The NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Awareness Week has just come to an end. I was "lucky" with my eating disorder; in Denmark help and healthcare are free and accessible. Sure, loads of mistakes were made, but I also had many different and competent practitioners around me.
I can't imagine what it would be like to struggle with an obsessive disorder in a place where healthcare is limited, privatized and expensive. And that's why, even though I am not from the US, I want to bring attention to the NEDA Awareness Week with some thoughts on body disconnection. Cover photo by Idit Nissenbaum for #thenakedtruth
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Drop into your body…
Was the first thing that Ina, my teacher during my most recent facilitator training said to the group. And I found it strange. What kind of a request is that? It's not something I do actively. I AM in my body, can't be any more dropped-in. What is she suggesting? That I’m somehow dropped-out?
Maybe that was not what she was suggesting at that very moment. But in hindsight I see how dropped-out I actually was. How disconnected I was, and how years of my life have been dedicated to cultivating (and taking pride in!) disconnecting from my body and the signals she was sending to me.
In my world, this is an “obvious one”. I developed anorexic thoughts at the age of 11, and was "officially" diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when I was 14. That "label" and my anorexic mindset have been with me for so long that… it’s just not a big deal any more. I haven’t drank a coca-cola for 14 years. Last time I ate a chocolate bar was probably around 2006, and even today, if I want to drink something with my meal, I consciously eat less food to “compensate” for the calories that I drink.
Food is almost only in my mind. Sure, eating feels pleasant to me. I like the taste of different foods, I like to try different foods. I have my preferences in flavors, textures, food temperature and times during the day to eat some foods over others.
But the mere awareness of these preferences doesn’t mean that I’m honoring them. Quite the contrary, it makes me aware of how much I’m disregarding my preferences, and how much I am using my mind to trick myself into different feelings around food. How I’m using my mind to tell myself I don’t feel hunger, how I’m using my mind to tell myself that I don’t like/crave certain foods.
After years of silencing y body, I sometimes wonder if she’s still able to feel real hunger. Real cravings, or whether my restless mind it all that’s left.
A few weeks after I came to Bali, I hurt my foot. But it wasn’t the right time for the foot to hurt, I thought. So I went on with my daily life and routines. Silencing the pain, oblivious to the sensory messages that the foot was sending to me.
“What does the foot know about my life” I thought to myself, nothing! I want to walk around, I want to dance, I have yoga classes to teach. It was not the right time for the foot to hurt, so I shhh’ed it.
But the thing is… in my head, probably in everyone’s head, it’s never the right time for “the foot” to hurt. But “the foot” knows. And amusingly enough, it starts hurting when the mind least wants it! But probably at a time where we most need to rest.
So what had to happen in order for me to start honoring the pain in my foot? A more serious injury. I fell and hit my knee. Every step was painful, walking up the stairs looked embarrassingly awkward and felt horrible, my ability to teach yoga was suddenly threatened. And that’s when I got it. I took (some) rest. I still didn’t allow myself to rest fully, but I had cut down my activity and… [drumroll] I even told people that I wasn’t feeling well and that I had injured my knee. I showed “weakness”.
Have I learned from this? A bit! But I’m still dishonoring pain in my body. Whether major or minor (like tiredness), listening to my body is not on top of my agenda.
Stress is a chemical reaction in the body, stress is somatic. Stress equals heightened cortisol levels, stress makes your digestion slow down, your muscles tense, stress doesn’t allow you to sleep. Less so for me, living in Bali, freelancing, without family obligations, debts or any other sort of pragmatic (societal) pressure, I have escaped many of the current stress-triggers.
But I know that some of you reading, might not be as fortunate. Living in a constant state of alertness, fear and/or readiness to fight or flight affects our bodies on a cellular lever and essentially stores in the body as physical trauma. As tensions, aches, or a chronic discomfort.
The problem nowadays is that we bypass the stress-symptoms in the body. The “frozen” shoulders, the aching backs, the indigestion. We blame external circumstances instead of looking inwards and checking in with ourselves whether our response - on the physical level - to the external triggers grants the body the peace that it needs!
And I’ve been there before. I used to have a daily routine that would involve getting up at 5.30 am to study, then go to a yoga class, then go to a lecture at, take a shift at work or at the gallery where I was interning. All that while running a household. And my “days off” I’d pack with activities, gym... loads of "doing". And I still didn’t feel I was doing enough. And stresses about that, of course.
Reclaiming the body
Why did I just type out those three scenarios? (Which are, by the way, only a few - maybe some of the most common, and also most relevant for me - ways in which we omit & disrespect our bodies.)
Because I am slowly finding a remedy to all this. Or rather, I am slowly allowing myself to use of a remedy that’s always been there. But I was blind to it & even if someone had put it right under my nose, I would have probably dismissed it... more or less nonchalantly.
The remedy is… to feel. Contradicting everything that the school, our parents and other authorities teach us. We are rarely encouraged to feel. We are constantly told to think.
Think clearly. Think twice. Think again. Think for yourself.
The mind is constantly working. It’s over-working and ends up over-worked. Which only perpetuates the loop of negativity and distress.
Dance is giving me a free space for body expression, but first and foremost it encourages me to feel. Ecstatic dance is when you stop dictating your body what to do and allow the body to take the lead. You end up crawling on the floor? Great! You end up twerking? Good for you! You feel like jumping? Go for it!
As a yoga teacher, I am very fond of the asana practice, and I do see clear physical and energetically benefit of certain postures. But yoga is still a structured, somewhat rigid practice. Yoga is a tool, not the answer. Your body is the answer. And sure, yoga asanas help access several levels of the body (physical, emotional, spiritual), but they’re not ultimate. The only ultimate thing is what your body is feeling at a particular moment. That’s your truth.
And ecstatic dance becomes a container for exactly that.