discipline and concentration are developed through asana and this provides the necessary foundation for meditation. Furthermore, I learned the significance of chanting “ohm” in a yoga practice: The “oh” vibrates energy through the body and the “mmm” brings the energy and focus to the mind, thus connecting the two. The calm demeanor that the yogis around me exuded led my better judgment to believe that this was something worth trying. In surrendering to the process of recovery, I finally conceded to surrendering to the practice of yoga, and giving it a shot, if nothing else.
Yoga brought a great deal of my emotions, fears, and an incredible amount of frustration to the surface. Even beyond treatment, when I signed up for a yoga membership at my University’s wellness center, I experienced a great deal of discomfort that reflected the struggles I encountered in my journey through recovery. The difference was, for the first time in my life, I had learned to sit with discomfort instead of (literally) running away from my thoughts and the things that challenged me. Furthermore, I found a way to practice movement rather than exercise and how to energize my body rather than exhaust it.
The practice of self-care through nutrition and movement post-treatment is far from a perfect science. It took a lot of trial-and-error, adjustment, and above all patience. It has taught me to sit with certain thoughts and feelings that cannot be changed and to confront the ones that I have the power to adjust. Despite the slow process of reintegrating healthy movement into my life, I can genuinely say that the joy I experience in moving and taking care of myself has been absolutely worth the wait. I have overcome obstacles that no one, including myself, might have imagined I would. I have even restored my physical health to a point above and beyond that which was predicted that I have been able to mindfully reintegrate an intuitive jog into my routine, though nowadays, I do it primarily to spend some time outside and switch up the scenery! By building my strength and healing my body over a long period of time, I now practice yoga several times a week at a heated studio and am astounded each and every day at how much my body can do for me on and off my mat when I take proper care of it.
Contrary to the stereotype, recovery from an eating disorder does not have to look sedentary. Though an exercise hiatus may be necessary to restore bodily function, a healthy, well-rounded life should absolutely include appropriate movement. It is important that an individual finds what works for them. Move your body, stretch your body, respect your body, and you will build a safe, healthy home for a strong spirit and mind.
Jacquie Rangel is the co-founder of the Project HEAL Miami Chapter, which was awarded the 2014 Chapter of the Year Award at the 6th Anniversary Gala in NYC.