The New York Times recently reported that an increasing number of adult women are being diagnosed with eating disorders. I wasn’t surprised by these findings, especially, as the Times article explains, women with eating disorders often appear quite functional. On the surface, they are in control. That’s what eating disorders are all about: Control. If you are obsessed enough with diet and exercise, with the binge and purge of your choice, you gain an incredible amount of control over your body. The side-effects can be life-threatening. They can destroy relationships. But they can also include a pleasurable, addictive sense of power. There is power in knowing you are the thinnest woman in the room. There is power in being able to outlast everyone around you in the gym, running and running, and getting nowhere on your treadmill. The power is blinding. You no longer see yourself in the mirror. Instead, before you stands someone who is never good enough.
I’m still learning to let go of my own need for control. I think most people are. It’s just a part of growing up, or perhaps growing out, expanding. There are many things in life we try to control. If it’s not our relationship with food or our bodies, it’s bound to be something else. A relationship with a person perhaps, a job, a hobby. In yoga we learn to surrender. And what a contradiction it seems! Twist your self into a pretzel, support your entire bodyweight with one hand, but don’t forget to breathe. Relax. But, I didn’t say release! Stay up, stay up, stay up!
I had a professor in graduate school who often brought up the concept of both/and. I find it applies to nearly everything. Yes, you must engage a certain amount of control in a yoga pose, AND you must also release to find freedom. BOTH. Perhaps, most of us are working backwards on our mats and in our lives. We are unhappy, so we fight for control, we fight for happiness. If we are able to gain it, we may feel as though we are winning, when ultimately we will lose. Like the anorexic who falls and breaks her bones, or the yoga student who forces a pose he then cannot sustain, we will tumble when we realize we are not as strong as we thought, or as strong as we’d like to be.
This leads me to one question: what is strength? In the spirit of “both/and” may I suggest that strength is both control and surrender. Perhaps, we should face a difficult situation with surrender first, rather than control. Look in the mirror and accept what is there. Lay down on our mat, feel the self against the earth and acknowledge that the truth of how the body rests there is good, indeed. If we can sustain that feeling, we can sustain a pose or an uncomfortable position in life. As my yoga teacher, Daniel says, “In yoga, we learn to remain present in challenging situations.” In the practice of sustaining, remaining in the present, we will gain strength of mind and body, and the ability to surrender even more to the truth of the self.
It seems to me, that with the increasing popularity of yoga, there should not be an increasing number of eating disorders among adults. There should be a dwindling of control addicts. And yet, we continue to struggle. It’s time to return to our mats and our mirrors and start again. Surrender first.
Join us Saturday, July 16th at 2pm for a workshop with Daniel Flynn: Hatha for Strength.
Art is nothing but the expression of our dream; the more we surrender to it the closer we get to the inner truth of things, our dream-life, the true life that scorns questions and does not see them.